No one agrees more than the LA Kings players that this season has not gone to plan. Many NHL experts picked this team to not only make the playoffs, but finish 2nd or 3rd in the division. These expectations were on the heels of a 45 win 98 point season in 2017-18. Not to mention the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk to an already seemingly deep forward core. That plus Drew Doughty on the backend and Jonathan Quick in net should have translated into growth this season.
With about a week to go in the season LA has been eliminated from the playoffs for a while now and sits dead last in the Western Conference and second to last in the entire NHL.
So what went wrong in LA?
It started with the firing of coach John Stevens just 13 games into the season, in an attempt to right the ship early. This proved to be completely ineffective as the slide continued. Factor in an injury riddled and subpar year for Jonathan Quick (currently .891 save percentage in 42 GP) and no chemistry for Kovalchuk with anyone else on the team and you have LA with a top 3 pick in 2019. Anze Kopitar leads the Kings with 53 points which is the 4th lowest point total of any team leading scorer.
Kings Players Speak Out
That brings us to this week where a pair of Kings players decided to speak their mind about issues that concerned them. Let’s start with Drew Doughty, LA’s All Star game representative. Prior to the Kings’ game agains Calgary he had some choice words for his opponent Flames F Matthew Tkachuk:
Drew Doughty just teed off on Matthew Tkachuk, who he'll face tonight: "No respect for him, none. I respect everyone else. I’ll never talk to him off the ice. … He’s not respected by most of the people in the league, it’s not just me – that’s just a fact." Full story to follow
— Eric Francis (@EricFrancis) March 25, 2019
While a little smack talk is fine, this seems more personal. There has always been an unspoken rule in the NHL that you leave this sort of animosity on the ice. You never know where you might end up and these types of comments can come back to create awkwardness. These players aren’t likely to be traded, but who knows what LA might do this offseason. This seems like a reflection of the fractured culture in LA more than anything.
The other comments made were more of a ‘trade request’ by Ilya Kovalchuk. He went off on his coach for playing time, despite averaging over sixteen minutes per game at age 35:
“It’s horrible,” Kovalchuk said “That’s the worst. But [Desjardins] didn’t play young guys. He plays seven D. That’s his new strategy.”
“What you can do? That’s his decision and he’s the head coach – 10 more games. What else we can do. Just practice hard and show the young kids that that thing can happen to anybody. You just have to keep going,” said Kovalchuk.
“Still we were winning games, we were right there,” Kovalchuk, who has 14 goals and 17 assists through 60 games this year, told Dillman. “After Willie came here, I don’t have a chance. I play five, six minutes a game.”
“A few games I play with Kopi,” Kovalchuk said. “We did well. We score all five games and then [Desjardins] decide to change and I never play again, much. That’s the way he sees the situation.
“Like I said, he’s the head coach and he’s responsible for result.”
Wow is the immediate reaction. Thats a player who clearly is frustrated with not making the playoffs or even being competitive this season. Kovy came back to win a Stanley Cup and is not a spring chicken anymore, this year is wasted and he clearly doesn’t want to be part of a rebuild. Next week will likely be his last game as a King, but they will have trouble moving his contract and his ego to a contender.
Whats Next LA?
The good news is that it can’t get much worse (unless you’re a Senators fan). LA will get an NHL ready player in this draft, and should be active this offseason shedding older players and their bloated cap hits for some youth and picks. The team also needs to take a good hard look at their goaltending, Quick can’t carry the workload for 60 plus games anymore. Perhaps it’s time to find a 1b goalie to play 35-40 games next season (See NY Islanders). LA shouldn’t be headed for a total rebuild, but some major moves will be needed for the team to compete next year in a talented Pacific Division.