Sunday, February 8, 2015

Putting Some Perspective on the Los Angeles Kings

For all those Los Angeles Kings fans out there, do NOT hit the panic button. Well, only maybe a little. As those who read my blogs know, I am a Kings fan, so let me speak to you directly. I think we all have to accept the fact that there is a good chance that our beloved team will not be back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. I know it's hard to accept, but it is going to be okay. Let's think about the big picture.

This season has not gone the way we, the fans, nor the Kings organization had hoped. Obviously, there have been major problems on defense. First, Willie Mitchell, a vital piece to the defense, had to be moved. This was definitely a rational decision at the time. With his contract ending and his salary demand rising along with the fact that he is thirty-seven, it made sense to depend on Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Robyn Regehr, Alec Martinez, and Matt Greene along with developing some rookies. After all, the Los Angeles Kings have always had a solid defense. This was probably the biggest roster change heading into this season. However, Willie Mitchell had missed parts of the previous season due to injury, so this was something that the coaches most likely felt they knew how to work around.

The second blow to the current Kings defense was definitely losing Slava Voynov at the end of October because of the domestic violence charges. Do not misunderstand me when I write this because domestic violence is a very serious issue, but Voynov's indefinite suspension by the league is a direct result of the blowout from the NFL's Ray Rice incident. I believe this is true because Semyon Varlamov, goaltender of the Colorado Avalanche, faced domestic violence charges at the end of October of 2013. He was allowed to immediately rejoin the team after being released from jail and even went on to compete in the Olympics. Varlamov's charges were dropped after prosecutors did not feel they possessed enough evidence to pursue the case. At the time, the NHL took a passive stance, and at the time of the arrest, the league decided to wait to see if the case would be taken to court. With Voynov, Bettman took immediate action to suspend the defenseman until the matter had been settled. Although the Ray Rice, Semyon Varlamov, and Slava Voynov are all different, it is clear that the highly publicized three-ring circus of the Ray Rice incident has made its impact on all sports leagues in its handling of domestic violence. I think Bettman did the right thing in this instance to suspend Voynov, but I also believe that the NHL had better really start to analyze what is the right thing to do in handling these types of situations. This is a topic that can be discussed another time.

So the Kings have already lost Willie Mitchell and Slava Voynov on defense, and it seems that defenseman Alec Martinez will be missing some games at this critical juncture in the season. In a clean hit by the Tampa Bay Lightning's Cedric Paquette, Martinez's head hit the glass pretty hard. This was in the first period, and he never returned to the game. He is currently listed as day-to-day with a concussion. Not that I want any one to be injured but why ANOTHER defenseman? WHY? WHY? Being down three of your top defenseman is a pretty big deal. I do wish Marty a speedy recovery and not to rush coming back because concussions are a very serious matter (again, another topic that can be discussed at a later time), but it is frustrating that this beautiful Kings defense is just being knocked down one by one. The Kings are already fighting a steep, uphill battle just to get into the playoffs, and this really is not helping.

However, there is a bright side to this. Let's look at the big picture. Even if things do not work out this season, Martinez will return. He has not had a career-ending injury. He will recover. Depending on what happens with Voynov's case, he may or may not come back. And even if he does not come back, there is an off-season to work out a trade or something. However, the brightest point is that we have DREW DOUGHTY!!! What Dewy has done is almost unimaginable. He has been such a blessing, and he really needs to be in serious contention for a Norris and maybe even the Hart (although, we all know that defensemen aren't really considered for that). He has been eating up big minutes on a consistent basis, and he has been absolutely tireless. He has really stepped up when the Kings have needed him. This may be his best season yet, and he is only twenty-five years old! Like we didn't already know this, but he is a big star and probably hasn't even hit his peak. We are so very lucky!

Mike Richards. Oh, this makes me so sad because I absolutely adore Richie. I have been a fan of his since his days with the Philadelphia Flyers, so I was ecstatic when they decided to part ways with him. It is heart breaking that he has not been very good this year and has been sent down to the minors. However, I think he just needs to get his confidence back and work out whatever he needs to, and he will return. Maybe his being sent down is just the swift kick in the behind the Kings need just like in 2012 when Lombardi fired Terry Murray. This big change may just be the key to unlocking that inner champion. This may be the wake-up call they need. And to big picture it. In my opinion, Richards was instrumental in the 2012 Stanley Cup win. He brought experience, and he was the reason Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne came to the Kings. Sure Gagne was not a top six forward, but he was still a great player for the team. If it were not for his friendship with Richards who called him and talked him into joining him, Gagne would have signed elsewhere. And when Carter was unhappy in Columbus, it was definitely the friendship with Richards that brought him to Los Angeles. Carter was definitely the last key offensive piece the Kings needed to make their last push into the playoffs and eventually to winning the Cup. I'd also like to believe that Richards had a big part in the defeat of the San Jose Sharks in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. He had been the captain of that Flyers team that became the third team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games when they beat the Boston Bruins. Although Richards was never an official captain of the Kings, I would think he was a leader in the locker room, much like St. Louis with the New York Rangers. There are always those players who don't wear a letter but can provide leadership in the room, and I believe Richards is one of those. I am not trying to undermine the great coaching of Darryl Sutter, but I would think that Richards would know what to say and how to convey confidence in his teammates having been in that exact situation once before. So in the big picture, Richards has been a wonderful King, and I have faith in seeing him return!

Lastly, I have seen some people doubting Jonathan Quick. True, he has not been the same 2012 Conn Smythe winner this season, but he has still been a major star. With all the problems on defense, it should not be too much of a surprise to see his numbers dip. Not to mention, since 2012, he has undergone back and wrist surgery after injury. It's hard to tell if that might contribute to his slight slip in play. Once again, let's think big picture. When Quick was coming up through the system, he was not even projected to be a face of the franchise. We were all waiting to bring up Jonathan Bernier. Do you remember that? But then Quick just absolutely stood on his head and shot straight for the stars. He has surpassed all expectations. That 2012 season was dire, and the only reason that the Kings even had a chance to make it into the playoffs was Jonathan Quick. I forget the stat, but there were so many games in which the Kings lost one-goal games because they weren't generating any offense. In fact, the only reason they were even close was because Quick was a brick wall. Unstoppable... or stoppable, depending how you want to look at it. And for those who have lost their faith completely in Quick, do the names Cloutier, Huet, Cechmanek, Ersberg, LaBarbera, and Fukufuji mean anything to you? Do you want to go back to those days? Yeah. I thought so. While Quick has not been at that top 2012 form, he has still been amazing.

The Kings may be facing an uphill battle, but remember this is the team that can defy the odds. The 2012 team became the first team in NHL history to beat the number 1, 2, and 3 seeds in order to make it until the finals. That same team also was the first eighth seed to win the Stanley Cup. The 2014 team was the fourth team to win a series after losing the first three games. That same team went on to become the first team in NHL history to win three consecutive game sevens to enter the finals. With few roster changes over the years, there is every reason to continue to believe that this team can continue to overcome what often seems like the impossible.

So Kings fans, let's be grateful. We have enjoyed seeing the Kings win two Stanley Cups in three years. And so what if the team does not make the playoffs this year. In the long run, I think this is still a great team with a brilliant future. They WILL be back in the playoffs. So in the meantime, we can all do what Bailey says and believe! Plus, we should be really glad that we're not Toronto, Edmonton, or Buffalo. You know, just keep it all in perspective!

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