A Closer Look: Los Angeles Kings

Updated: August 18, 2000, 9:02 AM ET
By Brian A. Shactman | ESPN.com

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  • The Kings were a different team under rookie coach Andy Murray. That's no slight on the departed Larry Robinson, who ended up coaching the Devils to the Stanley Cup, but Murray held the players more accountable than Robinson had in Los Angeles. And some teams need that treatment more than others. Clearly, the Kings responded well, finishing 25 points better than the previous season.

    ESPN.com takes a Closer Look at the Kings and what they need to get better in 2000-01.

    Season Review: Playing to potential

    Luc Robitaille
    Robitaille
    Luc Robitaille continued his incredible career turnaround with 36 goals in 71 games. He cooled off a bit late in the regular season, but his offense -- 10 goals in the first 13 games -- helped the Kings start strong, something that is more important than people think.

    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.

    FREE AGENCY
    Key unsigned free agents:
    Jozef Stumpel, Garry Galley.

    Signings/offseason acquisitions:
    Aki Berg, Philippe Boucher, Stu Grimson, Craig Johnson, Jere Karalahti, Ian Laperriere, Marcel Cousineau, Eric Belanger, Rich Brennan, Joe Corvo, Peter LeBoutillier, Nate Miller.

    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.

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