2016-17 was the worst season for the Kings in recent history. The Kings had come from two Stanley Cup championships sandwiched around a western conference final. The Dean Lombardi era was over. The Darryl Sutter era was over (enter John Stevens). Rob Blake had been within the organization during the renewed championship-level culture growth. The league, as it always does, changes year after year. Blake wasn’t exactly going to start a rebuild, but it would also take time.
Back to Championship Roots: Utilizing the Draft as a Weapon
Blake was able to capitalize on seven picks in the 2017 draft. Most of these players are still with the Kings. The 2017 draft is one of the most pivotal drafts in the post-championship era for the LA Kings.
- (11th) Gabriel Vilardi
- (41st) Jared Anderson-Dolan
- (72nd) Matt Villalta
- (103rd) Mikey Anderson
- (118th) (Ben Bishop-Dallas) Marcus Phillips
- (134th) Cole Hults
- (138th) Drake Rymsha
The draft was a massive success for the Kings. Three of these players would become regulars on the NHL squad, highlighted by the highest draft pick since Drew Doughty (2008-2nd overall) in Gabriel Vilardi. Vilardi was a risky draft pick and was seen as a possible steal for Rob Blake and co by getting him at 11th overall. Due to injuries, Vilardi was passed over even though many draft rankings had him as high as 4th overall. The Kings are no strangers for taking swings at “injury-prone” players: see Jake Muzzin.
Free Agency and Other Notes
The Kings exposed Brayden McNabb to the expansion draft, to be taken by the newly established Vegas Golden Knights.
Rob Blake would go on to make some intriguing yet lackluster moves.
Ex-Kings, veteran forward Mike Cammalleri signed with the club, as did depth defenseman Christian Folin and backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Champion, stalwart, stay-at-home veteran, locker room culture defenseman Matt Greene retired. (Was released after the conclusion of the 2016-17 season)
None of these moves notably invoked life into the aspirations to maintain the championship window. The championship group was slowly but surely dwindling.
The Kings championship 2C in Jeff Carter was injured by an awkward hit along the boards, catching his leg by Montreal’s Jeff Petry. The loss was devastating but opened up some exposure for young Adrian Kempe at center and the need to trade for Torrey Mitchell.
Gaborik, a key member and trade deadline acquisition of the 2014 championship, was the first domino to fall in the passing of the championship core.
Darcy Kuemper and Scott Wedgewood were traded to Arizona for speedy German winger Tobias Reider.
The Captain (or Hart Trophy snub)
A year after being named the team’s newest Captain, Anze Kopitar launched a career season that catapulted the Kings into the playoffs. He collected 92 points in 82 games: thirty-five goals and fifty-seven assists for the two-way star. He was put up for the Hart trophy for the first time in his career, eventually losing to Taylor Hall of the Devils. Kopitar was much more of a shooter for the first time in his career, reflected by the four-goal night against Colorado late into the season.
The Kings finished 4th in their division, suitable for a wildcard spot and a date with the newly built Las Vegas, who ran away with the division. The Kings also finished as the best GA team in the league.
After leading a Norris-caliber season on the best defensive team in the league, Drew Doughty is suspended for one game for an illegal check to the head against William Karlsson in game one. He would miss game two, a game that went to double overtime. The leader in ice time for game two from the LA Kings? Alec Martinez and Oscar Fantenberg with over 40 mins a piece.
Jake Muzzin was injured and returned for games three and four, but the top-four-minute eater in Derek Forbort remained out for the entirety of the four-game sweep.
The series was a sweep, and that is embarrassing, no doubt about it. But it was one of the lowest-scoring series in recent memory. In four games, the Kings only put up four goals. Suitable for one goal a game. The Knights, on the other hand? They scored seven, just shy of two goals a game.
What hurts the most? Brayden McNabb scoring the lone and decisive goal in game four. The Kings choose to expose him in the expansion draft over Derek Forbort, a higher draft pick than Vladimir Tarasenko, who didn’t play a single game in the four-game sweep.
Regardless of the injuries, the Knights’ depth prevailed, and they went to the dance just to be defeated by the Washington Capitals. The championship core would never play to their old heights again. The team’s makeup would change considerably. Kopitar would never whiff his point total again, and Jonathan Quick would never be the same goalie again.
From then on, Rob Blake could tear it down or salvage integral parts while building around it anew.