Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thoughts on the Upcoming Season

Thoughts on the Upcoming Season

With training camp right around the corner I thought I would take a few moments to ponder and pontificate.

I can’t shake the feeling that next year at the time Alexander Frolov will be wearing a Red Wings jersey. I have no sources, and nothing at all to back it up but it saddens me greatly in that it is so easy to visualize. I hope and I pray that the powers that be can sign him to an extension but once again I can’t help but think we’re not that far away from seeing him sporting the Winged Wheel.

One of the posters recently came out with a serious lambasting of Dean Lombardi and used the Ryan Smyth trade as a specific example thereof. While I was very pleased with the trade one must also consider the ill-fated history the team has had with luck. There is a literal laundry list of “would haves”, “could haves”, “should haves”, and “if onlys” we can only laugh about to the point where as if I were a betting man I would have to begrudgingly bet that there is a greater likelihood of Smyth having a down year then an up year simple as that. I won’t get into specifics, nor use any past examples as to not jinx the angry hockey gods but the scenario generally plays out as this; New Player comes in with high expectations, fans get excited; New Player starts off well, fans applaud management; New Player starts to fade on scoreboard or suffers injury setback, Saddened Fans try their best stay patient and optimistic; Team stars to fall in standing while fans turn on management; Team falls well out of playoff contention and we once again are treated to the annual draft day deadline minute by minute watch to see what draft picks we acquire for next year. Once again, I don’t like it-but it is a formula that has been fairly consistent.

I am optimistic though between the pipes. I felt had we gotten some consistent play the start of last season may have given us something to build on as the season wore on; instead the first ¼ of the season proved to be another goaltending nightmare that had me missing Roman Cechmanek. Jon Quick gave us the best goaltending we have had since Felix Potvin played his last hot streak before going gently into that good night known as retirement. The same could probably even be said about Ersberg, who before Quick’s emergence showed at least to have some fundamentals that’s rarely be known as a staple of Kings goaltending. With Bernier and Martin Jones on the way, say what you will about Lombardi but this is the best pipeline of goaltenders the franchise has ever had.

The addition of Rob Scuderi is certainly something to be excited about. During last year’s Stanley Cup Finals I noticed Brooks Orpik was playing incredible hockey in his own end, this year however it was Scuderi I noticed leading the charge. While I will miss Kyle Quincey’s ability to get the shot on net during the PP, I can’t help but think you can never have too many Solid Defensemen. Once again, for a team long recognized as the Escort Service and some other not so kindly names one can only be excited entering the season with a Top 5 of solid defensemen and the 6 spot to be filled with some very high end competition. It doesn’t seem that long ago we were looking at a 34 year old Garry Galley as our defensive savior. We now have a very solid Top 5 and god forbid a Thomas Hickey, Colton Teubert, or Viat Voynov take the next step it will be quite an impressive defensive roster.

Would I like to see us add a Zherdev to the roster? I absolutely would. Much like when we acquired Felix Potvin-apart from the glut of forwards already competing for a precious few open spots I really see this a low risk, high reward signing. Apart from shelling out the cash to pay him, there really is everything to gain and nothing to lose. The only downsides is, and correct me if I am wrong, but would he not then become a UFA at the end of the season?

One would be apt to think question marks may lie in the forward positions, but compared to last season at this time we actually now have 2 legitimate top 6 forwards lacking last season in Justin Williams and the aforementioned Ryan Smyth. By comparison last season those two spots were being filled by Patrick O’Sullivan and Matt Moulson. Williams, in particular will be a great addition. It took him a bit to get in the groove after his injury but you could see where he is accustomed to and can make the top end NHL caliber plays that the high end players make. With Williams and Smyth, the top 6 is very solid.

I have yet to see any pictures so can’t confirm but if the rumors of Oscar Moller having bulked up and given that Wayne Simmonds simply picks up where he left off last season, any prospects hoping to crack the roster are really going to have to have one heck of a camp. Realistically, I only see a couple of openings possible for forward positions given the players below are almost 100% assured of making the final roster. Brown, Frolov, Handzus, Ivanans, Kopitar, Moller, Simmonds, Smyth, Stoll, Williams would assumedly all make the roster. Purcell will probably be option #1 for the making the roster and would appear to be a front runner barring a horrible camp. Westgarth probably does not make the team simply by virtue of Ivanans under contract and doing adequate job of filling the enforcer role last season. Zeiler, Clune, Brad Richardson, Cliché, and Trevor Lewis and top candidates as well barring one of the recent draftees knocking the coaching staffs socks like Moller and Simmonds did last year. Most likely they will be looking for a defensive minded player who can bang a bit and excel at face offs to center the 4th line. I would think Richardson or Lewis probably may have an edge but the possibility of someone in camp stepping up is always there and possible.

One thing is for sure, much like the competition for the #6 defenseman; competition for the final couple of roster spots is going to be fierce and who ever earns those final spots will really have to earn them. Once again, this a great example of the progress being made as it wasn’t that long ago when players were earning spots via default as the lack of the depth in the system made players earning roster spots. Tom Kostopolous, Brian Wilsie, Kyle Calder, & Jeff Giuliano all come to mind.

I hope Terry Murray’s coaching track record holds true. In full seasons in which he has coached, Murray has only once not had at least a 17 point improvement over that of the previous season. The one time Murray failed to do so was at the helm of the Flyers, the caveat being he led to a 103 point season in his first year and matched that total again in his second season. If that hold true with his 17 point improvement would mean the Kings finishing with 96 points. A daunting task considering that figure would give the Kings their 3rd best season in franchise history. Quite frankly, anything over the 90 point mark would be a triumph considering the Kings haven’t hit that mark since 2002.

All in all, it really is exciting time to be a fan. Of course there is the always real and tangible possibility of the team under achieving or being plagued by injuries. That can be said for almost every team in the NHL but for some reason with the Kings the likelihood always seems to be a bit greater and more likely. Camp is just around the corner and should be fun, in particular the battle for 6th Defenseman will be a great watch considering the high talent pool of players competing for it.

Will also be interesting to watch how the roster gels considering this is probably the most balanced team that we have had in years….maybe the best ever as ironic as it seems given the lack of success over the last 7 years. One must consider even during the Gretzky glory years where the high end talent was among the league’s best, the 3rd and 4th lines were still made up by the likes of Todd Elik, John Macintyre, Brad Jones, Scott Bjugstadt, and other borderline NHL players or established NHLers who were the end of their careers.

What else can be said August the longest and slowest month of the year and can September come already?

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