Tuesday, August 30, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Eric & the Los Angeles Kings

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 12 of 30: the Los Angeles Kings



HOW THE KINGS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

After having a benchmark season and making it into the playoffs for the second year in a row (but once again being knocked out of the first round), one of the biggest questions of the off season still hangs over the Los Angeles Kings: the ongoing saga of when will RFA defenseman Drew Doughty sign, and for how much and how long? Doughty won gold with Team Canada in 2010 and was a Norris Trophy finalist the same year, which was only his second year in the NHL and made him the second-youngest nominee for the award; he's averaged 11 G / 31 A per season in the NHL.

Some of the Kings' playoff struggles can be chalked up to missing top center Anze Kopitar due to injury, but LA has proven to have a lot of grit and mettle in the midst of the very competitive Pacific division.

The Kings have quietly built themselves a very talented - and very young - core that should keep them consistently in the playoffs for many years to come. Doughty, Kopitar, team captain Dustin Brown, defenseman Jack Johnson, goaltender Jonathan Quick, Jarret Stoll, end of season trade acquisition Dustin Penner, Willie Mitchell - a lot of parts are there and primed for success.

LA did not make a lot of moves in the off season, but the ones they did were blockbusters. There is no doubt that LA lost some talent this season; shock waves rippled across the league when the trade that brought Mike Richards from the Flyers and sent Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn to Philadelphia. Team veteran Michal Handzus signed with cross-state (and division) rival, the San Jose Sharks.

While some prime talent was sacrificed, the Kings brought in some valuable veteran leadership with Richards. They also acquired Richards' 2009-10 teammate from the Stanley Cup Final Flyers squad, Simon Gagne, who spent last season in Tampa Bay. Gagne and Richards have previously played under John Stevens, who is now LAK's assistant coach, so they should assimilate into the team's systems quickly.

LA also has one of the youngest and most talented goaltending duos between the pipes. Their #1 goalie is Jonathan Quick, 25, who went 35-22-3 including 6 shutouts, with .918 sv% and just 2.24 GAA. Quick also led the league in shootout wins last season with 10 and a .818 sv%. (Particularly noteworthy - he was undefeated in home shootouts, with 5.) Quick is backed up by Jonathan Bernier, 23, who went 11-8-3 with a .913 sv% and 2.48 GAA, including 3 shutouts.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Colin Fraser (EDM), Mike Richards (PHL), Simon Gagne (TBL)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Michal Handzus (SJS), Alexei Ponikarovsky (CAR), Brayden Schenn (PHL), Wayne Simmonds (PHL), Ryan Smyth (EDM)

In short, LA is where this season roughly where Chicago was in 2009-10: a young, talented team that has been playing together for 3-5 seasons, that added a solid dash of valuable, experienced leadership. Expect there to be a constant, season-long battle between San Jose and Los Angeles for the top spot in the Pacific division; and I wouldn't be surprised to see both teams both earn home ice advantage. It's going to be a very exciting year for California hockey.

* * *
We interviewed Eric Roberts of Sin Bin Sports Blog and RinkRoyalty.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @_iRoberts.

Let's talk about your fandom for the Kings and how that developed.

I have been a Kings fan for as long as I can remember. I was born into a Buffalo [Sabres] family since my dad grew up there, but my loyalty to the Kings has slowly pushed the Sabres onto the back burner.

It seems like every year my allegiance and support for the Kings grows stronger and stronger. I find myself attending more and more games every season, and spending immeasurable amounts of time reading up on the Kings online.

I attended my first Kings playoff game two seasons ago, unfortunately it was game six against the Canucks. But that was by far my best experience as a Kings fan, the atmosphere, the support from the fans, and the passion seen all around LA during that time was awesome.

I have stayed loyal through the thick and thin, I have defended the Kings in countless arguments that have started off with, "Well the Ducks have a Cup...". Whenever I leave town, my Kings gear goes with me, and is worn like a badge of honor. My neck tattoo is going to be a sort of shrine towards the Kings and the city of Los Angeles, I see that as the ultimate commitment.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Well, the Kings didn't go crazy with their signings this off-season, but quality is much better than quantity. While a lot of Kings fans are caught up in the Mike Richards whirlwind, I'm actually looking forward to seeing Simon Gagne take to the ice in October. Gagne in my eyes needs to prove that he can still be an offensive threat, and show that he can make it over the injury problem that has hindered his playing ability in recent years. If he is in good shape and can get over the injuries he will fill the hole on the left wing that has haunted the Kings in recent history. How great would it be to have a 30 goal scorer skating down the left wing in Staples Center.

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

The 2011-2012 season will prove to be a leap forward for the Kings. They have got perhaps the top group of three centers with Kopitar, Richards, and Stoll. They have the team defense led by Drew Doughty (if he ever signs the damn dotted line) that will match the best offensive unit they have had in years. Also the Kings finally have found an answer in net, and no longer have to bounce from shaky goaltender to the next, with Quick and Bernier in between the pipes. You have no idea the headaches I had when Roman Cechmanek maned the crease.

With the acquisition of Richards, Kopitar will have a good amount of pressure taken of his shoulders which can only result in better play. With Richards in the line up, captain Dustin Brown won't be the only body flying into the corners and dropping bodies. The golden lining to all of this is that the Kings have one of the deepest prospect pools in the league led by Tyler Toffoli and Linden Vey. So the Kings could be set for years to come as well. If the Kings stay healthy and avoid late season injuries like those that took out Kopitar and Justin Williams, things can only move forward for the Kings, and their development into a Cup contender.
 
Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

The Kings will win the Pacific Division, and go into the playoffs as the number 2 seed in the Western Conference.

What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

Back in December, Quick turned out one of the best performances of the year and his career, when he stopped 51 shots in a shutout win against the Detroit Red Wings. That game was unbelievable, after that game it seemed like there was a buzz surrounding the team that has lead to the Kings becoming known around the league.

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