In a frenzy of activity, which began with the signing of Mike Richards on June 23rd, and thus far, has concluded with the signing of 31 year old unrestricted free agent and two-time 40 goal scorer Simone Gagne on July 2nd, the Kings have suddenly become a force in the Western Conference. In Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar, the team now has two centers whom can hold their own against any 1-2 center combination in the conference. In Gagne, they have acquired a proven goal scorer on left wing, who can more than fill the void left by the departure of Ryan Smyth. Not to mention, Richards and Gagne were linemates in Philadelphia for about three seasons, so the chemistry is already there. Justin Williams would seem to be a perfect fit with Richards and Gagne, and is also a part of that Philadelphia connection. The key concern here will be the health of the two wingers. Williams missed extended time in the latter part of the last two seasons with the Kings. Gagne missed 18 games last year while playing for Tampa Bay, and has missed a total of 102 games in the past four seasons.
Anze Kopitar spent the last couple of months of the 2010-11 season skating with the two Dustins, Brown on right wing, and Penner on left. Nobody can ever question the work ethic of team captain Dustin Brown, if only the same could be said of Dustin Penner. Penner was part of a Cup winning team in Anaheim in 2007, when he skated on a line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Hopefully Penner will realize that he has the same type of opportunity here now with the Kings, and pushes his game, and work ethic to the next level. One of the keys to Kings success next season will be the willingness of Penner to play up to his potential every night.
In other news – Getting restricted free agent defenseman Drew Doughty signed to a new contract is paramount. Doughty did come into camp a tad bit out of shape last season, and did seem to have a down year after having been a Norris Trophy finalist in 2009-10, but Doughty is still capable of solidly anchoring the blueline for the next 10 years.
The Kings went heavily after free agent center Brad Richards before signing Gagne. Richards ultimately went to the great players’ graveyard known as the New York Rangers. This may have be a blessing in disguise, as there would not have been room for three centers of this caliber, and moving Richards to wing was an option, but there would be no guarantee that he would flourish while playing out of position. Gagne was a much more sure bet (and cheaper).
Looking at the Kings’ roster, one may get the feeling that there are more moves to be made. The goaltending situation is fast reaching critical mass. Jonathan Quick is the starter, and rightfully so. Jonathan Bernier is ready for the opportunity to prove himself worthy of being a starter. Perhaps a package deal with Bernier and enigmatic defenseman Jack Johnson will come to fruition in the coming months. There are plenty of teams desirous of a young netminder the caliber of Bernier, and the “development” of Johnson is getting curiouser and curiouser. Don’t be too surprised to see a different look on the blueline when training camp opens.
Stay tuned, Kings fans.