With depth depleted, Kings in transition

How does the NHL work? You can win the Stanley Cup without having an elite roster. A few exceptional players and a lot of grit can get you to the top of the mountain. Look no further than the Pittsburgh Penguins last year for that.

So to begin with optimism, we can say the LA Kings begin the 2016-17 season Wednesday against San Jose with three, possibly four, exceptional players as that foundation. 

But then comes reality. That core will have to perform above expectations for this team to make the playoffs, let alone win the cup this year. It’s not that the so-called window of opportunity has closed as much as it is cracked, waiting to see if prospects will flourish in the next year or two to lift the team back to contending status.

The team has kept its core of defenseman Drew Doughty, goaltender Jonathan Quick and center Anze Kopitar. Also, Tyler Toffoli has the makings of a consistent all-star. Virtually the rest of the roster — particularly at forward — is in transition thanks to two painful realities.

One is payroll restraints: The Kings have just $57,000 in salary cap room. The front office is doing all it can to shoehorn one more player into the roster legally as I type — a left winger that could join their top line, Devin Setoguchi. Adding to that burden is the NHL salary cap provides little relief when players get injured long term. Setoguchi is seen as a replacement for injured sniper Martin Gaborik.

The cap limit was also part of the reason the Kings could not retain forward Milan Lucic, a bruiser that fit perfectly with their heavy style of play.

The second is cuts made due to some players’ off-ice behavior. The Kings let go of forwards Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards due to drug-related arrests. Slava Voynov was supposed to stabilize the defense for a decade with Doughty, but he’s back in Russia thanks to an ugly domestic violence arrest.

Currently, the third and fourth line of forwards are centered by Nic Dowd and Andy Andreoff, who haven’t impressed much. So LA’s offensive depth has been depleted, and this was a team that struggled to score in the first place.

The defense last year allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL. It will have to at least equal that. There’s no reason to expect a slump from Doughty or Quick, but if there’s an injury, LA could be toast. And Quick has had injuries to the back, wrist and groin.

I can’t say with confidence the Kings can consistently match up with San Jose or Anaheim. The top three finishers in the Pacific Division are assured of playoff spots. They’re probably better than Vancouver, but Edmonton and Phoenix have added to their rosters and Calgary looms for a bounceback season.

The week in L.A. sports (8/12/16-8/18/16)

I didn’t post about SoCal sports last week because I was too busy ripping the flesh from my ankles in New York. I averaged 10 miles per day in dress shoes, despite the subway system. I don’t know how women do it in heels. I really don’t.

On the plus side, I learned that my blog needs focus to grow an audience. What type of focus? No idea. So there’s that.

What happened with our favorite teams over the last week? Glad you asked:

Dodgers: The boys in blue took over first place in the last couple of days, which is nice but — and I have daily arguments with people about this — the point is not to win the division. The point is to win the World Series. And this team is unlikely to do that.

Consider these excellent points brought up by the Los Angeles Times on the Dodgers pitching staff.

As a side note, you’ve likely never heard of Joe Davis because Los Angeles doesn’t get to watch Dodgers games on TimeWarner SportsNet, but he’s apparently the heir apparent to Vin Scully — on a year-to-year basis. Davis is a 28-year-old self-described “broadcasting nerd.” Seems nice enough. He currently works with a partner on Dodgers road games, last night with Orel Hershiser.

Davis doesn’t live in Southern California, though, which makes me wonder: If he’s such a broadcasting nerd, wouldn’t you want to hang with Scully for a while?

Rams: More than 90,000 people went to the LA Coliseum to watch an exhibition football game. That’s how stupid the NFL was for not bringing a team here earlier. Angelinos missed football so much that 90,000 of them were willing to leave the Coliseum after the game into that funnel of broken dreams known as the USC parking lot.

Damn, last time I was there for a crowd that big, it was for a Rolling Stones concert. It took more time to leave the parking structure than Mick and the boys spent on stage.

The Rams won with fourth stringers in the fourth quarter, which isn’t good.

An inspired thought from CBSSports.com: Coach Jeff Fisher isn’t as good at assembling a team as you think.

Galaxy: The team has struggled to score recently as its lineup has been missing Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes. LA escaped Colorado with a 1-1 result. Keane returns to action when the team travels across the country to take on New York City FC at Yankee Stadium tomorrow.

Lakers: Nick Young appears to be done with the team, not by his choice. The guy, who in his defense was the victim of the D’Angelo Russell videoclip prank in the spring, has actually attempted to mend fences with the teammate who stabbed him in the back. It doesn’t matter. Russell was the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, and he’s Nick Young. The Lakers can’t find a trade partner. The talk now is that Young will simply be cut.

Meanwhile, the Lakers also signed Yi Jianlian from China. He was a draft bust from 2007. The No. 6 overall pick played 272 games over five seasons, first with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Clippers: Paul Pierce said he will return for a 19th NBA season, according to the Orange County Register.

Kings: People love lists, so the NHL Network created a time killer, “Top 20 Defensemen in the Game Now.” Drew Doughty is No. 1. Not a bad choice. 

The week in L.A. sports (7/22/16-7/28/16)

The problem with these last two weeks is it has been all politics, all the time. It’s truly difficult to find other things to talk about.

Thank you, Major League Baseball.

So here goes. Let’s take a look at the Southland…

Dodgers: While the team has, in fact, climbed to within 2 1/2 games of the National League West lead after being down by at least seven, I don’t see much reason for optimism yet. First, this rally has been more to do with Giants ineptitude rather than Dodgers competence. San Francisco’s record since the end of the All-Star break has been 2-9, worst in the majors. Do you think San Francisco is going to remain the worst team in baseball for the rest of the year? I don’t.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers still have major problems in their rotation — with no timetable for Clayton Kershaw’s return — and their lineup — the outfield stinks.  The nonwaiver trade deadline is Monday afternoon. LA has been linked to at least three front-line starting pitchers (including a starting pitcher in the All-Star Game, Chris Sale), a handful of power hitters and today, a top-notch closer. The latter rumor is curious. There’s nothing wrong with Kenley Jansen.

The Dodgers are going to have to prove me wrong. I don’t accept any of it until it happens. The alleged smartest front office in baseball was in a similar situation last year and did nothing. It also struck out on free agency and trades last offseason. As previously reported, this franchise has six current and former general managers on the payroll and it strikes me that they are micromanaging the team into the ground.

Clippers: Yesterday, news broke the franchise was considering sites on the west side of town for its own arena. … Dude, maybe all this political crap has me too pessimistic but I just don’t see it happening. I think this is posturing for a better deal with Staples Center.

Here’s why: True, the Clippers would generate more income by concessions and parking in their own arena. True, it could possibly revitalize an area the same way L.A. Live sprung up around Staples Center. Triple true, they could recoup some of the money by selling off naming rights to the arena. Quadruple true, the Clippers would control their own scheduling as opposed to being a third wheel behind the Lakers and Kings.

But arenas in a metropolis can cost close to $1 billion now, such as Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Heck, even Amway Center in Orlando cost more than $400 million. You’re telling me that’s going to be paid off in hot dogs and parking vouchers?

Lakers: Let’s just ignore “trade rumors” for a few months, shall we? I mention this because the blogosphere is losing its grip again over Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.

What we can talk about is that ESPN projects the Lakers to be the worst team in the NBA Western Conference again. Oh, better than the 17 wins from last year, it claims, but still an awful 25. Sigh… I actually think they’ll pass 30, but that still means they’d stink.

Rams: They did the right thing last night by clipping last year’s starting quarterback Nick Foles from the roster. I can’t imagine the guy being a mentor to top draft pick Jared Goff. Having said that, the team released its preseason depth chart. If the season started today, your starting quarterback is Case Keenum and the best thing I can say about him is he doesn’t suck.

Ever notice how the Dallas Cowboys get linked to every “name” that becomes a free agent? Not that Foles is a big name, but if I were the Cowboys I’d take a flier on the guy. Dallas can’t afford another lost season if Tony Romo gets hurt. And Foles cut his teeth in the NFC East.

Galaxy: Last week, the lads dropped two thunderbolts in the first 12 minutes of the game and held on to knock off the defending champion Timbers 2-1 in Portland. The team is starting to look like one focused on winning a sixth title, playing like it deserved the hype when it acquired Giovani Dos Santos and Steven Gerrard last year. And they play defense, to boot, which was sorely lacking last year.

Kings: Hey, you can’t expect a hockey team to make news in July. Still, if you’re an Angelino, I dare you to look at this and not smile a little.

The week in LA sports (6/9/16-6/16/16)

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com asked a fair question: Why can’t we wait until the end of LeBron James’ career before we talk about his legacy?

The answer: Look to your competitors over at ESPN. James is a 31-year-old man. He came into the league at age 18 and was annointed the next Jordan back then by the network, and this was before the network debuted “First Take” and infected the nation with Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. That cheaply produced hype show begat many more. Now, ESPN has 11 shows that feature at least two opinion flingers disguised as journalists chucking poo disguised as original thought.

And all of them, as recently as last year’s NBA Finals, still called James the greatest of all time even though he was about to lose yet another title shot.

I wish I didn’t have to write that. I don’t hate LeBron James. He’s had a damn good career to me.

But don’t direct “legacy” talk here like it’s my fault. Blame ESPN.

Now to the SoCal teams:

Dodgers: There is no good news on the horizon. The team simply can’t hit, aside from shortstop Corey Seager, and can’t pitch, outside of the incredible Clayton Kershaw. At their current pace, the $250 million roster with the alleged smartest front office in sports history will be sellers at the trade deadline. They are six games behind the Giants and only one Dodgers team has ever rallied from more than seven games out to win the division.

The Dodgers have not been to the World Series, let alone won one, since 1988. Every team in the division has gone since, even the Rockies and Padres. There is no reason to expect that streak to break this year.

I have many more thoughts on this plummet to mediocrity, but i will save that for a later time. 

Lakers and Clippers: I just read a rumor that claimed the Lakers will trade starting point guard D’Angelo Russell and starting forward Julius Randle to the Boston Celtics for the No.3 overall pick. Let me get this straight: Two starters — your two best players — to your worst rival for a couple of draft picks?

Now do you see why sports blogs aren’t worth a bucket of chum?

So let’s keep it simple: The Lakers have the following picks — the No.2 overall pick in the first round and the 32nd overall pick. They need height and shooters. In my opinion, they will take the best player available with No. 2 and the best center available at No.32.

The Clippers have the 25th and 33rd overall picks. They could use help at small forward and so-called “wing” players.
The draft will be held one week from tonight, June 23.

Rams: The death of former running back and career criminal Lawrence Philips in prison was ruled a suicide. I’ll shed fake tears the moment I find a needle.

New quarterback Jared Goff finally got to run plays with the first-team offense. The first-team defense confused him, but he said he liked it. In other words, spin. He’s a rookie. He wasn’t going to say anything else, lest he look like a punk.

Kings: Priority free agent Milan Lucic and the team are at a bit of an impasse in contract talks. It doesn’t appear to be acrimonious. The Kings are standing firm at $6 million per year, which doesn’t sound like much unless it’s the NHL. Then it’s a massive amount of dough.

Galaxy: While many of its top players are part of international tournaments, what was left of the franchise began U.S. Open Cup and earned arguably the ugliest win in franchise history — needing extra time to put away a team of amateurs.

Amateurs. Look at the link. The goalie has a bigger beer gut than I have.

This is my problem with the Galaxy. Not that I expect Robbie Keane, Giovani Dos Santos, et al, to play 90 minutes of every match, but this franchise doesn’t take tournaments seriously. The Galaxy is to MLS what the Cowboys are to the NFL. If MLS is going to grow on the world’s stage, the LA Galaxy have to dominate these tournaments.