Back in the saddle
October 4, 2017 | 10:00pm ET
LOS ANGELES, CA -- Itís great to be back. Our last on-ice connection
was late into the June night when Sid, Geno and the rest of the
Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off back-to-back Stanley Cup championships
deep in the heart of Middle Tennessee.
Since then, thereís been a snoozer of an unrestricted free agency
period and meager trade activity.
Without question, the best summer offering was bearing witness to the
creation of the NHLís 31st team, the Vegas Golden Knights. The process
of the expansion draft and the subsequent deals that followed were
more compelling than the roster that starts the season, but itís
exciting to see the building of a franchise from Day 1.
Have fun facing all that rubber, Marc-Andre!
As for one local side, the word that defines the Los Angeles hockey
club since they departed the ice for the last time on April 9 is
I give the Kings credit: when they decide to do something, they do it
large. Three seasons of uninspiring and underachieving hockey brought
forth a broom the size of LA Live in April and vaporized the brain
trust (Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter) that created a hockey legacy
with one giant push.
But despite the seismic change in team management, the core of this
team was left unscathed. That Marian Gaborik buyout never came and the
trigger on the Dustin Brown trade was never pulled as new General
Manager Rob Blake placed his first bet on the PASS line. His hope is
that with new bench leadership and a different approach, his charges
will return to the post season.
The biggest noise of the off-season came from a core playerís comments
which raised both eyebrows and heart rates of the fan base. Drew
Doughty, who has played every pro game in a Kings sweater and made
good on Lombardiís draft day promise of bringing multiple Stanley Cups
to Los Angeles, appeared to put the organization on notice by stating
he was all about winning championships regardless of where he played.
To no oneís surprise on the first day of Kingsí training camp, Doughty
granted multiple interviews backing off his original comments. His
current narrative: he loves Los Angeles and his goal is to win
additional titles only on the corner of 11th and Figueroa. The initial
comments were written off as ďDrew being Drew,Ē some regrettable words
from a cat whose acumen for breaking up an odd man rush far outweighs
his media savviness.
Having the privilege of watching the ascension of this player from the
early bad days to reaching the pinnacle of his sport both individually
and with his team, I think this story still has miles to go and hereís
Does Drew Doughty love LA?
- Of course, heís making $7 million a year and lives steps from the
beach during the season. Youíd love it too.
Is Doughty all about championships?
- Indeed, his drive and thirst to win is equal to the greats of the
todayís game like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews. I have little
doubt he places winning over money (though he will cash in big on his
next extension) and individual achievements.
Is his preference to remain in Los Angeles on a long term deal?
- If I had to bet today, my money would be on Doughty to sign a max
term deal and remain a King.
Is it true that some players donít have the appetite to come home to
the pressure of the Toronto media cauldron with the mission of
smashing the 50 years of championship futility?
- Ask Steven Stamkos.
That said, is it a forgone conclusion that Doughty remains in Los
Angeles and resists the temptation of exploring free agency in the
summer of 2019?
And thatís because all the boxes havenít been checked to make
Doughtyís future in LA secure. Peering into my crystal ball at the
time his contract expires itís not a stretch to think Toronto will be
far closer to a Stanley Cup than the Kings and the need for a 1D would
be the final piece in the Leafs championship puzzle.
But before Kings fans start wringing their hands in contemplation of
what life would be without Drew, the reality is this:
It doesnít matter what Doughty said in August, says on Opening Night
or will say whenever this season ends. Heís not a malcontent, hasnít
asked for a trade and his competitive fire is as highly stoked as it
was when he took two twirls around the Staples Center ice with Lord
July 1, 2018 is when it matters -- thatís the day that he is eligible
to sign his last big money deal to stay in Los Angeles. Itís at that
point where his thoughts and words matter and why it makes this coming
Kings season so damn intriguing. For Los Angeles to keep their
generational defenseman, they need to return to contender status and
with Game 1 of 82 is thankfully upon us, no one really knows what this
season will bring.
Blake is betting big on his core players -- a prime example was
resisting the temptation to trade Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez for a
legitimate scoring forward. If preseason is any indication, heís won
that wager as that combo looks to have shrugged off a lackluster
season and should be key assets in Stevensí new offensive scheme.
The GM also tabled a substantial wager on bounce back seasons from
Anze Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli -- the duo combined for 28 goals last
season and if they can revert to expected form, asking for 50 combined
scores is realistic. That total would make things much easier for an
expected top 10 ranked defense and would put them in the middle of the
expected Western Conference playoff position dogfight. Itís also fair
to expect the same level of production from Toffoliís line mates --
Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson.
So, while itís reasonable to assume improved offense one essential
need to be present not to repeat another 86-point season.
A healthy Jonathan Quick makes this team a far more confident one. For
the balance of his career, the debate will rage on being ďeliteĒ and 2
Stanley Cups and 1 Conn Smythe have me on the Yes side of the
argument. But Quick is one of those athletes whose performance
improved proportionally with the importance of the game, a money
goaltender, if you will. His warrior mentality between the pipes was
something this team missed as they drifted through an uninspired and
unproductive 2016-17 season. By the time he returned for the Kingsí
stretch run it was too late, the team had spit the bit and had nothing
left to give.
But what lies outside the core is what will make this team a
fascinating watch; no one knows what this team will deliver once they
drop the puck for real.
Michael Cammalleri, who most assume would line up next to Kopitar and
Dustin Brown, looks to be starting the season on the third line. Alex
Iafallo, another under the radar find by the amateur scouting staff
after a four-year college career at Minnesota-Duluth, has impressed
and surprised through preseason to grab the left-wing slot with the
current and former captains. But if you had Iafallo in the pool as
Gaborikís replacement on opening night... youíre lying. Iafallo and
Swedish import via the KHL Oscar Fantenberg were the surprises of the
preseason, but itís not all good news in the prospects area.
The heralded next generation of Kings that didnít get the promised run
in Sutterís last bench season was given every opportunity to emerge
this preseason and off the early returns, will have to show far
Paul LaDue, who in some corners is the player that will end the long
search to replace Slava Voynov as top four right defenseman, showed so
little that failed make the 23-man roster out of camp. Adrian Kempe
and Jonny Brodzinski will be Cammalleriís third line running mates to
start, but that decision looks more like a ďprove-itĒ one than by
merit. Even with a return to form by the core, itís likely these three
playersí contributions that hold the key to the fate of the season.
When times were great in LA, the Kings got legitimate contributions
from their depth players and the lack of production over the past
three seasons was a major reason this team has shifted in reverse.
The formula of tried and true has been substituted with one containing
ingredients of potential and youth and regardless of its outcome, the
commitment it is the right choice. Will this mix of veteran talent and
unproven potential produce at minimum the 95-point season required to
return to the post-season and make Doughty feel more secure about his
ability to win more championships in LA?
Weíre all gonna find out starting Thursday. Enjoy the ride.
HERE AND THERE
Itís been a busy off-season for me and for those who donít follow on
social media (and shame on you if you donít), a summary of what lies
ahead for the coming season.
- Every Saturday from 11AM-1PM ET on NHL Network Radio (SiriusXM
Channel 91), David Pagnotta and I have joined forces with Nick Alberga
to present Off the Rush powered by The Fourth Period. The powers that
be brought back our predecessor show, TFP Live for a well-received run
last post-season and weíve been given the opportunity to have a full
run for the 2017-18 season.
- Continuing the radio front, the good people at TSN 690 in Montreal
have made me a staple over the past five years and for a guy who grew
up in New York and witnessed the greatness of Jean Beliveau, Ken
Dryden and Larry Robinson in the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge, itís both an
honor and privilege to talk the fans in the Cradle de Hockey. Iíve
appeared at all hours on the outlet, but this season Iíve nestled into
a regular segment on Fridays at 1:30pm on Off the Cuff with Chris
Nilan and Sean Campbell. Campbell has been an advocate throughout my
run and any time you put a Bostonian (Nilan) and New Yorker (DB)
together itís going to be fun.
- Made my debut last March on live television with a couple of
appearances on NHL Network, a thrilling and terrifying experience
wrapped in one. As it is with radio, Iíve signed on with NHL Net to
start the season as one of their Los Angeles correspondents, one of
the highlights of my sports media career. And yes, jacket and tie
- Iíve thrown my hat into the podcast ring by partnering with Josh
Brewster, the Ducks post-game radio voice to produce the DJ Podcast.
Weíll bang out about 30 minutes of chatter weekly and while Kings and
Ducks will be frequent topics, weíll have some hot takes about
happenings around the NHL. Check us out at
Hockey Talk Radio.
- In 2010, we traveled with the Columbus Blue Jackets to Stockholm,
Sweden for their two-game season opening Premiere Series against the
San Jose Sharks. It was my first and only visit to Scandinavia and I
had such a memorable experience I promised myself it wouldnít be my
last. Iíve kept that promise seven years later as the plan is to cover
the Ottawa-Colorado series in Stockholm in November.
- On the writing front, Iíve written game night reports for The Sports
Xchange, a news service (think AP/CP) over the past couple of years.
This season, Iíve been asked to run point for them for both Southern
California teams, so look for my by-line there throughout the seasons.
For me, it means more Ducks coverage as the lead writer for the
- Other than that, not much going on.
- My sleeper team: the New York Islanders.
- And yes, Iím fully stocked on Pittsburgh Kool-Aid: Iím picking the
Penguins for a three-peat.
This week, the segment of choice comes courtesy of TSN Winnipeg as I
joined Kevin Oleszewski on Tuesday for a Pacific Division discussion.
Have a listen.
Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.