At the end of the recent LAKingsInsider.com mid-season analysis of the Kings defense, the Insider said, “What’s next? Again, the pieces are there, if they can stay healthy. If the young defensemen can continue to develop, and the more veteran players can provide their usual, stable play, this shapes up as the area of least concern for the Kings for the rest of the season.”
Well, I beg to differ.
“If they can stay healthy” is a big if. And by definition, “usual stable play” cannot be achieved by oft injured veteran players such as Mitchell and Greene. I think this is a big area of concern as we head into the second half of the season.
There has been a consistent defensive let down at crucial times, which means that other teams are exploiting a weak link. The weak link is that all the pieces are, in fact, not there. There has been a consistent lack of health and experience, which will continue to lead to long losing streaks if it continues.
Going by the ages of our defensemen, a few things strike me. More than any other position, age seems to make a huge difference in terms of the overall effectiveness of a defensive core on a team.
Here’s how the Kings Defensmen breakdown by age along with my thoughts:
The Anchors: (30’s) Mitchell & Scuderi – Mitchell replaced Sean O’Donnel this year but injuries have proven a net loss in this position. Scuds is our sole rock, which makes us vulnerable. Without a completely healthy Mitchell, we are in trouble in the playoffs if we can even get there.
Prime Vets: (Mid 20’s) Greene, Harrold & Drewiske – Here is our biggest problem. Two of our dmen in their primes are healthy scratches more often that not. For our team to thrive, we need at least one more solid core vet in his prime to stabilize our defense in crucial situations. Greene does his job adequately, but without another super solid, proven and consistently healthy dman, the Kings will continue to have hiccups when it counts most in crunch time. This missing element will help keep 4-0 leads from becoming 4-4 ties late in the 3rd period, not to mention winning more 1 goal games. As much as we enjoy aspects of Harry and DD2, I don’t see a future for them in Los Angeles.
Young Guns: (Early 20’s) Johnson, Martinez & Doughty – Clearly the future in now with JJ and DD. The problem is, they are still learning on the job. With all of DD’s success, he will still need to prove it game after game, year after year before he is truly considered great. JJ, while older, is still only 23 years old people! Martinez, while a nice surprise this year, is even further behind the other two. This group has the makings of being incredible for this team in the years to come. However, this year couldn’t be clearer in terms of showing us fans that they are not quite ready to take on the bulk of the dman responsibility.
Brewing: (Early 20’s but not ready) Hickey, Muzzin, Voynov & Teubert – With the young guns above firmly planted in the future plans of the Kings dmen, there is little room for this group to make an impact anytime soon. It’s an interesting dilemma for DL. How will he manage these talented guys when there are more talented players in the same age bracket playing for the big club now? I see at least one of these players being traded at some point in the near future.
Developing: (Teens) Deslauriers & Forbort – Two guys that are currently the beneficiary of good timing. They will simmer a couple of years before we see them ready for any type of big league action, which is exactly the way DL wants it. Stagger the talent and let them work their way up.
Conclusion: How the rest of this season plays out will be largely dependent on the stability of the defense. It isn’t hard it imagine that if injuries continue to plague the team, they won’t secure a playoff spot. If this happens, there is no question that Dean Lombari will need to make a move –not for a high scoring winger- but for a solid veteran defenseman. Perhaps this is where a team looking for a talented “early 20′s” dman will gladly part ways with an unhappy vet looking to make a change.