by PuckStopsHere on 06/02/14 at 01:59 PM ET
The Los Angeles Kings are bound for the Stanley Cup finals. Like their opponents the New York Rangers they are not an elite team. Los Angeles might be as good a team as can exist in today's NHL but their dominances pales in comparison to almost all of the Stanley Cup winners prior to the 2004/05 lockout season. This might be as good as it gets. Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2012. They did so despite only qualifying for the last playoff seed in the West Conference. This year they managed to take the sixth seed in the West Conference. These are not dominant regular seasons. This is not what one would expect of an elite team. There is no team that is good enough to transcend hockey and draw in casual viewers to see them.
How does Los Angeles stack up to my necessary but not sufficient condition that an elite team has a group of elite players including a top goaltender? Their goaltender in Jonathan Quick might be in the top goaltender group in the NHL. In 2012 he certainly looked like he was when he posted a .929 saves percentage and a 1.95 GAA. He was a Vezina Trophy contender and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Since then he has not been able to match those numbers. He posted a .902 saves percentage the year after his success and partially rebounded to a .915 saves percentage this year. He is only posting a .906 saves percentage so far in the playoffs. The argument that Jonathan Quick is a top NHL goalie was a very good one two years ago, but nothing he has done since is helping the argument. Fr the sake of my argument today, I will accept him as a top NHL goalie, though I am beginning to wonder if this is a stretch. At any rate, his Hall of Fame chances are not strong. At age 28, he has one season that makes a strong case and there is little to show that he can match it.
How many Hall of Fame track players do the Kings have? Drew Doughty is probably on that list. He has never won a Norris Trophy, which would go a long way toward cementing his claim, but he is on the right track. It is more likely than not he is having a Hall of Fame career. Anze Kopitar is the next best candidate. He is 26 and has never scored more than 81 points in a season, so that holds him back, but he has the potential for more. He has never been a contender for a major award in the past. He is nominated for the Selke Trophy this year, although Selke nominee is not enough to make much of a Hall of Fame case. He has scored a pretty good rate over his career to date but will have to stay healthy and productive enough to double his current point total to have career numbers worthy of the Hall of Fame. Kopitar is at best a maybe. He is a little better than the maybe of Jonathan Quick.
Other candidates worthy of mention are Marian Gaborik. He has found his game in the playoffs but is coming off of two poor regular seasons where his offensive totals dipped and his defence was a problem. 2011/12 was his last significant offensive year. He is 32 now and has never had a season where he contended for a major NHL award. It looks unlikely that will happen into the future. In order to bring his career numbers to Hall of Fame levels he will have to be healthy and productive for the next half decade or longer and that hasn't been the case in his last two seasons.
Jeff Carter is also worth notice. He is a solid sniper with defensive skills who represented Team Canada in the Olympics this year. He has only once in his career exceeded 66 points and has 460 points at age 29. He will have to be productive and healthy for a long time for those career numbers to approach Hall of Fame levels. Mike Richards is roughly in the same place Carter is. He has better defensive skills and possibly could have won a Selke Trophy by now, though he hasn't. He too has a long way to go to have career numbers worthy of the Hall of Fame.
All told, I would predict that two Kings will make the Hall of Fame. Doughty will probably get there and there are enough other candidates that one other will likely get a shot (Kopitar or Quick are most likely). They have a depth of players who are good enough that it is reasonable to mention them as Hall of Fame candidates before discounting their chances a bit. That makes them a good team in today's NHL where nobody is elite. They are successful big market team. Their location has helped them to secure the services of Gaborik, Carter and Richards and that gives them another forward line of good players. Smaller markets could not have acquired such talent.
The NHL has what it wants in the Stanley Cup finals. Los Angeles will play New York. The two biggest cities in the NHL are playing against one another. That may increase the number of people watching in their local markets but neither of these teams in a "team for the ages". Neither of these teams is dominant over the league. Neither of these teams is elite. That doesn't happen anymore and that means the fan never sees a battle between two elite teams in the Stanley Cup finals. Those days are gone and it isn't clear if they will ever return. We are seeing a streak of teams win one Stanley Cup in a row after finishing in the middle of the playoff spots in the regular season and some of us are trying to explain how these teams are elite. Great teams are a thing of the past, so battles between great teams are gone. The hockey fan loses out.
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