As per protocol before the beginning of any NHL regular season, experts across Canada and the United States make their predictions: who will win each division, who will meet in the Conference Finals, the Stanley Cup Finals and, last but not least, who will win hockey’s Holiest prize.
At ESPN, of the 12 experts to make their predictions, six of them chose the Los Angeles Kings to win hockey’s Holy Grail when the 2013-14 campaign is all said and done.
While this is promising news, I find myself between a rock and hard place given how openly critical I am of the American sports conglomerate and its lack of knowledge in hockey, despite its headquarters located in hockey-friendly Connecticut.
While it is gratifying to see the Kings getting their due respect, it’s only appropriate to analyze the situation.
Of the six experts who chose the Kings, three of them chose them to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in the Final which would make my father (a lifelong Wings fan) and I forget all about Adam Deadmarsh’s series-winner in 2001 and start anew.
Of those three, John Buccigross chose the Kings to defeat St. Louis in the West Final and Detroit to defeat, wait for it, Columbus for the East crown. While they are certainly heading in the right direction as far as their on-ice product goes in addition to their switch to the Eastern Conference, I cannot see the Columbus Blue Jackets going that far in the playoffs assuming they even make the playoffs at all.
The two other experts who predict a Detroit/Los Angeles final, Kevin Goldstein and Tim Kavanagh, also chose the Kings to defeat the Blues in the West Final but chose the Red Wings to eliminate Pittsburgh in the East showdown, a more accurate pairing with all due respect to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Arguably the most knowledgeable hockey expert at ESPN (and former Kings’ head coach) Barry Melrose also chose Los Angeles to win the Stanley Cup – but he went off the board predicting that the silver-and-black would defeat the Washington Capitals, a team that hasn’t been to the Finals since 1998 and have since been deemed one of the league’s biggest, if not the biggest, underachievers.
Craig Custance chose the Kings to defeat the Ottawa Senators Having grown up in Ottawa and never liking the hometown team such a defeat would give me a great sense of pleasure. In addition, while the Sens were primed to win not only one but multiple Stanley Cups in the mid- to late-2000’s while the Kings were downright ignored given their lackluster on-ice product, the Kings beating the Sens seems akin to the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare. Then again since the Kings won the Stanley Cup already, the comparison can seem somewhat diluted to those fans of the silver-and-black. Nevertheless, returning to Ottawa to see the Kings’ win hockey’s greatest prize in my old stomping grounds would fill me with endless joy. There would also be a sense of vindication against Sens GM Bryan Murray who, when he was coaching the team in 2005, berated Kings colour analyst Jim Fox following a convincing Senators win over the Kings in Ottawa.
In the final few minutes of said contest, then-Ottawa blueliner Zdeno Chara dropped the gloves and fought a defenseless Kings’ D-man Tim Gleason. Fox was justifiably critical of Chara’s action considering it was in the final minutes of a game the Senators were convincingly winning in addition to the near-foot height differential between him and Gleason.
How Murray took exception to Jim Fox simply doing his job is beyond me but hey, the Kings have the ring, Murray doesn’t. Perhaps that’s vindication enough. But just in case you don’t believe that is enough vindication, I just have two words for you: Bobby Ryan.
Two ESPN experts, Ryan Grant and James McDonald, chose the Kings and Bruins to meet for the Cup – although the latter did pick Boston to prevail.
Of the 12 experts, only John Buccigross and Ryan Grant chose the Kings to win their division – and that’s okay. All anyone has to do is ask the Vancouver Canucks just how much a division means when the calendar turns to April.
While he went the predictable route in choosing Chicago and Pittsburgh to meet in the Cup Final, Pierre LeBrun does deserve credit for choosing Jonathan Quick to win the Vezina as the league’s top netminder. But he wasn’t alone. Buccigross and Melrose also picked No. 32 to be named the league’s top netminder at season’s end.
Craig Custance was the only expert to pick Drew Doughty to win the Norris as the league’s top defenseman and even Barry Melrose went off the board picking Anze Kopitar to win the prestigious Hart as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.
As for those who dismiss Melrose’s selection as a mere bias towards the team he used to coach, past predictions and analyses would indicate no such favoritism.
While it is gratifying to see the Los Angeles Kings get the respect they deserve, such critical attention does take away from the mystique of that underdog team playing with the proverbial chips on their shoulders. Heck, that’s what’s been most enjoyable about supporting the Kings. Not because they win but because they win when no one expects it. How could you ask for anything more as a hockey fan? Heck, how can you ask for anything more as a living, breathing human being?
While the recognition is flattering, predictions are just predictions. They don’t translate to success and they sure don’t polish a big silver trophy residing at Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Los Angeles Kings and their fans know the only way to reach the ultimate goal again is to put it all on the ice and work as hard as they ever have before. It’s common sense.
It may be a tall order but considering they’ve been at the top of the mountain before, the Los Angeles Kings know exactly what it takes to go from the hunters to the hunted.
The end result is well worth it and while the Kings know they can win it all again, they and their fans must be patient as we are embarking on one lengthy, albeit fun-filled, season.