Wednesday, June 13, 2012

King Lombardi and His Royal Court

Welcome to the Route 30 Detour! US Route 30 intersects at I-95 in Philadelphia and goes from coast to coast, including passing through Pittsburgh and the home of Drexel University SMT student and blog contributor, Bryan Fyalkowski (@fyalkowski)...

On February 23rd, the Los Angeles Kings were 27-22-12 and tied with Dallas and Calgary for eighth spot in the West. It was on this day when Kings' General Manager Dean Lombardi made the trade that turned the season from a huge disappointment to a huge success, with the season culminating in a Stanley Cup victory over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

"We will win this many Cups."

The team, which had huge expectations going into the season, was struggling at the time of the trade, but clearly had pieces in place to compete. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty were having solid seasons as usual, but what made the Kings a contender was Jonathan Quick emerging as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. Quick was in the process of an incredible, breakout season in which he would lead the league with 10 shutouts and finish first in full-time goaltenders with a 1.95 goals-against average.

This is what Jonathan Quick looks like without his mask.

Although the Kings were third in the NHL in goals allowed (135) at the time, they were also dead last in scoring (129) and obviously needed help on the offensive end of the ice. Jeff Carter, who was originally traded from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Columbus Blue Jackets, was in the middle of a frustrating season in the Buckeye State and was placed on the trade block.

"This sucks, this sucks, this sucks, this sucks..."

Perhaps sensing a trade, Carter notched a hat trick on February 21st against the San Jose Sharks, which ended up being his final game as a Blue Jacket. Two days later, he was on his way to Los Angeles in exchange for underachieving "superstar" Jack Johnson and a first round draft pick. Early feedback deemed the trade a big mistake for the Kings, but it was just what Lombardi needed to do to give his team a kick in the butt.

In the final 21 games of the season, the Kings went 13-5-3 with a goal differential of 66-44. Even though Carter notched just six goals and three assists as a King in 15 regular season games, his acquisition marked the change of momentum for the stretch run to the playoffs. The Kings lost two games in overtime against San Jose to wrap up the season and finished with 95 points and set as the eighth seed going into the playoffs.

Fun fact: Bernier is the backup goaltender. He didn't play much.

Over the next two months, the Kings defeated the top three seeds in the West (Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix) in a total of 14 games and beat the New Jersey Devils in six to become the first eighth seed to ever win the Stanley Cup.

Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' MVP, Kopitar and Brown led the league in scoring with eight goals and 12 assists apiece in 20 games and, with the core of their team locked down with long-term contracts, the Kings look to have established themselves as contenders for years to come.

Establish this, baby.

But wait, have we not seen this story before? In 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup and seemed to have a dynasty in the making. With two of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, a top goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury and a budding young star in Jordan Staal, it seemed that the Penguins would be in the finals every year until the end of time.


Unfortunately for the flightless birds, injuries, inconsistency in the playoffs and many other factors have turned them into a playoff letdown in three consecutive seasons. But even though the have not lived up to expectations thus far, the Penguins' core is still in tact for the time being, which gives them a chance to win the Stanley Cup every single year, a luxury which not many teams can boast.
As for the Kings' core, Kopitar is signed thru 2016, Doughty thru 2019, Richards thru 2020 and Carter thru 2022, while Quick is soon to receive a huge contract extension very soon, considering his entry-level contract expires after next year. Assuming we are not living on the moon by the time some of those contracts expire, Lombardi should be able to form good enough of a team around those constants to put the Kings in position to win every year.

In the NHL, just as it is in any other sport other than NCAA football, the biggest challenge to Stanley Cup contenders is circumnavigating through the playoffs. It is arguably the most difficult trophy to win, proved by the fact that there have been nine different winners in the last nine seasons. Competitive balance is rich in the NHL, in part because of the league's hard salary cap and collective bargaining and part because of the difficulty of winning 16 games in two of the most hectic months in sports.

Heck, even the Coyotes can win sometimes.

Personally, since the Penguins have run into a abundance of talent on their roster, I see the regular season as an 82-game layout where we can see how many points Crosby and/or Malkin can accumulate because I just assume they will be one of the top eight seeds in the East without worry.

Again, this is not normal with every NHL team and I am thankful the Penguins are in this position, a position the Kings are now in as well. As the Kings have proven this season, every team in the playoffs has a shot to win, but as the Penguins have proven over the last three years, it is still easier said than done.

Enjoy your trip back to I-95 and I'll see you next week!


  1. I nominate the brickwall/Quick photo/description as the best yet on i95 SportsBiz. well done sir, well done

  2. This article is definitely a masterpiece...but only because you included a link from Fox News. Also, your inclusion of the Moon Base article was spot on. Really shows your worldliness and breadth of knowledge when it comes to current events. I am now better prepared for life after reading this.

  3. Anthony, either get on the I-95 train or GET OFF. But I do appreciate the viewership and the feedback, I like to think that I tie in current events very seamlessly to my posts.

    And I appreciate the nomination Seth, gotta love an American goaltender who is just a brick wall in the net. He was absolutely dominate the entire playoffs, should be one of the league's best for many years to come.