Over the last 18 months, the Los Angeles Kings have made some win-now moves.
They’ve traded their last two first-round picks and a handful of prospects to add impact players in their prime.
The addition of players like Kevin Fiala, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Vladislav Gavrikov gives a good indication of Rob Blake’s thoughts on this team. They are ready to win and soon.
Optimism amongst fans and even some national media is high, leading to the question, have the Kings opened their Cup window?
I looked at this question towards the back end of last season when the Kings were riding a hot streak, but a six-game first-round exit answered that question emphatically.
This is a different Kings team now though, with different expectations.
The Kings’ Strengths:
When you look at the Kings’ projected roster for next season, it’s easy to see why people are so high on them right now.
The team boasts one of the deepest top nines in all of hockey. They’re now a true three-line team and have become a matchup nightmare.
It’s not only a talented group, but a well-balanced one too. Kopitar and Danault are fantastic two-way players who can shut down most of the league’s top centers. While Dubois adds in another shot of high-end talent and some needed snarl.
The defense group isn’t as flashy but is still very strong in its own right.
The Mikey Anderson-Drew Doughty pairing has become one of the more consistent top pairings in the league. With Gavrikov and Matt Roy forming one of the strongest second-pairings in the league down the stretch last season.
The third pair is still an unknown quantity but should provide a solid 10-12 minutes a night regardless of who fills it out.
On paper, this Kings team looks fantastic. Depth wins championships and the Kings have plenty of it.
A Lack of Premier Players in Premium Positions:
Every team that wins the Cup is put together differently, but they all share one quality. Stars in at least two of the three premium positions — center, defenseman and goalie. Something the Kings lack right now.
Recent Cup winners have shown that you don’t need an elite goalie to win the Cup, at least that’s the narrative right now. But that’s only true if you have the other two positions covered and the Kings do not.
Yes, Kopitar and Doughty are still very good players, but they aren’t the true superstars they were back when the Kings won two Cups in three years.
Neither player is top-10 in their position and both have probably fallen out of the top-15. They can’t be the headliners for a Cup champion anymore.
Let’s look at it purely from an age standpoint. Kopitar is now 36 years old, so I went back and looked at the last 35 or over 1C to win the Cup. After getting to 1994, 30 years ago, and not finding one, I stopped.
The closest was Mark Messier in 1994 at 33 and if you want to stretch the truth a little you can say there’s one with Steve Yzerman. Yzerman’s listed as a wing on Federov’s line but did take a lot of faceoffs that year.
If you want to be incredibly generous, only once in the last 30 years has a 35+ 1C led his team to the Cup, realistically, it’s zero.
Now, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but there’s a reason it hasn’t happened.
This isn’t meant to disparage Kopitar either. He’s playing at a level most 26-year-olds will never hit, let alone 36-year-olds. But when trying to win the Cup, teams have 1C’s in their prime.
It’s a slightly different story on defense, age doesn’t play as big a role. Still, asking a 33, soon to be 34, year-old Doughty to the Cup is probably unrealistic. He’s returned to form a bit in the last two seasons but isn’t the perennial Norris candidate he once was.
The Foundation is Set:
All of this is to say, no, the Kings have not opened their Cup window quite yet.
I’ve been saying this since the trade for Dubois, the path to the Cup hasn’t really changed for the Kings.
Until someone can take the mantle from Kopitar and Doughty, they won’t be able to take that final step.
It’s possible that a motivated Dubois takes the next step and becomes a true 1C, but more likely you’re waiting for Byfield to become that player.
On defense, it’s Clarke who shoulders the responsibility of eventually taking Doughty’s spot. He won’t do that in the near future, but in two to three years it’s not an unrealistic goal.
None of that is to say that fans shouldn’t be excited about this team and that the Kings won’t be a very good team next season. Fans should be excited and the Kings will be very good.
But if we’re talking about Cup contention, that’s very unlikely with this roster.
They have built a fantastic foundation for a future contender though. Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti often refers to the Kings’ development strategy as a “slow burn.” And this is part of that process.
This season will give players like Byfield and Clarke more significant roles on a team that should go deep in the playoffs. An experience that should lead to quick success when they’re ready to take on the 1C and 1D roles in a few seasons.
The Kings aren’t true contenders yet, but they’re close.