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Future looks bright for the Kings

HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

This team might be more capable of a repeat than other recent Stanley Cup champions.

June 12, 2012|Helene Elliott

In the days when the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup almost every spring, the city's mayor would succinctly announce the details of the championship celebration.

"The parade will follow the usual route," was all he needed to say, and everyone knew what that meant.

There is no usual route for the Kings, who Monday won the first Cup title of their 45-year existence. They'll celebrate Thursday with a parade that's scheduled to begin at noon at Figueroa and 5th Streets and will end at Staples Center with a tickets-only rally scheduled to start at 2:30.

They actually took an unusual route to get here, but if a few things go right, their parade could become a familiar ritual.

"We built this for a long run. It's a good young team with the core tied up, and we have the resources to keep our key guys and look to add," Tim Leiweke, the Kings' governor and chief executive of parent company AEG, said Tuesday.

"We want to compete for a long time now."

Parity brought about by the NHL's salary cap system makes it difficult to build and sustain perennial contenders. Success brings demands for higher salaries and each team can stretch its budget only so far. Cap concerns forced the 2010 champion Chicago Blackhawks to part with 10 heart-and-soul players and several role players soon after their victory and they haven't been the same since.

The physical and mental toll exacted by two intense months of playoff hockey also works against repeating. Players often need surgery or rehab for injuries and aren't in top shape to start the next season. No team has won back-to-back titles since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. The 2011 champion Boston Bruins and runner-up Vancouver Canucks lost in the first round this season.

That said, there are reasons to believe the Kings can be more than a one-hit wonder.

They have the backing of fervent fan Leiweke, who allowed them to spend close to the cap limit this season. "I never wanted anything in my career as much as I wanted this," he said Monday while still on the ice at Staples Center. "I'm really proud of our players and how they fought through this year."

Most of their key players are signed long-term except for playoff MVP Jonathan Quick, who has one year on his contract. The Kings can begin negotiating an extension with him July 1 and that will be a priority. Re-signing center Jarret Stoll, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, is another must-do. Winger Dustin Penner, also eligible for unrestricted free agency, made up for a lackluster regular season with an assertive playoff performance but might have to take a cut from the $4.25 million he earned last season.

In addition, the Kings' relatively short playoff journey might have left them in better shape than other recent champions. They zipped through the first three rounds with only two losses and weren't pushed until the New Jersey Devils fought back to win Games 4 and 5. If they paid less of a physical price than usual — and it isn't known yet which players have injuries that will need attention — their chances of repeating could improve.

What's most encouraging to fans is that winning again was already on the Kings' minds minutes after their Cup-clinching victory over the Devils.

"I think it's going to be expected now. We should be one of the favorites next year," Penner said. "We were this year, and didn't live up to it until now."

Coach Darryl Sutter, always thinking ahead, was thinking about the future as the seconds ticked off late in Game 6.

"The first thing you think about as a coach, these guys are all young enough, they've got to try it again," he said Monday while sitting beside Quick at a postgame news conference.

He said he liked the team's character from the moment he took over for Terry Murray in mid-December. "You look at the big picture now, and I was right on how I thought about what type of players these guys were," Sutter said. "You look even at Jonathan answering the questions about the game, staying in the moment. These guys can stay in the moment. You know what, they could get there and stay there, be resilient."

If they can do that, that parade itinerary along Figueroa could soon become their usual route.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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