Before last season coach Andy Murray produced an inspirational
video using the slogan The Best Ever, signifying the team goal of
winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup. Last month he arrived
at training camp with T-shirts bearing a more cryptic message:
the image of the Cup accompanied by THE STANDARD? Murray
explained that it was up to the players to define what the
standard will be for the Kings this season.
The players, however, could be forgiven for thinking the shirts
should have read, STANDARD & POOR. While other teams in the
talent-heavy Western Conference made radical improvements over
the summer, Los Angeles virtually stood pat. That was
disappointing to many of the Kings, particularly after they had
had the league's best record from Dec. 1 (33-15-8-2) through the
end of the season and had pushed defending champion Colorado to
seven games in an exhilarating first-round series. "You look at
Phoenix, Anaheim, Dallas--they all got better," says center Jason
Allison. "We're going to have to play our best just to make the
At least the Kings' unchanged lineup is a strong one. Allison, a
rare center capable of taking over games ("Shaq of the NHL,"
Murray calls him), finished second in the league with 55 assists;
he and wings Adam Deadmarsh and Ziggy Palffy form as good a line
as there is in the league. Also, Los Angeles's special teams led
the NHL in power-play efficiency (20.6%) and finished third in
penalty killing (86.6%).
But when the first line isn't on the ice, there's an appreciable
drop in production. Center Bryan Smolinski, for example, is
coming off his worst scoring full season (38 points) as a pro.
Also, should goalie Felix Potvin falter, there is no
battle-tested backup. On the other hand, the more optimistic
Kings point out, there will be minutes aplenty for young players
such as flashy 20-year-old forward Alexander Frolov, a Russian
who was impressive at the world junior championships. Says
captain Mattias Norstrom, "We're heading in the right direction."
Even so, with L.A.'s roster unchanged, the notion of the team
advancing even as far as the conference finals is a lofty
standard by any definition. --L.J.W.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Jason Allison
In '01-02 the Kings were first in the league in PP efficiency,
third in PK. The only other team in the Top 5 in both categories
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 8 Stacked with players who create chances and finish
DEFENSE 13 Miller's injury and loss of Boucher could hurt
GOALTENDING 16 Streaky Potvin needs to be more consistent
SPECIAL TEAMS 2 Allison top PP forward; Belanger, Deadmarsh lead
MANAGEMENT 7 Few coaches better prepared than Murray