NHL roundtable: Are the Kings and Ducks for real this season?
Four weeks into the NHL season, the Kings and Ducks have been two of the surprise teams in the league. The Southland rivals were among the hottest teams on ice, the Kings having won seven in a row and the Ducks six in a row.
Are they legitimate contenders to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs? The Kings and Ducks last reached the postseason in 2018. In a roundtable discussion moderated by Times hockey editor Hans Tesselaar, Times columnist (and Hockey Hall of Fame member) Helene Elliott was joined by Times staffers Curtis Zupke (former beat writer for both teams), Jim Barrero (a Kings season-seat holder) and Nick Leyva (a longtime Ducks fan).
The calendar says it’s 2021. But you’d think it’s 10 years ago the way the Ducks and Kings are playing. What are we to make of this?
Elliott: I think the current success of the Kings and the Ducks is a payoff for fans of both teams. Those fans have waited a long time for a reason to have hope and to invest emotionally in teams that bumbled their way through tedious rebuilds. All those promises are looking good ... at the moment, at least!
Ducks general manager Bob Murray, who was put on administrative leave Tuesday, resigned Wednesday and said he would enroll in a program to treat alcohol abuse.
Barrero: Both teams have definitely moved beyond the depths of last season and it’s clear the young talent has begun to percolate, which is exciting to see. There was nothing better than the Kings-Ducks playoff series in 2014, and we can only hope some more of those are on the horizon.
Zupke: We no longer have terrible teams! I think some of it was a matter of some of these prospects coming along, and in the case of the Ducks, they’re getting the on-ice leadership they sorely missed last year with Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique.
Leyva: I figured both teams would be slightly improved as their youngsters continued to develop, but no one could have convinced me that the SoCal teams would be the surprise of the league just 10 games in. A pleasant surprise for local hockey fans to say the least.
The Kings started the season 1-5-1. During that time star defenseman Drew Doughty suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for at least two months. Promising defenseman Sean Walker was lost for the season with a knee injury. How have they turned this around?
Barrero: The signing of Alex Edler seems to be a very important one now, as he has brought some stability, though without the flashiness of a Doughty. Kale Clague is showing he’s capable as his defense partner, which has been a bit of a surprise since he was certainly not a part of the Kings’ plans before these injuries. Otherwise, the offense is finally getting production from more than the top line, which is what will be needed if the Kings are to sustain this success.
Elliott: They’ve gotten strong goaltending, which has to be the foundation of any success they achieve. Jonathan Quick hasn’t surrendered the No. 1 job to Cal Petersen, his heir apparent, and they’ve both given the Kings chances to win just about every game. Jim, can we agree though that Olli Maatta doesn’t cut it?!
Barrero: Uh yes, I would most certainly agree (smiling face emoji).
Leyva: I think some of the new pieces (i.e. Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson) have breathed life into what was a stagnant offense. Plus, the resurgence of Jonathan Quick has figured into that as well.
Zupke: Clague was drafted five years ago, and during all those training/developmental camps I can’t ever recall his name being mentioned by coaches. Now he’s their second-leading defenseman scorer. Go figure. But I think Helene, Jim and Nick hit on it with goaltending, offense ... and also the Kings’ forecheck is better, so they’re spending less time in their zone.
Troy Terry. Wow. Just what can you say about the Ducks’ 24-year-old star in the making?
Elliott: Really impressed by Terry. Plus, he has invigorated Getzlaf bigtime. Terry is an interesting story in that he played in the 2018 Winter Olympics hockey tournament, which was one the NHL skipped. Terry was among the few college players on the team. That experience had to help him, I’d think. At the rate he’s going, he should earn consideration for the U.S. team for the Beijing Winter Games. NHL players will participate in that tournament, and I’d love to see Terry get another shot at international competition.
Barrero: This guy was a fifth-round pick? Wow indeed! He definitely has shown he belongs and it makes me worry as a Kings fan when he and Trevor Zegras really get it going. It also makes me excited for what the young players in the Kings system will eventually become.
Zupke: What’s impressed me is that he’s seemed to expand his game offensively. He’s got that great reach, and he’s just fun to watch. Chemistry in hockey is an amazing thing, and he’s got it with Getzlaf.
Leyva: I remember Terry when he played for the U.S. Junior team a few years back, he was only a wisp of a player but you could tell he had a unique skill set. Now he’s kind of filled out and he has developed some awesome chemistry with old man Ryan Getzlaf.
Elliott: Old man Ryan Getzlaf. Sigh. I remember him when he and Corey Perry were rookies.
Let’s talk more about Quick and Getzlaf, icons for both franchises. The thought was to not expect too much from either one of them this season. But they still have something left, don’t they?
Barrero: I’ve frankly been surprised that both of them have seemed to kick it into another gear. For Getzlaf, a lot of it has to do with what others have touched on already — an infusion of youth and chemistry with Terry. Before the season, I was ready to count out Quick and move forward, but I guess it’s foolish to do that with a two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. I should have known better. It’s great to see “old” guys excel.
Elliott: Quick has had a lot of injuries the past few seasons and he had shoulder surgery last spring. Because of that — and the fact he will be 36 in January — I think it was reasonable to wonder how much he had left. But he’s a feisty guy, and he’s proving he can still play. Having Cal Petersen alongside him created a challenge to Quick’s competitive instincts and he has responded well. I’m more surprised, frankly, that Getzlaf has played so well. He seemed to have very little left and I figured this to be a long goodbye season for him but he has been invigorated by the kids, especially Troy Terry.
Leyva: Quick has really come on this season. The last couple of seasons it looked as if he was going to be supplanted for good by Cal Petersen. But I think for the first time in a long time he’s healthy and confident. What can you say about Getzy? He’s just keeps producing and it looks like’s having fun again playing with youngsters Zegras, Terry and Jamie Drysdale among others. Plus, he’s invested in the Orange County community, on and off the ice.
Zupke: I’ll just echo Helene in that Cal Petersen might have lit a fire under him, and he’s already a fiery guy haha.
Elliott: Ha! There are many goalposts around North America that have felt Jonathan Quick’s wrath!
Of course, it hasn’t all been good. The NHL is dealing with the fallout of the Chicago Blackhawks scandal and now Ducks general manager Bob Murray has resigned after creating a hostile work environment. He will enter a program for alcohol abuse. Will this be a distraction to the Ducks?
Barrero: The short answer is no. When things like this happen, it usually does more to unite a team, especially if the distraction isn’t something that came/originated from the dressing room. The Ducks will be fine and possibly look at this as a symbolic way of moving forward with their own new prospects and players.
Gary Bettman defended the NHL’s response to allegations of sexual abuse against a Chicago Blackhawks coach that were ignored by the team for a decade.
Elliott: I don’t think the Ducks will be adversely affected by Murray’s resignation and departure. I think their rebuilding process has moved far enough along to where the talent level has increased significantly and the pieces are generally in place. I’m curious to see how the Ducks will handle what are usually the GM’s responsibilities, since interim GM Jeff Solomon was more a salary-cap guru than a guy who was big on personally doing scouting.
Leyva: I don’t think it will be too much of a distraction. It sure didn’t look like it was on Tuesday night against the Canucks. The news broke a few hours before puck drop and they still looked focused on the task. I agree with Helene, this might throw the player personnel machine into a frenzy but that remains to be seen. Is Brian Burke available?
Elliott: Only if Brian Burke agrees to tie his ties would he be allowed to come back! So that means no!
The Kings and Ducks meet for the first time on Nov. 30 at Staples Center. Who wins?
Barrero: By my count, the Kings will be on a 13-game winning streak when this game arrives. I keed, I keed. Seriously, if the Kings can keep some level of this positivity until then, I give them the edge with what should be an enthusiastic home crowd behind them.
Leyva: That will certainly be a battle, but the Ducks win in a shootout. What else can I say?
Zupke: The former beat writer in me is already shuddering because there’s always SO MUCH going on in a Kings-Ducks game. I look down at my laptop and suddenly there’s a five-minute elbowing major. I really like the way the Kings are playing right now. Phillip Danault and Alex Iafallo have really set a tone with their forecheck and active sticks. So I’ll take them.
Elliott: I love your optimism, Jim Barrero! I can see this going to a shootout .. .and there being 100 penalty minutes!
For our final question, we turn back to our Hall of Famer. What is your favorite NHL ornament and when will you be adding it to the Christmas tree?
Elliott: I did just buy a Seattle Kraken ornament, so that will make its debut this season. Always look forward to putting Gordie Howe on the tree ... and Sid. Planning on putting the tree up early.
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