Kings' hopes hinge on healthy horses

The Kings have the potential to scare teams in the playoffs, if they can get there.

Originally Published: September 24, 2001
By Mike Heika | Special to ESPN.com

If only the Kings could enjoy good health for one full season.

Concussions limited Jason Allison to only 26 games last season and Adam Deadmarsh to only 20. Neither has been cleared to play in the season opener.

And that's what is frustrating about the Kings, who lost 435 man games to injury last season. They have a solid coach in Andy Murray, some impressive talent spread throughout the lineup and, now, an interesting new goalie in Roman Cechmanek. Mix that in with the offseason acquisitions of Jozef Stumpel, Luc Robitaille and Trent Klatt, and there should be hope that the team rises significantly from its 10th place finish in the West and tries to put a scare into the big boys.

PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH. . .
7th
STRENGTH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Solid overall forward depth and a great group of scrappy role players. The Kings will wear a lot of teams down with their relentless play on just about any given night.

WEAKNESS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This might be the most physically fragile team in hockey, and it doesn't look to be getting stronger. Jason Allison, Adam Deadmarsh, Aaron Miller, Ziggy Palffy each has a history of injury.

BEST OFFSEASON MOVE . . . . . . . . . . .
The acquisition of goalie Roman Cechmanek, who was traded from the Flyers for no more than a second-round draft pick. Cechmanek has been one of the best regular-season goalies in the NHL for the past three years and posted a 33-15-10 record last season with a 1.83 GAA and a .925 save percentage.

WORST OFFSEASON MOVE . . . . . . . . .
The acquisition of goalie Roman Cechmanek, who so infuriated the Flyers over the past three seasons that they basically gave him away for nothing. No goalie in the league might be more unpredictable in the playoffs.

PLAYER TO WATCH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cechmanek is the obvious one, but we'll offer up Adam Deadmarsh. Jason Allison (concussion) is a more important player statistically speaking, but no person gives the team more of a spark than Deadmarsh (concussion). Of all the players with health concerns, keeping Deadmarsh healthy might be the most important key to Kings success.

FANTASY FIX. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Roman Cechmanek: Fantasy owners aren't sure what to make of Cechmanek. He was always great in the regular season for Philadelphia, and his postseason meltdowns never hurt fantasy teams. But how much of his success was due to the talent around him? He may find wins harder to come by out West, but his GAA and save percentage should be fine behind the Kings' underrated defense. -- Graham Hays

AT A GLANCE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2003-04: Schedule | Roster
2002-03: Schedule/Results | Stats
Alas, though, you don't trust them.

If it isn't Allison and Deadmarsh, it's Zigmund Palffy (who has played more than 70 games only twice in the past five seasons) or Aaron Miller (who missed 33 games last season).

The most disappointing news out of training camp so far is that impressive prospect Jared Aulin could be out five months with a shoulder injury and fellow forward prospect Mike Cammalleri could be out five weeks with a bad knee.

Heck, Stumpel hurt his neck in one of his first games back.

Talk about an omen.

Offense

Murray's teams have been able to score when they have been healthy, and this group should be no different. The Kings registered 245 goals in 1999-2000, 252 in 2000-01, 214 in 2001-02 and 203 last season. That's a bad trend, but one this team could easily reverse.

Write it out on paper and the team has plenty of scoring options. Allison and Deadmarsh could play with Luc Robitaille on the top line. Palffy could play with Stumpel and Alexander Frolov on the second line. Trent Klatt could play with Eric Belanger and Sean Avery on the third line and the fourth line could include talented prospects like Mike Cammalleri, Jared Aulin and Pavel Rosa.

But it's doubtful the Kings will start the season with that lineup and it's doubtful they will ever use it during the season.

If you're talking about a perfect world, Allison is a big (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) center who can do it all. He had 95 points in his last season in Boston and tallied 74 points in 73 games with Los Angeles in 2001-02. Heck, he had 28 points in 26 games last season. Deadmarsh (13 goals in 20 games last season) is the perfect complement to Allison. Palffy had 85 points last season and Stumpel had 51 for Boston, so there's plenty of talent to go around.

The Kings power play was one of the best in the league until last season (18th) and that's something that has to improve.

Defense

Mattias Norstrom might be the most underrated player in the NHL. The sturdy defenseman is the Kings' captain and a physical force on the blue line. He averaged 22 minutes a game last season and will get a raise to $4.5 million this season. The Kings are built around him.

But they don't slack off from there. Miller came from Colorado in the Rob Blake trade and has helped keep Kings fans from missing the team's former leader. Lubomir Visnovsky is a talented skater when healthy and hopes to get back to the 39 points he had in 2000-01. Jaroslav Modry, meanwhile, hopes to continue to build on the 80 points he has had over the past two seasons.

The Kings have added to their blueline depth this season with three youngsters -- Tim Gleason, Tomas Ziska and Denis Grebeshkov. While all three could start in the minors, they each could have a hand in helping the parent team this year.

L.A.'s penalty killing ranked 15th, making them a middle of the road team. Cechmanek could help those totals.

Goaltending

Cechmanek just adds more uncertainty to the Kings this year. While many in L.A. were down on Felix Potvin, the guy did beat Detroit once and twice pushed the Colorado Avalanche to seven games. Cechmanek has no such record of playoff success. He twice lost in the first round with the Flyers and last season defeated Toronto before falling to Ottawa.

While Cechmanek's numbers have always been good, the biggest concern is his unorthodox style of play and his unpredictable temper. Still, everyone believes he will be much more "human" out of the pressure cooker that is the Flyers.

"I hear what people say," Cechmanek said after the playoffs. "They hate me."

He's hoping this season that maybe L.A. will love him ... or he'll love L.A. ... You get the point.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.