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Kings Need to Ease Burden on Kopitar & Doughty

While that’s a good sign, there’s one glaring issue, who takes those minutes from Kopitar and Doughty?



For the last 15 years, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty have led the Los Angeles Kings.

They've been trusted in every situation and have been logging heavy minutes for a long time. 

Even this season, at 35 and 33 respectively, Kopitar led forwards in average time on ice and Doughty did the same for the defense.

While both are still operating at a high level, that's asking too much of players entering the latter half of their careers. 

Especially Doughty, who finished second in the league for average time on ice. Sandwiched between Cale Makar and Rasmus Dahlin. 

Doughty shouldn't be playing that much. There was a time he could do that, but that time has passed.

Kopitar sits at a more reasonable 20th amongst forwards, but even still, heading into his 18th NHL season and turning 36 over the summer. He can't be expected to log as many minutes. 

It's also something the coaching staff are aware of. In his exit interview, Todd McLellan mentioned looking to cut Kopitar's ice time this season.

"Our intent (this season) was to cut his minutes back a little bit this season," said McLellan. "We looked at certain spots for him on the power play so it wasn't as taxing. He wasn't going up and down the ice two or three times per power play to break out. So, we tried to adjust some areas for him to try and maximize his play. We'll have to look at that a little bit more."

After pointing out that Kopitar and Doughty both had excellent seasons, McLellan also addressed the need to limit Doughty's ice time moving forward.

"As we get deeper and strong on our back end, I don't know what he plays now 26 minutes a night, we'll have to look at managing him a little bit," said McLellan. "That's probably a fight we'll have because he wants to play 26 minutes a night and he's very capable of doing it. And we have no problem with that. But we have to get a good 80-something games out of him. So, if it goes from 26 minutes to 25, so be it. But we'll figure all of that out."

While that's a good sign, there's one glaring issue, who takes those minutes from Kopitar and Doughty?

McLellan and Rob Blake have both said that young players need to come in and command ice time away from veterans like Kopitar and Doughty but that hasn't happened. 

There's no question that Kopitar is the best center on the team and Doughty is still the best blue liner. So, you can't really limit their five-on-five minutes without hurting the team. 

This makes special teams the area where you can reduce some of their burdens. And specifically, the penalty kill. 

The penalty kill was a problem all season for the Kings so a fresh look and some fresh faces might help next season. Matt Roy and Vladislav Gavrikov — or whoever takes Gavrikov's spot if he doesn't re-sign — should be the first pairing over the boards for a kill. And Phil Danault should be the first forward over the boards, not Kopitar.

That alone reduces their time on ice by a lot. If you can get them down to around 80-100 penalty kill minutes instead of 140-180, that's ideal.

The other option is moving them onto the second power-play unit. This option is more difficult to pull off because of the power play's success last season and the lack of natural replacements.

Any of Sean Durzi, Jordan Spence or Brandt Clarke have a case for easing Doughty's ice time by taking on top-unit minutes. But Doughty did lead the team in power-play points this season. It's a tough ask to change the quarterback of a top-five power play in the league. But the Kings have the talent pool to make that move. 

And removing Kopitar wouldn't be easy either. Looking at the power play from Game Six, swapping Kopitar with Gabe Vilardi looks fine on paper. But then the Kings don't have a reliable faceoff taker. Kopitar won 60% of his draws on the power play, which was a massive reason the Kings found so much success. Being able to get set up immediately instead of chasing the puck 200 feet and breaking out can be the difference between success and failure.

The only players who come anywhere near Kopitar's proficiency in the faceoff circle are Danault and Rasmus Kupari. And the team would lose too much from swapping Kopitar with either of those two.

Reducing Doughty's power-play ice time as opposed to Kopitar's seems the more viable option. Assuming one of Vilardi or Quinton Byfield doesn't become a superstar in the dot this summer. 

Really, it all comes back to the same issue. Who's going to step up and take that ice time away from Kopitar or Doughty?

Until that happens, the Kings will continue to rely too much on their aging stars and risk burning them out.

Will it be Byfield, Vilardi or Clarke that steps up next season? It needs to be one of them, or really any young player, add Spence or Durzi to the list as well. 

One potential option is persisting with the Kevin Fiala-Quinton Byfield-Gabe Vilardi third line. There's a lot of talent on that line and the potential to dominate third-line matchups. McLellan would have to be clever with their usage and give them the majority of offensive zone starts, but it could help alleviate pressure. 

Again, Byfield would have to step up. 

This is a big summer for the Kings' youth, as their development could be the difference between another first-round exit and a deep run.

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