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Kings Seeking Right Answers

New faces spark optimism, but questions remain for a team that failed to make the playoffs last season.

September 11, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

Many new faces, many old faces, many intricate questions.

The Kings begin training camp Friday with enough time until the Oct. 9 opener at Detroit to find some early answers.

Will Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh return to pre-injury form?

Will Roman Cechmanek solidify the goaltending?

Will Jozef Stumpel and Luc Robitaille be successful after rejoining the Kings?

Most important, will the Kings return to the playoffs?

The Kings were 10th in the Western Conference last season, 14 points behind Edmonton for the final playoff spot, after an unfortunate season in which 536 man-games were lost to injury.

With Deadmarsh (concussion) and Allison (knee injury, concussion) apparently sound, there is quiet optimism among King officials despite missing the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

"We have to believe our players are going to be hungry after the adversity we faced last year," King Coach Andy Murray said.

The Kings had a milder off-season than the other Southland hockey team, preferring to tweak and twist rather than add (Sergei Fedorov) and subtract (Paul Kariya) superstars as the Mighty Ducks did.

The Kings gave up on goaltenders Felix Potvin and Jamie Storr, and traded next year's second-round pick to Philadelphia for the enigmatic Cechmanek, whose regular-season prowess has been superseded only by his playoff problems.

Cechmanek, 92-43-22 with a 1.96 goals-against average in three seasons with the Flyers, went 9-14 in the playoffs. The Flyers won one of four playoff series with Cechmanek.

The Kings think Cechmanek, 32, is an upgrade.

"Our first order of business would be to earn a playoff spot.... We think Roman is capable of helping us do that," King General Manager Dave Taylor said. "In the playoffs last year, he took most of the blame for the loss in the Ottawa series, but in the Toronto series he was very good."

Trent Klatt filled the role of a physical presence in Vancouver, but he begins camp on the first line with Allison and Deadmarsh after being promised the chance to play on a scoring line when he signed as a free agent.

The Kings found a No. 2 center, a familiar face in Stumpel, who spent most of the last two seasons in Boston. The Kings also signed Robitaille, who at 37 has something to prove in his third tour with the team after a career-low 11 goals last season in Detroit.

Some of the younger players trying to assure themselves of a roster spot include forward Michael Cammalleri and defensemen Denis Grebeshkov and Tim Gleason.

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Defenseman Jaroslav Modry has recovered more quickly than expected from shoulder surgery in June and should be ready for the opener.... Storr signed a one-year deal with Omsk of the Russian Men's League. The Kings' first-round pick in 1994, Storr went 85-78-21 with a 2.52 goals-against average in nine seasons.... Center Jared Aulin, one of the Kings' top prospects, had surgery on his dislocated left shoulder Wednesday. Aulin, who injured the shoulder while fighting in a rookie-camp game last week, is expected to be sidelined four to six months.

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