Kings look to build on progress made amid season of plot twists

View Original Notice ? Kings look to build on progress made amid season of plot twists

EL SEGUNDO — The Kings’ break-up day might not have been much for costumes or sets – a drab, damp locker room was the backdrop while sandals and sweatshirts were the de facto dress code – but it carried all the story-telling power of the Netflix homepage.

There was a buddy picture, part of a longstanding franchise starring captain Anze Kopitar and former captain Dustin Brown, who announced his retirement last month. The two played their entire careers together while raising families, lifting Stanley Cups and becoming men side by side.

“It’s definitely special with him. I’ve been around from Day 1 with him. I remember him coming in and pretty much being our best player in training camp and deciding not to stay,” Brown said of Kopitar, who played professionally in Sweden that season. “It’s just a lot of good memories and a lot more memories to make I’m sure, but part of me feels sad that I’m leaving him, or leaving them all, really.”

Now, Brown will move from the action saga that saw him smash into more bad guys than any player in any NHL history to a family-friendly rom-com, with his wife and four children awaiting him.

“The bitter part is leaving, the sweet part is going forward,” Brown said. “I want to get away from the game a little bit, spend time with my family, just being a dad really.”

Center Phillip Danault and winger Trevor Moore, both of whom came from pressure-cooked Canadian markets, were the quirky, affable outsiders who rocketed to the top in an inspiring true story. Moore was an undrafted free agent and Danault had been typecast as a checking center, but they became an unlikely pairing that soared synergistically on the second line. Danault credited their shared passion for the game and gusto to seize the opportunities they’d be given.

“I was never expected to be a (top-six) center either, so it’s a good connection,” he said.

Subplots abounded with Moore returning from Toronto to Southern California, where he grew up, and Danault migrating from hockey-crazed Quebec, where he spent his youth and much of his pro career. A familiar face even joined him, when former Montreal executive Marc Bergevin followed Danault to L.A. during the season.

Moore said no matter what happened next in his career, he could hold his head high based on what he’s accomplished already. Danault said he was thrilled with how the Kings delivered on their pitch to him in free agency, in terms of his role and the overall culture.

“The guys took care of me right away, the organization was A1 with me, they made me as comfortable as could be and it definitely showed up on the ice,” said Danault, who was voted best newcomer and team MVP this season.

Danault, who scored more than twice as many goals as he had in any previous NHL season, said this summer he would love to sell other free agents on the Kings, and that there was no turning back from the strides he and the team made this season.

“There’s always a place for progression, no place for regression,” Danault said. “I don’t want to think that way, being scared of regression. I just want to get better as a team and as a player, and I’ll do whatever I can to win a Cup here.”

These Kings also terrified audiences with a slasher movie, complete with plenty of blood and a black-clad, club-wielding bunch of tough customers who simply would not die. Yet members of the crew fell, and frequently: the first victim was Quinton Byfield, who fractured his ankle in the preseason, and the most gruesome injury came late in the year when Brown nearly lost his career prematurely and a finger in the process.

There were broken bones, torn ligaments, severed tendons, and perseverance through scares that would have sunk some franchises. At various points in the season, the Kings lost bodies at a rate surpassed only by an episode of “Squid Game.” The season’s longest winning streak was jammed between its two prolonged losing skids, but the Kings finished one point shy of 100 in the end.

“We went through so much crap this year, everyone wants to talk about Vegas having all these injuries, we had the same stuff. I’m just really proud of what the group did,” said Doughty, who missed more than twice as many games this season as he had in 13 prior campaigns combined. “It’s motivating that we were able to do that without our guys, because, now, what can we do with them?”

There was also a medical drama Monday, with a bit of triage regarding end-of-season injuries after a campaign that saw the Kings use 13 different defensemen and a host of forwards to boot. General Manager Rob Blake said three players were dealing with separated shoulders during the playoffs (one who self-identified was winger Alex Iafallo). He also unraveled the mystery surrounding winger Viktor Arvidsson, who vanished from practice before Game 1 and was never seen (by the fans or media) again.

“Arvy has a herniated disc, he’s having surgery (Tuesday morning),” Blake said, adding that Arvidsson’s microdiscectomy will require a recovery period of three to five months.

Jonathan Quick also battled a minor, unspecified injury late in the series, amplifying the volume of the praise toward his superb goaltending across most of the seven games. He was already the protagonist in a comeback tear-jerker that saw him left unprotected in the expansion draft as backup Cal Petersen received a weighty contract extension, only to buoy the team’s fortunes down the stretch and into the postseason.

“He’s just the absolute competitor who comes up in big games. Honestly, yeah, we took Edmonton to Game 7, but mostly it was because of Quickie,” said Doughty, who added that he foresaw Quick reclaiming the No. 1 job from the outset.

There was a plethora of “introducing” tags in the opening credits, with 10 Kings making their playoff debuts in the first round against the Oilers. Call-ups, debuts and lineup adjustments became the Kings’ daily bread. While many youngsters elicited plaudits, defenseman Mikey Anderson might be the first to land a starring role.

“Out of the young guys, he’s definitely the most mature and the guy that would be a leader down the road for us,” Doughty said. “I still see him as a rookie, but, no, he does a great job and he’s taken that step. He’s definitely got to be in the secondary core of the leadership … no doubt he’ll be wearing a letter one of these days.”

Some moments on Monday felt more like a television series than a feature film, especially as logistics came into question. Which actors would be back? Who might not be? What special guests could be invited for next season?

Blake said winger Adrian Kempe and Anderson were high priorities to re-sign as they hurled toward restricted free agency. He also intimated that three unrestricted free-agent defensemen (Alex Edler, Olli Maatta and Troy Stecher) might not be back given the performance of call-ups like Sean Durzi and Jordan Spence, as well as the impending returns of Doughty and Sean Walker from injury, though nothing was cast in stone.

Doughty offered up his thoughts – as he always does – on the personnel side, suggesting that a rugged defenseman with size and a natural scorer on the wing would be welcome additions.

But, to a man, the Kings said they had far fewer holes than last year and that the acquisitions they made last summer, particularly Danault and Arvidsson, had helped the team advance further and at a quicker pace than expected.

“I don’t think we need big swings, we obviously still have to improve on some areas and just upgrade, really,” Kopitar said. “I think this year was a pretty significant step for this team.”

Of course, the classics are always popular on any platform, so there was some waxing nostalgic about the closing moments of the 2012 season, when the euphoria of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup overtook Staples Center.

Brown spoke of the moment, of former Coach Darryl Sutter calming the bench because the game “was not over” even with a late 5-1 lead and of the jubilation that set in when the score reached 6-1.

Brown said his hope as he departed the Kings’ ensemble was that he had influenced another player enough to be able to step in and play his part. As with everything in entertainment, there was a mind toward a potential sequel. In this case, it would be to the Kings’ dynasty of the past decade, even as the original cast was reduced from four to three with his retirement.

“Now, there’s three, and then there’s two, and eventually it’s going to be just one guy,” Brown said. “I guess that’s the idea, hopefully they can re-do all that.”

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