While the Los Angeles Kings are still soaking in the sun and enjoying their newly achieved Stanley Cup victory, others — including about 29 NHL teams — are already looking ahead to next season. It's a "What have you done for me lately?" type of sports atmosphere these days.
So, while the Kings bask in their glory, one question that has come up very shortly after their first Stanley Cup win in franchise history is whether they can repeat and do it again. Rumblings about a dynasty were given credence when the Stanley Cup odds for 2013 were released with the Kings listed as the top dog in the Western Conference.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have the best odds to win the 2013 Stanley Cup at 7-1, while the Kings are close behind at 11-1. The Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks all have 12-1 odds. The Boston Bruins are listed at 14-1 to win it all.
One of the reasons why pundits and oddsmakers seem so bullish on the Kings is that their roster should return virtually intact next season. Their goaltending situation is solidified, all six starting blue-liners are signed, and many of their core forwards are inked long-term. The Kings will have to make decisions on Dustin Penner ($4.25 million in 2012), Jarret Stoll ($3.6 million) and Colin Frasor ($825,000), who are all unrestricted free agents. Beyond that, the Kings will also have to — and likely will — re-sign Dwight King, who is their only restricted free agent.
With Jonathan Quick back between the pipes, the Kings figure to have one of the best goalies in the league anchoring them. With a young blue line that includes Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov — none of whom is 25 years old yet — and veterans Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell, the Kings appear to be stocked there, too. Up front, the Kings will now get a full season from sniper Jeff Carter, Mike Richards is in his second season in the system, and captain Dustin Brown looks like he's set to flourish with Anze Kopitar. Best of all, none of these players are older than 27.
So, the Kings are talented, young and confident. Most importantly, they'll have head coach Darryl Sutter back behind the bench. Sutter took over a Kings team that was just 15-14-4 on December 22 and coached the Kings to a 25-13-11 mark the rest of the way before leading LA on its epic playoff run.
The best news for Los Angeles may be its salary cap situation. Before the Kings start making transactions, they'll have just over $16 million to play with, which means they could conceivably bring Penner, Stoll and Frasor back and still have room to work with. Beyond that, they have a tradable asset in backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who may be of interest to teams like Tampa Bay, Toronto or Chicago. In return, the Kings could bolster a different part of their team.
So, what's going to keep the Kings from repeating as Stanley Cup champs? On paper, it looks like they have a great shot, but in reality, parity is more likely do them in.
Looking back at the 2011-2012 season, there were so many surprises that next season would only be surprising if there are no surprises. The St. Louis Blues put together a great season, the Florida Panthers ended their playoff drought, the New Jersey Devils won the Eastern Conference, the Phoenix Coyotes made it out of the first round in the playoffs and the No. 8-seeded Kings not just won it all but also dominated along the way.
It's very hard to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Just ask the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, who both ran out of gas in their attempts to do so over the last two seasons. Chances are that something similar happens to the Kings, and parity brings a different team to the forefront.