With the Kings out of the playoffs and time on his hands, Darryl Sutter had an unusually productive summer on his farm in Canada.
“It was funny being home that long,” he said.
With the sting of another Game 7 playoff loss sharpening each time that friends told Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau his team had given the Chicago Blackhawks a good fight in the Western Conference final, Boudreau had a short but aggravating summer.
“It goes from being OK, once you’ve decompressed and thinking that it’s a good year, to thinking you don’t get that many chances to win the Cup and hopefully that wasn’t our last chance,” he said.
As the Kings and Ducks gear up for their first on-ice training camp sessions Friday — the Kings at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo and the Ducks at Anaheim Ice — both coaches have their eyes on the prize and on each other.
The Kings have gone through troubling times following the arrests of centers Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards on drug-related charges and defenseman Slava Voynov going to jail after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of spousal abuse. Since then, Stoll left as a free agent, the Kings terminated Richards’ contract and Voynov announced he will return home to Russia.
The exit of free-agent winger Justin Williams for the Washington Capitals left questions about an offense that often struggled last season, and the retirement of hard-hitting Robyn Regehr left a void on defense.
Although police reports got more page views than scouting reports, Sutter said the Kings weren’t thrown into turmoil. Club executives anticipated facing salary cap problems and began planning changes long before the season ended in April.
“I think as a group we moved past that real early,” Sutter said. “There really hasn’t been anything that’s blown us out of the water.”
Their return to Stanley Cup contention should be accelerated by reinforcements from their farm system. The Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs won the American Hockey League title before relocating to Ontario (the one in California), and Jordan Weal, Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff will compete for third- and fourth-line center jobs previously held by Stoll and Richards.
“I think it’s awesome because that’s what training camp is supposed to be about,” Sutter said. “I’m looking forward to it. This is the first time since I’ve been here that you could say that there are spots available.”
Their energy could revive a physical team that played 64 playoff games while winning the Cup in 2012 and 2014 and reaching the West final in 2013. The Kings also will need contributions from young wingers Tanner Pearson (coming back from a broken leg) and Tyler Toffoli, as well as from off-season acquisition Milan Lucic. He’s slotted for the difficult-to-fill spot to the left of center Anze Kopitar, with Marian Gaborik on the right.
“I think he had an off year numbers-wise last year and I think he’ll get back to his numbers and that he’ll fit in good in this division,” Sutter said of Lucic, who had 18 goals and 44 points in 81 games for the Boston Bruins last season.
“We’ve got to keep pace with Anaheim. You look at the type of team they have — they have a big, skilled team. That’s what Milan is: a big, skilled guy.”
Boudreau believes the Kings “absolutely” will contend this season. “I think the rivalry is alive and well in the Los Angeles area,” he said.
It is in Sutter’s eyes.
“If we’re just going by division I know we’re behind Anaheim and Calgary,” he said. “We’ve got to knock them off if we want one of those spots. Otherwise you’re running the risk of last year, where you’re fighting for a wild card. That’s the attitude we’re taking.
“Even though we’ve had more playoff success than them the last few years, other than last year we’ve let them get away from us in the regular season. They’ve been allowed to march and set the playoffs up. We haven’t kept pace with them.”
Boudreau is emphasizing game-to-game effort and maintaining a high pace while avoiding breaks in structure.
“Little things that I know for sure that I’m way more cognizant of now and am going to jump on it from Day 1 rather than let it progress during the season,” he said.
The Ducks’ summer changes were interesting. They lost free-agent left wing Matt Beleskey’s 22 goals but gained dazzling speed by acquiring winger Carl Hagelin from the New York Rangers. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa’s bite should compensate for stalwart defenseman Francois Beauchemin’s departure via free agency and young defensemen Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm are budding All-Stars. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler remain threats up front.
“Our core is not too old yet to play at the same level,” Boudreau said. “The young guys, I think, will be better for what they’ve gone through.”
If all plays out as projected, next summer should be short for both teams and their coaches.