Remember those wobbly, unfocused off-seasons the Kings once stumbled through?
Indeed, they have become a thing of the past. Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi and his staff have been as efficient off the ice as the team has been proficient on it. They have sliced through another long to-do list this summer, largely keeping the core intact.
As they will attempt to go deep into the spring for a third straight year, the Kings nevertheless face several questions with players arriving Wednesday and training camp officially opening Thursday.
How do the Kings fill the void created by Rob Scuderi’s absence?
The veteran defenseman departed, via free agency in July, and rejoined his old team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only did Scuderi gobble up plenty of minutes and provide a stabilizing influence, but he also served as a mentor, in particular to emerging star Slava Voynov.
You could say Willie Mitchell neatly slides into the void. But it’s not quite a one-for-one swap. Beset by a lingering knee problem, Mitchell has not played in an NHL game since the Kings clinched the Stanley Cup on June 11, 2012. Fifteen months can be a long time, especially at age 36.
Other factors working to benefit the Kings would be full campaigns from the likes of Matt Greene, who missed most of the lockout shortened season because of back surgery, and Robyn Regehr, who arrived from Buffalo just before the trade deadline last season. The Kings also signed free agent defenseman Jeff Schultz, who was bought out by the Washington Capitals.
How do you replace perhaps the best backup goalie in the NHL?
After years of trade rumors, Jonathan Bernier finally relocated, landing in Toronto last June in exchange for goalie Ben Scrivens, winger Matt Frattin and a future second-round draft pick.
Bernier (1.88) had the second-best goals-against average in the league, trailing only the Senators’ Craig Anderson (1.69). Starter Jonathan Quick’s back surgery in the summer of 2012 undermined his play in the first half of last season and Bernier was instrumental in helping the Kings make the playoffs.
This time around, Quick won’t be scrambling to recover his fitness. Last season, Kings Coach Darryl Sutter was forced to adapt to a 48-game schedule in 99 days. Now a fitter Quick can allow Sutter to go back to his preferred mode of riding one goalie.
Can “Generation Next” get the room to emerge?
Left wing Dustin Penner’s move — back to his former team, the Ducks — has appeared to open some space for the kids to get a credible chance. And left wing has been a trouble spot for as long as Sutter has been around.
There could be a major opportunity for one of the young forwards to play a top-six role. Training camp will be a significant test for the likes of Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey and Tanner Pearson.
How much mileage on the Kings’ odometer is too much?
This is not an old team, far from it. But going deep into the playoffs the last two years had its lingering consequences. The list of injured Kings was long after the season ended with that double-overtime loss in Chicago, keeping the team doctors busy throughout the summer.
Greene and Regehr had elbow surgery. Team captain Dustin Brown had a torn knee ligament (not requiring surgery), forward Justin Williams suffered a separated shoulder and defenseman Drew Doughty had a sprained ankle.
Not only will the Kings be trying to manage the usual injury issues during the season, but also the Winter Olympics loom as another issue. A handful of Kings’ players will be representing their respective countries at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and it will be a far more difficult challenge than in Vancouver in 2010.