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Los Angeles Kings Make The Stanley Cup Finals

Yesterday the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 in overtime to win their semi-final series 4 games to one.  The Kings are having one heck of a playoff run.  They have a combined record of 12-2 in the playoffs so far.  This is a very good record.  It is a remarkable record given that the Kings are the lowest seeded team in the West Conference to make the playoffs.  This Los Angeles Kings team is better than a traditional eighth seed as they added Jeff Carter in a very lopsided trade a few days prior to the trade deadline.  That acquisition gives the Kings two solid forward lines, which frees up their top forwards from playing exclusively against the top shutdown players of their opponents.

That said it is quite clear that this Los Angeles team is not an elite hockey team in a historical basis.  After all their eighth seed in the regular season is far from elite. We can make that determination without discussing the player personnel on the team.

I have argued in the past that it is necessary but not sufficient for a historically elite team to have one of the top few goalies in the NHL and at least three players who are likely to make the Hockey Hall of Fame.  As this is not a sufficient condition, having elite players does not guarantee an elite team.  A group of these players may not come together as an elite team.  Merely being an eighth seed in the regular season, it is clear that this is not an elite team.  Any historically elite team would not barely qualify for playoffs.

However we can see how the Los Angeles Kings measure up to the necessary but not sufficient conditions.  They have an elite goalie.  Jonathan Quick has certainly proven himself to be one of the top goalies in the NHL.  I called him the most improved goalie in the league this year.  He is a Vezina nominee (though I doubt he will win the award) and a top candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy in these playoffs.  That makes this a very strong season.  He doesn’t have the track record of a top goalie yet.  This is his first top level season in his career.  He was a level or so below that in the past.  It is quite possible that he is on a Hall of Fame track if he keeps playing at this level (by that I mean a reasonable projection of his career would put him in the Hall of Fame), but I would hesitate to suggest that.  This may be a season he cannot repeat.  I want to see another season at around this level before I start to believe it is the expectation value and not a career best season.

There are no Los Angeles King players that would make the Hall of Fame if their careers ended today.  I think the player most clearly on a Hall of Fame track is Drew Doughty.  He is 22 years old and has already been a Norris Trophy nominee.  Players who accomplish that - and regularly have All Star level seasons - will almost certainly make the Hall of Fame if he can keep it up for any reasonable length of career and possibly improve as he reaches his mid-twenties.

There are several forwards who are worthy of mention as potential Hall of Famers, but none are clearly on Hall of Fame tracks.  Anze Kopitar has the best case.  He is a good player who has been playing at All Star level for a few years.  He has never once managed a point per game season.  He has never managed winning (or coming close to winning) any awards.  Mike Richards is a good defensive forward who has come close to a Selke Trophy but with 393 points in 527 career games, his career totals are not all that impressive.  He is well below point per game level.  Jeff Carter is quite similar to Richards except he was never a Selke Trophy nominee.  He has 377 points in 516 career games which is slightly worse than Richards.  Dustin Brown is having a very good playoffs but he has even worse career offensive numbers than either Richards or Carter.  305 points in 513 games with weaker defensive credentials than Carter or Richards.  Simon Gagne may have been on a Hall of Fame track at one time in his Philadelphia Flyers career but it has been derailed.  He hasn’t exceeded 40 points in a year since 2009.  At age 32 it is looking unlikely that he will bounce back a sufficient amount. 

All told, I think Los Angeles has no players who are Hall of Famers if their career ends now.  Drew Doughty is likely on the track to get there.  Jonathan Quick is an elite goalie right now, but I am not certain he is on a Hall of fame track yet.  I would like to see him repeat a season at this level before that becomes clear.  Several forwards on the team are good players but none are likely projecting to be Hall of Famers.  In today’s NHL with no elite teams it is not too unlikely that an eighth seed would make the Stanley Cup finals on occasion.  The fact that they had a 12-2 record to get there is a bit of a surprise.  I would argue that their path was not so difficult after they beat Vancouver.  St Louis is a team that overachieved and had no scary offensive players in second seed.  Phoenix finished the season two points ahead of LA, but took third seed by winning their weak division.  The mere fact Los Angeles is an eighth seed is enough to make a convincing case they cannot be an elite team.  No team has won the Stanley Cup as an elite team since the 2007 Anaheim Ducks.  It looks like it may be a long time before it happens again.

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I know this has been argued before, but I still believe your definition of an elite team’s “necessary conditions” is extremely arbitrary.

Any scheme that considers the 2007 Ducks (fourth by points and sixth by goal differential that year) “elite” and the 2008 Red Wings (unambiguously the best in the league in both categories, with better numbers than any team achieved in 2007) not elite smells fishy to me.

In truth, I don’t think either the 2007 Ducks or the 2008 Red Wings were historically elite teams, but it’s especially hard for me to put that tag on the very top-heavy Ducks, who may have had three hall of famers and a pretty good goalie but were not in my estimation a truly great team overall. The 2008 Wings and 2010 Blackhawks were in my estimation unambiguously better Cup winners, and the 2011 Canucks were likely the best post-lockout team and historically elite (though they did not win the Cup).

I think your system puts way too much importance on the starting goaltender and far too little importance on supporting cast. The goaltender requirement is especially frustrating to me—first, because the spread between elite and average among NHL goaltenders is frankly not that large; and second, because the playoffs feature about a 600-shot sample. Over just 600 shots, it isn’t particularly strange to see an average goalie put up better numbers than an elite goalie. Luck is going to be a huge factor.

Furthermore, while the 2007 Ducks might be the only post-lockout Cup winner to meet your “necessary” conditions, I can’t help but suspect that the only reason you bestowed the “sufficient” tag on them as well is that they actually won the damn thing. If the Ducks had caught a few more bad breaks that spring and not actually won the Cup (round 3 in particular could have gone either way), do you honestly believe that you would still have considered them an elite team? If the answer is “No,” then the Ducks were not elite.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 05/25/12 at 05:21 AM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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