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Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down : LA Kings Edition

Alright, alright, alright. It has been a while since I have written one of these columns, but with my good friend and esteemed colleague Emily Redenbach traveling around the world while on holiday, I thought I’d shake off the rust and give my opinion on who deserves a thumbs up or down when it comes to our Los Angeles Kings. So without further ado, let’s do this!

THUMBS DOWN TO BLOW OUT LOSSES

(photo by nhl.com)

Boy, when this season’s Kings lose, they lose big! (or as my cousin Kayla always says, “hey, it’s either you go big or go home!” The problem here is the Kings can lose big even WHEN they are at home! What a trapped wall of emotions we Kings’ fans are going through. As soon as we start feeling a little better about our team and ourselves after a victory, say like the 2-0 victory over the rival Vegas Golden Knights on New Year’s Day, then the Kings have to get their butts handed to them in a 6-2 knockout by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Okay, Tampa is the one of, if not the best team in the NHL right now, so fair enough, but how about when the Kings defeated the also struggling rival Oilers 4-0 on January 5th, but then go and lose to the horrible Ottawa Senators 4-1 on the 10th. Or when the Kings out hustled the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on the 12th, only to then get embarrassingly shellacked by the slumping Colorado Avalanche 7-1 at home in LA on the 19th. Hockey truly can be soooo cruel, in a season that has already been cruel enough. It’s one thing to lose but it’s another to get embarrassed. Especially by teams that the Kings should be talented enough to defeat, well at least on paper. THUMBS DOWN!

THUMBS UP TO JONATHAN QUICK FOR MAKING HISTORY

(Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

What more can be said about the greatest goaltender in Los Angeles Kings’ franchise history? He already has every record for the Kings when it comes to goaltending, but it is extra special when Quick starts hitting the elite level of stats that have him surpass other legendary goaltenders in the all-time NHL categories. On January 21st, (which was also his birthday), after a 33 save performance that led the Kings to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues, Quick surpassed his childhood hero, Stanley Cup & World Cup winner Mike Richter, with his 302nd regular season career victory, giving him sole possession of 4th place overall in wins by an American born goaltender. This is an incredible achievement and honor, but what blows my mind is can you imagine how many MORE victories Quick would have had if he hadn’t had the number of injuries that he has had in recent years? He could have possibly already surpassed the last three goalies above him on the list, two time Stanley Cup Champion Tom Barrasso, who has 369 career wins, and Vezina Trophy winners, John Vanbiesbrouck, and (current Anaheim Ducks’ back-up) Ryan Miller, who are tied for first place overall with 374 wins. (Miller will take the top spot at some point before the end of this season). Injuries are a normal part of a game as rough and fast as hockey is, so it is what it is, and if Quick can stay healthy at 33 years old and beyond, then who knows how high up on the list he can go? So here’s a huge THUMBS UP to our legendary goalie, (and in my opinion, future Hockey Hall of Famer), Jonathan Quick! Oh and let’s not also forget that when Quick achieved his 300th career victory, he also became the 11th fastest goalie overall to do so! Jonathan Quick forever! <cue cheers and a standing ovation>

THUMBS DOWN TO INTERIM COACH WILLIE DESJARDINS

(photo by theprovince.com)

Let’s be honest here. Coach Willie is just a glorified babysitter and caretaker until GM Rob Blake finds a more suitable suitor (not Sutter) to be the official head coach of the Los Angeles Kings. I’m sure being an interim coach for a struggling franchise cannot be easy, (just ask Kings’ legend Rogie Vachon and John Torchetti (remember him?), so there is only so much that he can do, but with how he has coached and prepared the team so far, I’m not sure if I prefer Desjardins or John Stevens as the coach of this team?

Best known for being the head coach of the rival (and HATED) Vancouver Canucks, where they missed the playoffs twice and was eliminated in the first round in his 3 years coaching there, coach Willie did have some success in the minors, when he led the Texas Stars to the 2014 Calder Cup, (a year before LA’s AHL affiliate at the time, The Manchester Monarchs won theirs), and won the WHL Championship twice in 2004 & 2007, before losing in the Memorial Cup Final both times. So with all that junior level experience, (including being the head coach of the 2010 World Junior Canadian National Team, you know the one that lost to current Kings’ goaltender, Jack Campbell and Team USA in the Gold Medal Final, (ugh the pain), one would think that he’d be the right type of coach that knows how to work and develop the younger players, at least in theory. I honestly don’t feel like he is doing that with the Kings’ young crops. First, the practices at the TSC have been lackluster and disorganized. Only recently did Desjardins finally make the Kings work out hard and sweat during an aggressive practice. You know, something that is normally done when players aren’t playing up to standards in games they need to win? I also get severely bothered at many of the rosters changes Desjardins has done in regards to the younger players. More specifically, Austin Wagner, Matt Luff, and Sean Walker. In a season where it would take a miracle of Lake Placid proportions for these Kings to make the playoffs, and the odds are that they are NOT going to make them, then this is a perfect opportunity to give these younger players an opportunity to gain experience at the NHL pace and level! Let them gain as many shifts and game scenarios as possible. Plus these kids are fast skaters, especially Wagner, and that’s what today’s NHL is all about. It is like the LA Kings’ is having an identity crisis over what type of team they are supposed to be? Heavy or fast? Well, I’m no expert, but my best guess is that you need to play and skate fast and if you have players that have speed, then use them!

Also, when veteran players like Ilya Kovalchuk or Dion Phaneuf don’t produce or play well, Tyler Toffoli too, then bench them! Who cares how much they are getting paid or some cases, overpaid. Replace them with younger and hungrier players to be in that line-up. Maybe that would wake and shake up the veterans? Phaneuf has just been so horrible this season, so forget him, put Sean Walker in the line-up instead. Or call up Daniel Brickley again and see what he can do during a long playing run. Or how about having BOTH Wagner AND Luff play in the line up instead of one or the other? This team is already losing a lot of games so what do you have to lose by playing the younger, hungrier and faster players? A HUGE THUMBS DOWN to the glorified babysitter.

THUMBS UP TO ANZE KOPITAR, DUSTIN BROWN & JEFF CARTER

(photo by LA Daily News)

In a disaster of a wasteful season, where most hope seems to be lost, at least we Kings’ fans can count on three players that will still play as if their lives depended on it. Those three players are already solidified in Kings’ history, mythology and lore, and are the only three offensive players on the Kings, that have contributed regularly this painful season by scoring goals, and creating offensive opportunities, as others on the team either struggle, lack consistency or just disappear in games. Those three are, of course, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter. All three are also over 30 years old. Props to Jake Muzzin and Drew Doughty as well, as they have been holding the Kings’ defensive core together with magical duct tape as best that they can, (which has been damn near impossible this season), and props to goalie Jack Campbell, who is tied for first place overall in the NHL for save percentage, while Quick has been battling injuries and has been inconsistent all year, but when it comes to scoring goals in games, big or small, “Kopi”, “Brownie” and “El Jefe” have been the go-to guys that get the job done. Now what worries me is why are they still the full-on offensive leaders of this struggling goal scoring team? Why hasn’t the next generation of offensive leaders, like Toffoli, or Tanner Pearson (before he was <tears> traded to the Pens), or Adrian Kempe took the torch from the veterans and ran (or skated) with it? Instead, they either drop it, or run away from it, and the offensive trinity is now reaching an age and time in their careers, like Carter and Brown who are both 34 years old, that they won’t be playing in the NHL for that much longer. So the Kings’ need the next generation to start stepping up and take over, and not just piggyback on the coattails of the three Papa Bears. But big THUMBS UP to those three Papa Bears, Kopitar, Brown, and Carter for doing what they do best, and that’s carrying this inferior scoring LA Kings’ on their strong backs.

But for how much longer???…..

THUMBS DOWN TO THE FIRE SALE ABOUT THE COME

(photo by nhl.lakings.com)

I fully understand that the sport of hockey, and all other sports, are a business. I learned this the hard way as a kid growing up loving the Los Angeles Kings, whenever my heart was broken when one of my heroes and hockey idols were traded away or lost to another team by free agency or waivers. I was depressed for months (more like years) after the Kings traded away Luc Robitaille (against his will) after the disappointing 1993-94 season. I was a very angry and rebellious when Wayne Gretzky was traded to the St. Louis Blues in 1996. I still get hostile every time I think about how our Captain at the time, Rob Blake, who ironically is our current general manager, requested to be traded from the Kings in 2001 or refused to re-sign with the Kings in 2008! At least with the Colorado trade in 2001, we received the awesome duo of Adam Deadmarsh and Aaron Miller, but it did hurt to lose to Blake and to his Avalanche in 7 games in the second round of those playoffs. But after Blake returned to LA and all was (kind of) forgiven, he then signs with the San Jose Sharks, the RIVAL San Jose Sharks as a free agent! (WHAT THE … ???) I was ready to go on a rampage! I did eventually learn to calm down. Or calm down as best as I possibly could, because losing a player you idolize that played for a team that you love dearly still hurts regardless. And this was, of course, all before our LA Kings had ever won a Stanley Cup, let alone two, so what’s about to come in the next few weeks and months will not be for the faint of heart.

This Kings team is in a serious need of a rebuild. Blake did try to (and promised to Doughty that he would) re-tool the team instead of a doing a full rebuild, but with the Kings as strapped as they are with the salary cap, (and that’s without Doughty’s new $11 million a year contract not kicking in until next season), and the lack of depth that this team is still suffering from due to previous GM Dean Lombardi’s overly generous gifts of our prospects and first round draft picks to other teams like he was Oprah giving away free cars, a successful re-tool is near impossible. For example, look at how well this Kovalchuk deal is working out for the Kings and our cap so far! (Yes, that was sarcasm). What is needed, is younger, faster and fresher blood, and then start from scratch from there. So for those of you attached at the hip with some of our current players, be ready, because we are about to lose some of them in a fire sale and many of them are from the heroic 2012 and 2014 triumphant Stanley Cup era. I believe that the only two players completely safe from being traded, whether at the upcoming trade deadline in a few weeks, or during this summer’s offseason is Kopitar and Doughty. But everyone else is fair game. This includes Jeff Carter, (where rumor has it that IF Carter gets traded to a team he doesn’t like, (like Columbus), he will just simply retire), Dustin Brown, (who is now valuable again after rediscovering his game for the last year and a half and could provide leadership and experience to an up and coming team, much like how Willie Mitchell did for Florida), Toffoli, (as trading away his bestie Pearson was the first warning shot that this fire sale was going to happen), Muzzin, (whose value is at the highest that it’s ever been), Martinez, (our beloved Stanley Cup and Western Conference Final hero), and even Jonathan Quick, (who is getting older, is more injury prone now and is starting to lose the timely acrobatic reflexes that made him world famous and a legend). Even the more recently acquired Kovalchuk, Carl Hagelin and Phaneuf aren’t safe either, (though who knows if anyone would even be interested in Ilya and Dion with their advanced age and expensive contracts, plus Hagelin is a UFA at the end of the season, so there’s that too). So everyone, brace yourselves for impact.

Now if I understand and have accepted the logistics of all this, and have experience as a Kings’ fan with all this, (remember the dark ages?), then why am I giving this a THUMBS DOWN??? Well, it’s because it still sucks. It will still hurt to see Dustin Brown or Carter or Quick wear the jerseys of another team. The same way it did when it happened with Justin Williams, Willie Mitchell and Martin Jones. Yes, hockey is a business, and a rebuild is needed, but it still just sucks. I don’t know for sure who exactly is going to be dealt away, as I have heard that it may be up to 12 players going out the door, but only time will tell. But there will be an exodus, and it does need to happen, and when it does, I will try to be calm and will eventually move on, and you all should too. And if there is some tears that need to be shed, that’s okay and understandable too, but we will move on. We have no choice but to move on. But in the end, it still sucks. It just freakin’ sucks. THUMBS DOWN TO FIRE SALES AND LOGIC!

Okay, sorry that ended with a downer but that was my Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down edition for our LA Kings. What did you think of my picks? Do you agree or disagree? Who are your picks for a Thumbs Up and/or a Thumbs Down? Let us know in the comments below. And with that said;

I have been JD Stylz and now I am out of here (but not because Blake just traded me! Calm down people!)

GO KINGS GO!!!

Stay with us at Calisportsnews.com as we will keep you up-to-date on all things Los Angeles Kings and the rest of the LA sports teams! All Cali, All the time


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