While the delay to the start of the NHL season has been a drag for hockey fans,… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
The Chicago Blackhawks started being ripped apart seemingly minutes after they won the Stanley Cup in 2010. Other winning teams limped into training camps unrested, and faded away.
After all, it's human nature to exhale after getting to the top of the mountain. Or at least to buy another round or two for old friends.
"We've had our fun already," Kings center Anze Kopitar.
And rightly so. The first Stanley Cup championship for the Kings ignited summer-long celebrations, from Southern California to Kopitar's native Slovenia.
But the NHL's long work stoppage, as painful as it was, happened to work for the Kings on multiple levels. It took away one obvious story line -- the specter of Stanley Cup hangover. Seven months has a way of curing even the worst of "hangovers."
And although it damaged the NHL brand, it did little to affect the Kings brand. More important, it assisted the Jonathan Quick brand, giving the Kings goalie and playoff most valuable player ample time to recover from his August back surgery.
Had the season started on time, the Kings would have been without Quick for maybe three-plus months. Quick wasn't the only ailing Kings player. Left wing Dustin Penner required wrist surgery in the off-season.
"Usually when you win the Cup, you've got maybe a good month of training before the season, and now we've had ample amounts of time," said Kings forward Justin Williams, who won the Cup with Carolina in 2006. "There's no excuse for bumps and bruises: 'We played long last year.'
"But it [the hangover] shouldn't apply to us. It shouldn't even really enter our minds. You lose a couple in a row. Someone will probably say that. But I don't think it has any bearing on what we're trying to do this year."
Although Kings enforcer Kevin Westgarth was traded the day after the lockout ended, he did not take a single shift in the playoffs. Everyone else came back for another run, including free agents Jarret Stoll and Penner, who probably could have earned more money elsewhere.
"Looking at it from a logical salary-cap standpoint, there was an opportunity," said Kings captain Dustin Brown. "They both found ways to stay here and be a part of the group. Those were the two biggest question marks.
"It's been that same group of guys for quite some time now. You start to build a bond that you don't want to break."
There has to be a shift in thinking, however. The Kings are the targeted ones now. Fortunately, they have a handful of players who have been through the experience of coming back after a Stanley Cup championship.
The difficulty in repeating in this age of NHL parity has been duly noted. It has happened just twice since 1990. Pittsburgh won in 1991 and 1992 and Detroit won the Cup in 1997 and 1998. The Red Wings also won in 2008 and lost to the Penguins the following year.
"We're the defending champs," Kopitar said. "Everyone is going to try to beat us. I don't think that changes anything in here. It's going out there and leaving the past behind you....You've got to turn the page now and write a new script for it. It's going to be a short season and you can't afford to make any mistakes."
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter is the lone current NHL coach from the last lockout-shortened season of 48 games, in 1994-95 when he was coaching the Blackhawks.
Williams acknowledged just before camp started that a daily dose of Darryl was probably the jolt the Kings needed.
"I think some of us need a kick ... every now and then," Williams said. "We probably all need one to start the season. He always looks at the end result, looking forward to how we perform and where our heads are at. That's who he is and why he is so good at what he does."
Kopitar, who sprained his right knee on Jan. 5 while playing in Sweden during the lockout, said it's doubtful he will play Saturday in the season opener against Chicago at Staples Center.
"The doors are still not completely shut, but we'd much rather see me play the other 47 games or 46 than play this one and have a major setback," he said Thursday after taking some contact for the first time since the injury. "I'm feeling pretty good. I've had a couple of days of full practice with the team and it didn't blow up on me, didn't feel sore. So I guess I'm on the right track."
Winger Tyler Toffoli was assigned to Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League after Thursday's practice. Defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk was put on waivers, leaving Jake Muzzin as the team's seventh defenseman while Willie Mitchell recovers from knee surgery. If Bodnarchuk clears waivers he will be assigned to Manchester.
Times staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this report.