EL SEGUNDO, CALIFORNIA – After a summer crammed with Stanley Cup celebrations across the globe, the Los Angeles Kings are back at work with their eyes on some rarefied goals.
The Kings went through their first workouts of training camp Friday as they prepare for their run at a third NHL title in four seasons. Even with just 14 weeks off from hockey, the Kings are rejuvenated by the thought of making even more history.
“It was a short summer, but we’ll take it like that any time we can get it,” center Anze Kopitar said.
Nearly the entire roster from last season’s championship club is back in black, and the Kings appear to be largely healed from the accumulated aches of their latest trip deep into the postseason. The Kings have played an NHL-record 64 playoff games in the last three years, including their 26-game march to their second Stanley Cup title capped by three Game 7 victories on the road.
“You’re proud of the group and what we’re able to accomplish,” said goalie Jonathan Quick, who practiced with a surgically repaired wrist that isn’t completely ready for the season. “Obviously, it’s a new year, so we want to defend what we worked so hard to get last year. It starts today.”
With incredible tenacity and playoff resilience, Los Angeles has accomplished remarkable feats in the past three years. And with two Stanley Cup rings already on most players’ fingers, the Kings are left chasing even loftier goals.
The NHL hasn’t had a repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings won two straight Cups in 1997 and 1998. No team has won three titles in four seasons since the Edmonton Oilers pulled off the feat from 1987-90, winning before and after Wayne Gretzky’s 1988 departure for Los Angeles.
“It’s probably because it’s the toughest trophy to win,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who spent three decades in the NHL as a player, coach and executive before touching the Stanley Cup for the first time in 2012.
“So to do it back-to-back, especially in the salary cap (era) in a parity league . . . I mean, if we’d have lost Game 7 to Chicago in the (Western) Conference finals, then we wouldn’t be talking about it. It tells you how close it is.”
Indeed, the Kings won the West in Game 7 on an overtime goal that took a crazy bounce off Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy’s upper body. Without that fortunate break, Los Angeles might have been headed home while Chicago played for its second title in three years.
The Blackhawks are still loaded with talent, and the NHL’s balance of power again seems tilted toward the West teams. Nearly every West contender has made significant personnel additions for another run at the champions — but the Kings have worn a target for the past two seasons, and they’re confident they can handle it.
“Seems like the West is loading up, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s going to matter much what the other teams do,” Kopitar said. “It’s going to matter what we do.”
The Kings allowed defenseman Willie Mitchell to leave for Florida as a free agent, cutting ties with their oldest player. They’re hoping to promote from within to fill his absence, with young defensemen Brayden McNabb and Derek Forbort and dependable veteran Jeff Schultz getting long looks in training camp.