A Closer Look: Los Angeles Kings
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ESPN.com takes a Closer Look at the Kings and what they need to get better in 2000-01.
Season Review: Playing to potential
In net, Stephane Fiset and Jamie Storr might not have been spectacular, but they certainly proved a worthy NHL tandem. Their health, as well as their play, was a major reason the team improved so much.
The Kings had great two-line scoring depth. Six players -- though one was defenseman Rob Blake -- scored 17 or more times. If Zigmund Palffy (18 games) and Jozef Stumpel (25) didn't miss so much time, their numbers would have been more impressive. Palffy had 27 goals, and Stumpel 39 assists and 56 points. Unfortunately, with the exception of one wild 8-5 loss, the Kings couldn't muster more than one goal in their four losses to the Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs.
The Open Market: Schneider signs on
The most important offseason signing was defenseman Mathieu Schneider. He's a younger equivalent (potentially) to Garry Galley, who is an unrestricted free agent. When at his best, Schneider can log minutes and be a solid power-play contributor. At his worst, he exposes his team to odd-man rushes by taking too many chances with the puck. Odds are a new environment will be a boost for him because his former coach with the Rangers, John Muckler, didn't like him a whole lot. Murray might be tough on him but won't stop playing him unless absolutely forced to.
Key unsigned free agents:
Jozef Stumpel, Garry Galley.
After that, Stu Grimson was added for insurance in the toughness department, and everything else is roster filler.
In terms of possible holdouts, only Stumpel could be a problem. He is a big-time talent who has missed 43 games in two seasons. Stumpel's absence from camp is far from a killer, but it would be a lot better for the Kings if he were practicing from the very beginning. As a playmaker, Stumpel is invaluable, and he improved by a factor of 41 goals in the plus-minus department last season. He's not easy to replace.
How to improve: Goaltending and health
The Pacific should be equally competitive next season, so improvement is crucial. The first step is health. No team plays the whole season without encountering injuries. But if the Kings don't have their top two lines at 100 percent come playoff time, they won't go too far.
The second key is goaltending. Fiset and Storr need to take it to the next level. Ed Belfour is clearly the best goalie in the division, but after that, it's pretty even. The tandem could be the five- or six- point difference the Kings need to overthrow the Stars for first place.
Brian A. Shactman is the NHL editor for ESPN.com.