10. Los Angeles Kings
Fourth place in Pacific, 45-29-8
Why they can win – It’s entirely possible that the Kings have the most underrated superstar in hockey in captain Anze Kopitar. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion and he finished top 10 in points. Maybe it’s a little East Coast bias that leaves him out of the superstar conversation. He fully deserves it, and Kopitar is the engine that is driving the Kings in their quest for a third Cup in seven years. Winger Dustin Brown may not have the most sterling reputation as far as clean play, but he’s producing at a good clip this season. Defenseman Drew Doughty is one of the best defensemen out there. Los Angeles has a main group that is talented, experienced and has the rings to prove it.
The secondary players include Tyler Toffoli, Jake Muzzin and Tanner Pearson. They swung a trade for defenseman Dion Phaneuf around the deadline. There’s not doubt that his best days are behind him. Los Angeles still has a good corps with Muzzin and Alec Martinez to go along with Doughty. Goalie Jonathan Quick used to be the very best in the league. He’s still plenty good, but isn’t quite at the same level.
Why they can’t – The Kings will have the same weakness that they’ve had for years. Aside from Kopitar, they don’t have a ton of reliable goal scorers. They have one of the lowest goal totals in the field and will rely on defense and goaltending to get them through. It’s served them well in the past but they also haven’t won a Cup in a few seasons. Can the formula work once again? It’s reliant on just a few players and that doesn’t always end well.
X Factor – Jonathan Quick: Los Angeles is without a doubt one of the prime teams that will only go as far as their goalie takes them. It doesn’t matter how well Doughty and Kopitar play if Quick doesn’t turn back the clock and reclaim his old form. The Kings don’t have the firepower to overcome poor goaltending. Quick makes the big bucks for this exact time of the season. There is no Plan B if things go south for the veteran goalie. It’s rare to see a team advance deep into the playoffs without excellent netminding, but for the Kings it’s absolutely imperative.
First Round Matchup – Las Vegas Golden Knights; series tied 2-2
The Kings are going to put the magical first season for the Knights down for good when they upset the favored Vegas squad. Not only do the Kings have legit superstar position players like Doughty and Kopitar, they have the experience that Vegas should fear. The core of the Kings know exactly what it takes to win the Cup. This could wind up being a terrible draw for Vegas.
Prediction – Kings in 7