King Me! Los Angeles Is Back As Top Stanley Cup Contender

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, November 9, 2017 12:03 AM UTC

Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 12:03 AM UTC

The Los Angeles Kings were mega-disappointments in the 2016-17 season, but they are back to elite status this year and could be the team to beat in the Western Conference.

The Chicago Blackhawks have to be considered the team of the decade thus far because they won three Stanley Cups. A close battle for No. 2 would be between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings. The Pens because they have won the past two Cups, the first team to repeat since the late 1990s. The Kings won a Cup in 2012, lost in a terrific West Finals to the Blackhawks the next year and then won a second Cup in 2014.

However, things haven’t gone well since. L.A. missed the playoffs in 2014-15, was ousted in the first round the next season and then slipped to 86 points last year and missed the postseason again. As successful as Coach Darryl Sutter had been, it was time for him to go – and he was fired. Also out were longtime president and general manager Dean Lombardi.

To replace Sutter, who played a rather boring defensive style, the Kings -- now run by former legendary players Luc Robitaille, the president, and Rob Blake, the GM -- hired John Stevens. A Kings assistant coach for four seasons, associate head coach for three and interim coach for four games in 2010, Stevens was the only guy to go through extensive interviews for the head coaching job. The Kings knew who they wanted, feeling only a mini-reset was needed and not a total reboot.

It’s working big time.

Stevens has brought a more up-tempo style, and the Kings have responded as they are already running away in the Pacific Division and battling the St. Louis Blues for the most points in the Western Conference. The Kings are currently +550 at Bovada to win the West.

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Now, don’t go confusing the Kings with the high-flying Toronto Maple Leafs or Tampa Bay Lightning offensively, but L.A. is in the Top 10 in scoring compared to 24th last year at 2.43 goals per game. Star center Anze Kopitar had just 12 goals a season ago and should surpass that by Thanksgiving if not sooner.

In addition, team captain Dustin Brown is on pace to have a career season at age 33. He had just 36 points in 2016-17 and is already nearly halfway there. The top line of Kopitar, Brown and Alex Iafallo is rolling. Stevens has stuck with that trio instead of shuffling guys in and out like Sutter would do.

L.A. should only get better offensively when Jeff Carter returns. During the preseason, he suffered a skate cut that damaged a tendon in his ankle. The original prognosis was for Carter to miss 6-8 weeks. Carter led the Kings with 32 goals last year and gives them a terrific top-two center combination with Kopitar.

But let’s not kid ourselves: the most important Kings player is former Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goaltender Jonathan Quick. He suffered an injury in last year’s opener and only played 17 games. He has been better than ever and is on pace for his best goals-against average and save percentage since 2011-12 – the season he won the Conn Smythe. In fact, no goaltender has won it since. Led by Quick, L.A. leads the NHL in GAA and penalty-kill percentage.

At 5Dimes, the Kings are +1200 to win another Cup. Might be wise to jump on that NHL betting price now because it may only get shorter when Carter is back.

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