Everything changed for the NHL's lowest-scoring team around the time of that trade, culminating in a fitting footnote: Los Angeles hadn't scored six goals in any game this season until the cup clincher. The Kings got at least one goal from 17 players in the postseason, with all four lines and three defensive pairings making significant contributions.
Los Angeles' older players, including elder statesman Willie Mitchell and tenacious forward Simon Gagne, played seamlessly alongside youngsters Drew Doughty, who lived up to his lavish $56 million contract after a rocky start to the year, and King, who repeatedly provided scoring punch and physical play.
When Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi start looking toward next season, they'll know most of that roster is already signed. The few free agents probably could be tied up if Los Angeles' brass wants the same players to attempt a repeat — assuming the NHL and the players' union resolve a potentially sticky labor dispute that could leave the Kings with plenty of extra time to take the Cup home to friends and family.
Los Angeles' top unrestricted free agents are forwards Jarret Stoll, Dustin Penner and Colin Fraser. Stoll was a steadying veteran influence and key special-teams player all season, while Penner is an imposing physical presence on an impressive playoff line with Carter and Mike Richards.
Yet neither Stoll nor Penner played particularly well during the regular season, giving the Kings plenty of factors to weigh when deciding whether to enter the bidding for their services.
The entire defense is signed for next year, while forwards Carter, Richards and first-liners Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams are all signed for at least two seasons.
Lombardi undoubtedly will need to find money to do a long-term deal with goalie Jonathan Quick, who has one more season at $1.8 million left on his deal before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2013. Quick will command top dollar after his breakthrough season and newfound elite status, and the Kings are aware how much of their success rests on his slight shoulders.
No matter what moves Lombardi makes, the Kings will defend their first title with the knowledge they've overcome every obstacle the NHL can throw at them. Their spectacular playoff run was only possible because the Kings met every challenge before it became critical, and their mellow summer of celebration is the reward.
"These guys, since March 1st, they've lost about six games," Sutter said. "They've taken a lot of public negativity towards them. Look what they've just done. Pretty awesome. Tells you what type of players they are."
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