Your 2014 Stanley Cup Champion: The Los Angeles Kings

After watching the best postseason run I have witnessed in my moderately short life, it is clear that this Kings team is special.  They possess an almost indefinable quality that allowed them to persevere through a historically arduous 26 games.  A three game losing streak to start the playoffs, followed by three road game 7 wins against arguably three of the top six teams in the league, with the Kings being one of the other three, and a deceptively easy Stanley Cup Finals has been the path this team followed on their way to their second Stanley Cup in three years.

When Dean Lombardi was hired back in 2006, he looked to instill a culture within the organization, starting from the net and working out.  It seems his vision has come to fruition as the Kings are an organization that has every member buying into a possession-based, defense-first style of play.  They are a team who is greater than the sum of its parts, something that cannot be said about many other very talented teams.  The Sharks and Penguins are the first that come to mind.  Outside of the intangibles, they also have depth that cannot be matched, a world class goaltender, one of the best defensemen in the league, one of the best centers, and almost every pivotal player is under the age of 30.

As it seems to be the blueprint for champions, I too will start from the net and work my way out.  Jonathan Quick was drafted 72nd overall in 2005.  He was supposed to be a stand-in until Jonathan Bernier developed enough to become the starting goalie.  However, his explosiveness, flexibility, and mental fortitude have turned Quick into one of the most feared goaltenders in the league.  He was underwhelming in these playoffs, especially if you compare him to the 2012 playoff version of himself, but he made saves when it mattered the most.  Many critics claimed that the Kings were winning in spite of Quick, but if Quick doesn’t make the incredible glove save on Marleau in Game 7 against the Sharks, I’m not so sure the Kings win that game. Game 3 against the Rangers was certainly his most impressive,  turning away 32 shots for the shutout and stripping the Rangers of almost all hope they had of winning the cup.  He repeatedly made saves that robbed opponents of the belief that they could win at the times when it mattered most, completely swaying the momentum of games with one flash of his glove or acrobatic dive to the side, making Quick just as instrumental in this Stanley Cup run as any of the players in front of him.

The blue line could have been better throughout the playoffs, sporting a 2.69 GAA, a far cry from their league leading 2.05 GAA during the regular season.  This can be attributed to a few injuries as well as a lack of speed with a few of the veteran defensemen that was exploited by the Kings’ opponents.  There were also a number of uncharacteristic turnovers and mental lapses throughout the playoffs, most likely a result of three emotionally and mentally taxing series to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.  The best among the Kings’ defense corps, Drew Doughty, is only 24 years of age and continues to improve upon his stellar play and resume.  He has two Olympic gold medals and two Stanley Cups to his name and it appears as if he has a very bright future.  He led all defensemen in scoring in the playoffs with 18 points and played a crucial role on the defensive end of the ice in every game. The Kings have a superstar in Doughty, a player who knows how to win and continually plays his best hockey when the stage is biggest.  The Kings also have bright young players in Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, and Jake Muzzin.  Muzzin had a breakout year and was second on the Kings blue line with 12 points throughout the playoffs.  Martinez came up huge with the series-clinching goal in overtime of game 7 against the Blackhawks and the Cup-clinching goal in double overtime of game 5 against the Rangers.  This leaves a solid group of veterans in Mitchell, Greene, and Regehr that provide the experience and stability that round out the Kings’ defensemen.

The Kings group of forwards are deep, Marianas Trench deep.  Credit Dean Lombardi for this depth, as it was his trade for Gaborik that allowed a shuffling of lines that threw Williams on the 3rd line and Richards on the 4th.  The centers consist of Kopitar, Carter, Stoll, and Richards, a group that cannot be matched by any other team in the NHL.  Anze Kopitar, at 26, is finally getting the credit he deserves.  He has long been one of the best two-way centers in the league and he further proved this by leading the playoffs in scoring with 26 points and continuously shutting down the oppositions top players.  Kopitar had to match up against some of the best centers in the league in Thornton, Getzlaf, and Toews; my apologies to Derek Stepan.  With the exception of maybe Jonathan Toews, Kopitar got the better of  every single matchup, dominating his opposition at times.  This playoff run shed light on the beauty that is Kopitars’ 200-foot game and hopefully gives him the recognition that he deserves going forward.  Gaborik brought a consistent scoring threat from the wing that had been lacking in this era of Kings hockey and he executed perfectly throughout the playoffs, leading the league with 14 goals.  Carter is always a threat to score and provided stability to a line that saw youngsters Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli prove they are ready for full-time NHL duty.  Williams, the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, routinely contributed when it mattered most.  Dubbed “Mr. Game 7” due to his knack for playing his best hockey when anything less might mean the end of the season,  he led the Stanley Cup Finals with 7 points in 5 games and had a plus-minus of  +13 throughout the entire playoffs, the best mark in the league.  Even more impressive is the fact he had 10 points, 5 of which were goals, in the 7 elimination games the Kings played. Dustin Brown and Mike Richards are players that don’t stand out on the stats sheet but consistently lead through the grit, determination, and effort they display on the ice.  Factor in depth forwards Clifford, King, and Lewis, and this group of forwards is as scary and talented as they come.

This team believes in the culture Dean Lombardi has created, they believe in the defense-first style of play Coach Daryl Sutter preaches, and they play as a single-unit driven entirely by a single motive: to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.  This team is special, and they are young, and they are very talented. They have the resiliency to consistently overcome deficits to the point that they create history.  They may have some different pieces in place next year, but I wouldn’t expect this to be the last time this core group of Kings gets crowned.

Interview With Chris Lee!

We recently caught up with Chris Lee of the Magnitogorsk Metallurg! He’s one of the best defenseman in the entire KHL. He also recently won the Gagarin Cup with his team. We talked about a variety of topics, from how bad my pronunciation is, to Russian food!I had lots of fun doing this interview and my voice cracked a few times. But before you go laughing at me, make sure to follow me on Twitter @HkyBlogger, and “like” us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/NotYourAverageHockeyBlog and make sure to check out Chris on Twitter @4Chris_Lee. Without further to do, here is our interview with Chris Lee!

Quick Thoughts after Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final

Anze Kopitar is a great hockey player. He is so dominate at both ends of the ice. Some people don’t understand how hard it is to be as skilled both offensively and defensively as Kopitar is. The way you play the game in the opponent’s and your own zone is not comparable; it takes two different kinds of skill set. Every hockey coach on the planet loves the kind of player Anze Kopitar is. Whenever there is an empty sheet of ice around the puck, expect to see No. 11 in black arrive in one or two seconds. Kopitar reminds me of Datsyuk. Especially when it comes to the insane amount of time both of them seem to have with the puck. Both of them can fight off one or two defensemen with one hand while protecting the puck with the other. Both can sneak across the opponent’s defensive zone just inside the blue line to deliver a perfect drop pass, or continue to skate down behind the opponent’s net and buy some time for their teammates. Their stickhandling is top-notch, with Datsyuk having the upper hand on Kopitar. Both centermen can make nifty little passes in tight areas and neither one of them ever gets stuck in a corner or gets into too much trouble in front of the opposition’s net. Look for Kopitar to keep dominating the rest of the Stanley Cup Final and earn himself a first Conn Smythe Trophy.

Henrik Lundqvist is one of the greatest competitors in the game. The way he fights off pucks, sticks, skates and everything else that enters his crease is impressive. Especially considering how calm he looks doing it. I don’t think Lundqvist gets enough credit for his stick play ability. It is a big part of his positioning: to get pucks out of the areas he doesn’t feel comfortable with them being in. The Rangers have won every of their games in this year’s playoff except for the first two victories against Philadelphia because of Lundqvist. And the Rangers know just how important he is for their team. Last night when Lundqvist got hit by Jeff Carter’s shoulder and fell to the ice, the Rangers’ players just stopped in their tracks. They didn’t even retaliate when their star goaltender was attacked behind his own net. They just watched in horror while the Swede struggled to get up. After a scary 20-30 seconds, Lundqvist was able to shake it off and continue the rest of the game without any noticeable limitations to his play.

How great of a goaltender is Jonathan Quick really? Wait, hear me out people! I know a lot of you consider him among the Top 5 or even the Top 3 goaltenders in the league. I am not so sure. The last two playoffs, Quick has been outstanding and his postseason numbers prove that. But there is a difference between being a great playoff performer and an all-around great goaltender. His 2011-2012 season speaks for itself and he was almost indisputably the reason the Kings got to the playoffs that season, earning him a Vezina Trophy nomination along the way. I still don’t consider Jonathan Quick a Top 3 goaltender in the National Hockey League, due to how uneven he can be. Sometimes Quick’s play drops to below average. We have seen it most presently in this year’s playoffs, but also in the past. I consider Lundqvist, Rask and Price the best in the game, with Quick, Bobrovsky & Crawford chasing behind. I am not sold on Ben Bishop or Semyon Varlamov yet; I think Mike Smith never will top his amazing 2011-2012 season, and Pekka Rinne has been too injure-prone this season to be up there. The difference between the top goalies in the NHL and the rest is their lack of bad stretches. If they do have a bad stretch, it doesn’t last for long and they always come out better because of it. In this year’s playoff, The Kings have been forced to outscore teams like the San Jose Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks and now the New York Rangers, because of Quick’s sloppy play in net. With that being said, I would still feel pretty darn good heading into the playoffs with Jonathan Quick in net. He makes big, timely saves and he is tremendous when the game is on the line. At the end of the day, all you want from your goaltender is for him to give you the chance to win every game and Jonathan Quick does just that.

After watching the first round of this year’s playoffs, it became clear just how much better the Western Conference teams were than the ones playing in the Eastern Conference. It became even clearer in the second round watching the Chicago Blackhawks flex their muscles against a lesser opponent in the Minnesota Wild and the entertaining series between the Anaheim Ducks and the L.A. Kings. Of course, it was the most evident during the Conference Finals. The seven game series between the Blackhawks and the Kings were one for the ages. They played fast, tough, and intense hockey that left no room for errors. Watching that series and comparing it to the Eastern Conference Final between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens, it was clear that the Stanley Cup was going to either the city of Chicago or Los Angeles. I thought the cup final would end in five or even four games. Sweeping an opponent is very difficult in the playoffs and doing it in a Stanley Cup Final is god damn near impossible. That is how big of a difference I thought the skill level was between the two Conference Final series. Actually, I am not sure if any Eastern Conference team would have survived even the first round if they had played out west, except for the Boston Bruins. The dominance of the Western Conference teams have increased over the past three seasons and next year it is possible that we get a new cup winner out of California.

Jim Rutherford to be named new GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins

At 1.p.m. ET, the Pittsburgh Penguins will hold a press conference where they will officially announce Jim Rutherford as the new GM, as reported by Bob McKenzie of TSN. The 65-year-old resigned as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes in April and moved into an advisory role as team president after 20 years in the organization. During Rutherford’s tenure, the Whalers/Hurricanes went to the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times, earning three division titles, two Eastern Conference titles and winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.

The Penguins have been searching for a new general manager after firing Ray Shero on May 16th, just three days after the Penguins were eliminated in seven games by the New York Rangers. In recent weeks, three names in Tampa Bay’s assistant GM Julien BriseBois, Penguins’ interim general manager Jason Botterill, and NBC analyst Pierre McGuire have been considered the leading candidates for the job. Rutherford’s name did not surface until Tuesday and has denied commenting on the matter.

The main reason for Shero’s firing was, according to owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, the lack of influential forwards for the Penguins that were taken in the draft. That’s why hiring Rutherford would come as a bit of a surprise. Since 2005, the Hurricanes have really only drafted one impact forward in the 2010 seventh-overall-pick Jeff Skinner. Depth center Brandon Sutter of the Pittsburgh Penguins was also a first rounder taken by Rutherford and the Carolina Hurricanes. Elias Lindholm was taken in the 2013 first round and has yet to make a real impact on the Hurricanes roster, although he played 58 games this season and put up a total of 21 points (9+12).  Considering Shero often picked in the later stages of the first round, one could argue that he has had more success than Rutherford.

The Penguins do have familiarity with Rutherford, not only during his short period as a goaltender with them, but also as a GM. Rutherford was the one who orchestrated the franchise-altering trade that sent Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for Brand Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and the first-round pick, that turned into the 2013-2014 WHL Defenseman of the Year, Derrick Pouliot. The Hurricanes have selected some defensive talent in Ryan Murphy and NHL regulars Justin Faulk and Brett Bellemore, but Ray Shero did not receive criticism for his pick of defensemen. The Penguins leading goal-scorer in this year’s playoffs, Jussi Jokinen, was actually waved by Rutherford and the Hurricanes during 2012-13. Jokinen, being a UFA this summer, was considered very unlikely to re-sign with the Penguins and with the hiring of Rutherford it is safe to say that he won’t be playing in black and gold next season.

The Hurricanes have actually had a pretty similar team to the Penguins with some top-end talent and lack of support behind them. That being said, Rutherford did not have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to build around (with no disrespect to Eric Staal), and a change of scenery is seldomly a bad thing. Also, Rutherford could possibly be brought in to groom a GM in training, Jason Botterill (as in the case of Ron Francis), who could take over in four-five years.

The first line of business for Rutherford will be to evaluate head coach Dan Bylsma and his associates to potentially have a new coaching staff in place for the NHL draft on June 27-28 in Philadelphia.

Watch the Penguins’ press conference live from, http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=623768&catid=616&navid=nhl:topheads

As always, share your thoughts below.

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