The Los Angeles Kings definitely made their fans earn their pay-off on Friday night as they took until deep into the second overtime to dispatch the New York Rangers and earn their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons. Alec Martinez was once again the hero for the second consecutive season, burying a rebound chance past Henrik Lundqvist and sending the Kings into the summer on the highest of notes.
For now though, the Kings have a victory parade to plan, and fans and pundits are left with a burning question in their minds: where do the Kings stack up among NHL franchises, and are we seeing the makings of a potential dynasty in the City of Angels?
The answer to that first question is a bit of a tricky one. Teams like the Detroit Red Wings still get a ton of publicity for their intelligent drafting and ability to hold onto their players long-term, but it’s been a while since they made a lot of noise in the playoffs, and with guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg getting older every day, it’s going to be interesting to see how they react.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are much the same way, with players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin having missed out on going back to the Stanley Cup Final since making it in back to back years in 2008 and 2009. With teams like the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, and the defending Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers in their way, it seems like the Pens’ route back to the Final is going to be a tough one, so it’s hard to argue they belong on the top of the mountain.
Ultimately, the Kings belong in the top one or two teams in the league in terms of how the franchise is run, and the team running right alongside them are the Chicago Blackhawks. Martinez’s goal beat the Hawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final, but it was Chicago’s fourth appearance in that round of the postseason since 2009, and they’ve also won two Stanley Cups in the process. With young guns like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane complemented by a rotating cast of incredible talent assembled by GM Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks are one of the models of consistency in the NHL now, and the Kings definitely belong in that conversation too.
As for whether or not Los Angeles can be considered a dynasty, the answer is a bit easier to define. It’s been 15 years since a team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions, and even though the Kings didn’t join that club with their win, they still came really close. They’ve made the conference finals the last three seasons, have gotten to the Cup Final and won two of those three years, and lost to the ultimate champions in the one year they didn’t make it.
Perhaps more importantly though, the Kings are a young team that is getting even better with age. Defenseman Drew Doughty is only 24 years old and is considered one of the most explosive blue liners in the game. Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli both came out of relative obscurity (at least in national circles) during these playoffs and formed one of the most dynamic lines of the postseason with veteran center Jeff Carter. Jake Muzzin has shown some growing pains on defense, but he is another player that has the potential to be special for Los Angeles. Even guys like Anze Kopitar (26), Jonathan Quick (28), and Dustin Brown (29) are on the correct side of 30 years old, and all three are locked up to contracts for the foreseeable future.
The future will hold some challenges for the Kings, as they deal with free agency for Toffoli (2015), Pearson (2015), and Kopitar (2016), but for the most part, this team’s core is locked up and ready to go for a repeat next season. Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter have established a team that could be a dominant force in the NHL for years to come, and while the road will never be easy with teams like the Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks standing in the way, the Kings are the class of the NHL and a dynasty in the making.