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Top Shelf: Are the Kings a dynasty in the making?
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It's way too early to simply declare the Los Angeles Kings a dynasty but it's time to begin the conversation.
With a thrilling double-overtime win Friday in Los Angeles capped by an Alec Martinez goal, the Kings finished off the New York Rangers in five games to celebrate their second Stanley Cup title in three seasons.
The scary thing for the rest of the NHL is all the pieces are in place for L.A. to make another championship run or two over the next few seasons. The team is still relatively young, it has a head coach in Darryl Sutter who always seems to know how to get the most of his roster, and most importantly, general manager Dean Lombardi has his club in excellent salary cap shape.
The Kings are the first NHL team to claim two titles over a three-year span since Detroit won consecutive Cups in 1997 and '98. L.A. should be a serious threat to become the first franchise since the Red Wings to pick up back-to- back championships by the time the spring of 2015 rolls around.
It's funny to be talking dynasty now considering how close the Kings were to making tee times in late April. Los Angeles was down 3-0 to San Jose in the first round only to win four straight to become the fourth team in NHL history to take a series after losing the first three games.
L.A.'s brushes with elimination didn't end there either. The Kings won Games 6 and 7 against Anaheim to set up a Western Conference finals rematch with Chicago and then disposed of the 2013 champion Blackhawks in seven.
Even though the Stanley Cup Finals ended in five games, it was anything but a breeze for the Kings. L.A. had to come back from two-goal deficits to take both Games 1 and 2 beyond regulation, and the Rangers were so close Friday to sending the series back to New York for Game 6.
If there's truth to the idea of "that which does not kill us makes us stronger," then one would assume the Kings to be ridiculously strong at this point. The Kings matched a NHL record with 26 games played this postseason, tying the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers and 2004 Calgary Flames, but L.A. is the only team among that group to lift the Cup.
Talk about resiliency.
Of course, there will be some who say L.A. also received some help from the "hockey gods" this spring, and that's not unfair. The phrase "puck luck" has been bandied about quite a bit this postseason and the Kings certainly benefited from their share of bounces during their 2014 postseason run.
But, this is nothing new. In hockey you always need a little bit of luck to win a Cup. One of the great things about L.A. is its depth ensures there will always be somebody waiting to cash in when the "lucky" bounces come their way.
Speaking of L.A.'s depth, Lombardi has a few roster decisions to make this offseason and those choices could affect whether or not his Kings can get back to the top of the NHL mountain again. One would assume he'd like to re-sign sniping winger Marian Gaborik after his 14-goal playoff run this spring, but will Lombardi decide to use a compliance buyout on Mike Richards to make room? Sutter has expressed his love of Richards' winning attitude on more than a few occasions, but the hard-working forward could wind up getting bought out thanks to a contract that has him eating up $5.75 million of cap space a season through 2019-20.
Letting go of Richards also could free up space to eventually lock up more important forwards like Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams for the long term. Kopitar, a superb two-way player entering his prime, has two years remaining at $6.8 million per campaign, while Williams, the newly-minted Conn Smythe Trophy winner, is finally getting his due as a legitimate NHL star and should expect a big raise on his last contract, which paid him $14.6 million over four years.
Elsewhere, the Kings have crucial pieces like forwards Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter, star defenseman Drew Doughty and No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Quick all signed for a while. Of that group, Doughty is closest to his next scheduled unrestricted free agent year, which won't come until 2019-20.
On top of those proven stars, the Kings have a few potential studs in the making, with forwards Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, who are 21 and 22 years old, respectively, foremost among them.
The biggest obstacle impeding a potential dynastic run by these Kings is the strength of the Western Conference, which presently has its Eastern brethren outclassed by miles. L.A. proved itself the best of the West in 2014, but each year it will have to compete against teams like Anaheim, Chicago, San Jose and St. Louis. Minus the Blackhawks, those clubs have a ways to go when it comes to getting it done in the playoffs, but the talent level of those franchises can't be dismissed so easily.
One thing is pretty clear: If the Kings get back to the Cup Finals in 2015, they'd be big favorites over any team from the East. The same thing goes for the Blackhawks, who heard the dynasty talk quite a bit after winning their second Cup in four seasons last spring and will be determined to get revenge on L.A. in 2014-15.
It's been a long time since the NHL had a team which could truly call itself a dynasty. Many believed the salary cap era would make it nearly impossible to achieve, but after watching what the Kings did this postseason it's time to believe it could happen again.
SYMPATHY FOR THE RANGERS
Few people gave the Rangers a chance to beat L.A. for the Cup, but despite only winning one game against the Kings, New York was certainly up for the challenge.
But, losing Games 1 and 2 despite holding two-goal leads earlier in those contests was a tough way to start a series, and a 3-0 loss at home in Game 3 sealed New York's fate. In the end, the Rangers needed Henrik Lundqvist to play some of the best hockey of his already brilliant career just to get it to double overtime of Game 5.
Rick Nash will get a large part of the blame for the Rangers falling short of winning their first Cup since 1994, and considering he counts for $7.8 million against the salary cap those complaints will be justified. Despite leading New York with 26 goals during the regular season, he didn't manage to post a single point against the Kings in the playoffs.
If Nash's trying series had to be summed up with one moment it would be the one that came in the second overtime of Friday's battle. With Quick out of position, Nash had a clear shot at an open net and his shot seemed on target before Slava Voynov desperately lunged at the puck and just caught a piece of it with his stick. It turned out to be a game-saving deflection by the Kings defenseman, sending the puck on a trajectory high and wide of the net.
All things considered, however, this was an amazing season for the Blueshirts, who fired head coach John Tortorella after getting bounced in the second round of the 2013 playoffs. It turned out to be a great move, as Tortorella's replacement, Alain Vigneault, led the franchise to its first Cup appearance since '94, while Torts was axed by the Vancouver Canucks (who did the same to Vigneault last spring) after failing to make the postseason.
Of course, the huge step forward this season was hardly a source of consolation on Friday night.
"Any loss in the Stanley Cup Final is going to be a real tough loss," said a dejected Vigneault. "Tried our best. Everybody laid it out there. I'm very proud of our group, very proud of their effort."
06/14 02:52:01 ET
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