As a fan of the Los Angeles Kings, we are conditioned to slow starts, rapid fall-offs and just not making the playoffs. It happens. With only one Stanely Cup Finals appearance in 43 years, it’s understandable for an LA Kings fan to expect very little. Since the lockout we’ve seen the likes of Jeremy Roenick, Brian Willsie and Yutaka Fukufuji come through the ranks. We also saw a significant regime change that resulted in three consecutive top 5 picks. To date there’s nothing to hang our hat on. Fans laugh at us, mock us and expect us fizzle out in the bottom of the Pacific Division yet again. Well, I’m here today to tell you that this is not the case anymore. Be on notice, NHL fans, the Los Angeles Kings are coming for you. With a fresh dose of confidence, here’s why:
1. Ryan Smyth – While this 33-year old former Oiler-for-life may have had his injuries and could be “past his prime”, his 26 goals and 33 assists for 59 points last season will drastically help this offensively anemic team. Why? Matt Moulson started on the top line last season and in 7 games he had 1 goal and 0 assists. So Kyle Calder took over. He scored a slightly more but still dreadful 8 goals and 19 assists for 27 points in 79 games. That’s a 31 point differential. Not to mention Ryan Smyth is loaded with character while Matt Moulson looks like Snoopy and Kyle Calder was on the Price is Right.
2. Consistent goaltending – Sure, the young and relatively unproven tandem of Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg could be a flash in the pan but I prefer them to the following netminders who have passed through the organization: Mathieu Garon, Jason LaBarbera, Dan Cloutier, Barry Brust, Yutaka Fukufuji, Sean Burke (the guy practically qualified for AARP when with the team) and Dan Taylor. If Quick or Ersberg should stumble or succumb to injury, Jonathan Bernier (who seems like he now has his head on straight) will be ready for the challenge.
3. Dean Lombardi – Regardless of the fact that he has given us three seasons of consistent losing, he is re-building the right way. Long gone are the days when you trade Jeff Tambellini and Denis Grebeshkov for Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel just to make the playoffs with no shot at winning a Stanley Cup. Dean Lombardi has ripped apart and re-built our scouting system, development programs, video development and team. After a bit of losing, I’m happy we have Drew Doughty, Thomas Hickey, Wayne Simmonds, Oscar Moller and many others. We have a strong stable of rookies who are already making an impact and many more coming up.
4. Defense – Remember Nathan Dempsey, Jeff Cowan, Mike Weaver and Olev Tverdovsky? They have now been replaced by Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene and Sean O’Donnell. This team was seventh in the league on the Penalty Kill last season without Rob Scuderi and, for much of the season, Jack Johnson. Think you’ll miss Kyle Quincey? Not if Jack Johnson’s strong performance at the IIHF World Championships this year holds up (7 points in 9 games). Drew Doughty lead all rookies in Average Time on Ice by a large margin (a full 2:17 over second place Luke Schenn). Will he suffer that sophomore slump? I don’t think so.
5. Kings Vision – The fine folks behind the scenes of the on-line world at the Los Angeles Kings had a bit of a makeover as well when Dean Lombardi took the helm. Gone is that wretched website that no one could use and would always crash on my Mac. Instead, they hired Heidi Androl and started covering the Kings with regular video shows on Kings Vision. Now, instead of a small blurb in the Los Angeles Times, we get ’round the clock video interviews and features that can satisfy the hunger of even the most rabid LA Kings fan (combined with episodes of Overtime by KingsCast). Kings Vision has personality and it’s engaging. The website is great and the Kings are even breaking news on Twitter. Giving this level of access to the fans is key.
6. Downtown LA – Remember when commuting to Staples Center meant gambling with your life as bullets whizzed by? Having a drink after a game meant getting a forty from the 7-11 and drinking it from a paper bag? No more as AEG has almost completed the spectacular LA Livewhich hosts a theatre, a plethora of good restaurants and, soon, a Ritz Carlton (with residences starting at a paltry $1.8 million). Downtown Los Angeles has been revitalized, despite the sluggish economy. Restaurants and bars have been opening to a great deal of fanfare. In fact, I hang out in downtown now as much as I do the rest of the city (even on non-game nights).
So, yeah, I’m (still) excited to be a Los Angeles Kings fan. I think this team is going to be a force this year. We’re not winning a Cup but we’re going to make some noise in the playoffs. And, hey, if not, there’s a lot of ways to drown my sorrows after the game.
So are you excited this year or are you going in expecting the worst? What are your 6 reasons to be a LA Kings fan this year? For that matter, what are your 6 reasons not to be?
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