The Los Angeles Kings have set high expectations for themselves this summer and made an aggressive move to win now.
They plugged a few of their perceived holes this summer and expect internal improvements to fill the ones remaining. But they aren’t a perfect team and there are still a few points of concern for them
The team is set up well to get over the hump and win a playoff round for the first time since 2014, but these concerns could still hold them back.
I’ve said before, and still believe, that Cam Talbot is set up perfectly for a bounce-back year. The Kings are a defensively sound team and let up very few high-danger chances, a goalie’s dream. But this is still an area of concern for them.
The reality is, their goalie tandem is a 36-year-old coming off a down year and some injury problems. And a 31-year-old who’s played the majority of his professional career in the AHL.
Again, there are reasons to be confident this tandem can provide solid goaltending for the team, but that’s still a big risk.
Then there’s Talbot’s tenure under Todd McLellan with the Edmonton Oilers, a mixed bag of results.
He was very good in his first two years, finishing fourth in the Vezina voting in his second season, and fairly poor the next two seasons.
Yes, there is some important context to factor into those poor seasons. His 129 games played in his first two seasons is absurd for a modern goalie and those were some poor Oilers teams.
They weren’t constructed well and were routinely in the bottom 10 in defensive metrics. He was overplayed without much help in front of him during those years.
Even still, the numbers aren’t great for Talbot towards the end in Edmonton. His -24.3 goals saved above expected in his last two seasons under McLellan is terrible and worse than Cal Petersen or Jonathan Quick’s last two seasons in Los Angeles.
Talbot did follow that up with three good seasons split between the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild. But a poor year with the Ottawa Senators casts doubt on his quality at this point in his career. Especially if he’s expected to be the 1A to Copley’s 1B.
And the concerns are the same with Copley. He’s a career AHLer who potentially was riding a hot streak last season.
Things could work out here for the Kings, but this is a concerning area.
Lack of Physicality:
The Kings are in an odd place with their physicality. They aren’t a small team, their average height and weight of 6-foot-1 202 pounds is fairly standard. But they aren’t a very physical team, especially in the areas you’d expect them to be.
The only really physical bottom-six forward is Carl Grundstrom and none of the team’s defensemen are overly physical. Your next two most physical forwards after Grundstrom are Adrian Kempe and Pierre-Luc Dubois.
It’s great when two of your best offensive producers have that edge, but a bit of a problem when they’re carrying a lot of the weight in that area.
And on defense, Mikey Anderson, Vladislav Gavrikov and Matt Roy are all big bodies who throw their weight around but aren’t physically imposing. Drew Doughty still throws the occasional highlight reel hit too, but he runs into the same issue.
The team isn’t soft by any means, but I don’t think any team comes into Crypto.com Arena expecting to take a beating either.
The league’s moved to a more skill-based game that doesn’t have room for a traditional enforcer. But the lack of anyone who can drop the gloves and fill that “policing” role, as McLellan called it, is a concern.
Brendan Lemieux was traded at last season’s deadline and his replacement, Zack MacEwen wasn’t brought back. And while he wasn’t a “fighter,” Sean Durzi was someone who was always willing to stand up for his teammates and now he’s gone too.
You’re looking at Dubois, Kempe and Phil Danault as the guys with any real fighting experience on this team now. Three guys you don’t want to be in the box for five minutes and who don’t fill that policing role.
The most challenging part about this issue is that there’s no real solution. The Kings don’t have the cap or roster spot to fill this need and just have to deal with it.
This isn’t something that will make or break their upcoming season, but is a problem.
No matter where you stand on the Quinton Byfield debate, his performances are a concern heading into next season.
Context aside, when your expected first-line left wing has a career-high of five goals and 22 points, there’s a slight red flag.
I still believe he’ll find his game and become an excellent player. But that might not be next season and that’s worrying.
Of course, his impact on the top line last season can’t be ignored. Both Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe saw huge bumps in their point totals after Byfield was added to their wing and he deserves credit for that, but it won’t be enough next season.
He has to bring individual success to the table. He isn’t the Kings’ most important player, but his success could be the difference between a deep playoff run and another disappointing first-round exit.
If he can break out and be the 50-60 point player he needs to be next season, that’s huge. If he still can’t score or make a big impact on the puck, that’s a problem.
He doesn’t need to be a superstar, but he needs to be a true top-six player.