Heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, the Vancouver Canucks were the overwhelming choice to make it to the finals from the Western Conference, while the LA Kings were a mere afterthought. This year, as the season is about to start after months of agony, little has changed. Vancouver is the experts’ darling, and the Kings are being picked to finish third by most, with only St. Louis given a nod by some to challenge for the conference title.
The Kings return their championship team virtually intact, but the health of Anze Kopitar, Willie Mitchell and Jonathan Quick are issues a couple of days before the opener. Kopitar sprained his knee while playing in Sweden a dozen days ago, and will miss the opener and possibly up to two weeks of the shortened season. Mitchell’s injury was far more serious, and despite team efforts to keep it under wraps, it is now known that he had surgery to remove torn cartilage, and that his recovery has been slower than anticipated.
Also downplayed was Playoff MVP Jonathan Quick’s back injury and surgery. He actually suffered a herniated disc with nerve root irritation during last year’s playoffs, and somehow managed to play, and play superbly, despite what had to be not just intense pain, but numbness down his leg. What must be questioned is the fact that his injury was apparently not properly diagnosed and treated, and he did not have the surgery until this past August. He appears to have healed quickly, and says he feels fine and is ready to go. LA sports fans may wonder though, when they see Dwight Howard still at far less than 100% after undergoing similar surgery.
The Kings do start the season with Chris Carter and Simon Gagne, and last year’s holdout Drew Doughty, but they will not be able to hide in the woods until April this season, and need ice time from Kopitar and a healthy Quick to get out to a quick start in the short season. It would take an extraordinary effort for the Kings to repeat, and our feeling is that after so much hype last year, that it’s Vancouver’s conference to lose.
After the great year that Pittsburgh had with Sidney Crosby making it to the ice only 22 times, with all the reports that he not only is finally healthy but much matured, who ever does win the West may very likely face Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup finals.