Okay Kings fans, we’re in training camp right now and Drew Doughty is still unsigned. If you asked me earlier this summer if we’d be in training camp “sans Doughty”, I would have said no way. I guess that’s just the eternal optimist in me, because here we are. While a considerable amount of time has been spent trying to distribute blame to Doughty, Lombardi, or Meehan, that’s not what I plan on doing here… because we know Meehan is the guilty party. Kidding. Kind of…
No, today what I want to do is ask you Kings fans to do something that will be considerably difficult. I want you to try and imagine that… Doughty does not exist. He never has and never will exist again. I’m not saying a deal won’t get done, I just want you to picture the team without Doughty because every time I or any other blogger/columnist/etc. has shown a lineup for the Kings this coming season, Doughty has been penciled into that top pair spot. So, let’s try, try, try to imagine this team without him.
For starters, the offense looks pretty darn good:
Penner – Kopitar – Williams
Gagne – Richards – Brown
Parse – Stoll – Lewis/Richardson/(Hunter)
Clifford/Moreau – Fraser – Westgarth
The top-six is pretty solid. Kopitar says he’s feeling good and ready to come back after the season ending ankle injury from last season. Penner says he’s lost weight and his teammates are excited about his new look. Williams had a comeback last season after several injury plagued years. If Gagne can stay healthy he’s a 30-goal guy. Richards is an excellent two-way center that can score and shutdown his opponents. Brown has been arguably the most consistent forward for the Kings in the last handful of seasons.
I said earlier this summer that the Kings bottom-six looked good, but a little on the young side. Since then the Kings have added Ethan Moreau and invited Trent Hunter to try out with the team (hence the parenthetical). There are a lot of moving parts in the bottom six. Stoll is a very solid 3rd line center option, but Moreau, Fraser, Richardson, or Lewis could play 4th line center or winger.
As for the defense, it’s time to pretend:
Mitchell – Muzzin/Voynov/Hickey/Deslauriers
Johnson – Scuderi
Martinez – Greene
Not terrible. No, seriously. The Kings are lucky to have some top flight defense prospects in the pipeline. The words “NHL ready” have been used to describe Muzzin, Voynov, and Deslauriers. Hickey has caught a lot of grief and criticism since being drafted. However, he finished strong last season in the AHL and while his early draft position puts unreasonable expectations on him, Hickey can still contribute to this team in some fashion. He is probably the long shot though.
Muzzin has the best mix of grit and offense of the three other guys and has NHL experience so he might have the inside track. Voynov is going to be a top-4 guy in the league some day and can QB the powerplay. Deslauriers is also of the offensive-defenseman ilk and was arguably the best defenseman in the QMJHL last season.
Now, I don’t necessarily expect the young call-up to play top-pair minutes. I’d imagine they’d get more offensive zone starts and divide some mixed pair time with Scuderi and Johnson stepping up intermittently. If Johnson’s game in the defensive end has improved over the summer, then I’d expect something more like:
Johnson – Scuderi
Mitchell – Martinez
Muzzin/Voynov/Hickey/Deslauriers – Greene
Johnson is the real wildcard here. He has the chops to be a top defenseman in the league and has shown his offensive prowess time and again. However, his plus/minus is ugly. He showed his defensive ability season before last with a strong return after the Olympics, but regressed to a career worst plus/minus rating last season. If he can turn his game around then the Kings will be in good shape.
Okay, we can stop pretending now. Obviously the defense suffers without Doughty. However this team can win without him. With strong goaltending, Doughty will more likely be the difference between home-ice advantage come playoff time or being the 8th seed/bubble team. For one player to have that kind of impact on a team is significant, especially in the very competitive Western Conference.
I’m (maybe naively) not worried about the Kings making the playoffs, so much as I’m worried about another 1st round exit. If the Kings are knocked out in round 1 and Doughty does miss a large amount of time, it will be interesting to see if it’s Murray or if it’s Lombardi that catches heat for it.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney