What has happened to the LA Kings? Though their record isn’t as dire as some on social media or even I would interpret, the team isn’t playing well. Actually, they’ve been quite bad. The losses have been dreadful, and even the wins feel lucky. The up and down start to the season was even more profound in a painful 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators at home on Sunday night. A team that’s currently second to last in their conference.
The Kings are much better than their recent play indicates. When the “system” is working, the team is humming. But that’s been replaced with constant lapses in judgment. The inconsistencies continue. Mental mistakes, miscues, and brain farts have been far too common since opening night. We’re more than a quarter through the 2022-23 NHL season, and if you asked me what this team’s identity is, I’d be left speechless. And therein lies the frustration.
I see how the blame can be placed on the feet of head coach Todd McLellan. I get that. It’s his responsibility to get his team prepared and limit the number of blunders evident on a nightly basis. But I look deeper.
There’s a void. A voice is missing in the locker room.
Anze Kopitar, the team captain, is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He’ll go down as arguably the best LA Kings player of all time. He’s won the Selke Trophy twice, the Lady Byng, and was just awarded the Mark Messier Leadership Award last season given to the player who best exemplifies leadership on the ice and is a contributing member to his society. His name will be at the top of almost all franchise leaderboards. He’s precisely the type of player you want to emulate your game after. He’s a professional on and off the ice. But is he the type of leader this hockey team needs right now?
Drew Doughty, one of the alternate captains, will have his number 8 in the rafters as soon as he hangs up the skates. He was the defensive anchor for the team during their cup years and continues to be today. When attending a Kings game, his voice echoes around the arena calling for the puck or when showing his displeasure toward the officials. But is his voice being used appropriately amongst his teammates?
Of course, losing Dustin Brown to retirement, a player that captained this team for eight seasons and two Stanley Cups, is a big hole to fill. Whenever the Kings struggled, he found ways to provide energy to the team. He was an excellent leader. Until the captaincy was inexplicably stripped from him in 2016. It was a mistake. He wasn’t just an LA King. He was the LA King.
However, as much as we loved to watch Dustin Brown deliver those bone-crushing hits or score that game-winning goal he wasn’t the vocal leader of the team during their cup runs. Those shoes were worn by players like Matt Greene, Jarret Stoll, and Justin Williams. Players that seemed to bring the locker room together in times of need. Vocal leaders that weren’t afraid to speak up in the room or stand up for their teammates on the ice. Leaders that displayed a sort of intensity and physicality missing from the current crop of players wearing letters for the Kings. That’s what this team needs right now.
So, where do you turn to find that missing voice? Some have pointed to general manager Rob Blake to make a move to bring him some toughness. For him to find that intensity missing from a team with only two fighting majors on the year. Or even a defender to solidify the left side of the blueline. As much as I agree with those sentiments, I look elsewhere. It’s time the new wave of veterans steps up.
Phillip Danault, Adrian Kempe, Kevin Fiala, Matt Roy, Alex Iafallo, and Trevor Moore are all between the ages of 25 and 30. They’re considered veterans at this stage in their careers. The Kings need them to be successful on the ice to contend.
This new group of veterans are the players who can carry this team to another championship. They have the talent to do so, it’s a matter of holding their teammates and themselves accountable. It’s time they let their voices be heard. It’s time they take responsibility for the team’s success. It’s time they become the new leaders of the LA Kings.