In the salary cap era, where NHL teams have to be efficient with their money, it's important for each club to have a core group of players that set the foundation on which to build the rest of the team. This group often includes the players that consume the bulk of a team's cap space, while also providing the greatest on-ice impact.
With that in mind, Eye on Hockey introduces our summer series: "Core Values." We'll take the rest of summer to evaluate the group of five to seven players that make up the core of each team. Using criteria like point production, average age, how the players were acquired, total cost and cap hit, we'll detail which teams have the strongest cores and which need work. On top of that, we'll also gaze into the future to look at the players that could one day be part of this crucial group for each team.
To start off the Core Values series, there's really no better team to look at than the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. It's pretty clear that the players the Kings are building around have laid the foundation for success in the present and future. With most of the core players having taken home two Stanley Cup titles in the past three years, it's pretty remarkable that this team appears set to compete for many more championships.
The Kings' core boasts two of the best players at their position in the league including center Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty. Having that as a foundation among the skaters, with a well-established starting goaltender in Jonathan Quick, is going to make a lot of teams envious.
Here's a look at the rest of the core.
Core Values: Los Angeles Kings
Players (Age, term remaining on contract): C Anze Kopitar (26, 2 years), D Drew Doughty (24, 5 years), C/W Jeff Carter (29, 8 years), G Jonathan Quick (28, 9 years), RW Dustin Brown (29, 8 years), LW Marian Gaborik (32, 7 years), LW Justin Williams (32, 1 year)
Total cap hit for 2014-15: $39,272,727.00 (56.9 percent of cap space consumed by seven players)
Average age: 28.5
Total point production in 2013-14: 105 goals, 138 assists, 243 points
Los Angeles Kings Player Usage Chart via ExtraSkater.com*:
*Circle size represents time on ice, shade of circle represents possession (5v5 Corsi For percentage -- total shot attempts for relative to total shot attempts against). Blue represents CF percentage of 50 or better. The darker the shade, the better the possession numbers. Normally red would signify a sub-50 percent possession number, but the Kings didn't have anyone in that range.
**Marian Gaborik is not included on the usage chart, but posted a Corsi for percentage of 60.0 after joining the Kings with 57.5 percent of his shifts starting in the offensive zone.
About the Core
Anze Kopitar: Probably a top-10 player in the league if not top five, Kopitar has developed into one of the elite two-way centers in the game. He has never had fewer than 61 points in a full season and has topped 70 points five times. That often comes despite Kopitar playing in key defensive matchups against opponents' top lines. One look at that player usage chart above tells you a lot about what you need to know about Kopitar. He's in a class all his own on this team. Having helped lead the club to two Stanley Cup championships, Kopitar should start being mentioned more as one of the greats in the league today. He has only two years remaining on his contract, but you would have to believe the Kings are going to do whatever they can to keep him in Los Angeles for a long, long time. How he was acquired: 2005 NHL Entry Draft, first round, 11th overall
Drew Doughty: Perhaps one of the best two-way defensemen in the league right now, Doughty can take games over and sometimes did in the playoffs. His 221 points in 442 career games are second most among players 25 or younger since Doughty entered the league in 2008-09. He has averaged more than 25 minutes a game over his career and that jumps up to 27:38 for his career in the postseason. At just 24 years old, he already has two Stanley Cup rings and two Olympic gold medals. How long until he adds a Norris Trophy to that list? Not very. How he was acquired: 2008 NHL Entry Draft, first round, second overall
Jeff Carter: Since joining the Kings late in the 2011-12 season, Carter has been extremely productive. He hasn't had a chance to put up the numbers he did while with the Flyers, but the two Stanley Cup titles with him on the roster in LA probably make that a moot concern. He was integral to the Kings' last title run with 25 points in 26 games. His versatility and ability to create offense make Carter the kind of player any team would like to have on its roster. His experience as a nine-year veteran of the NHL makes him that much more valuable. How he was acquired: Traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jack Johnson and a first-round pick on Feb. 23, 2012
Jonathan Quick: Heading into the second year of a 10-year, $58 million contract, the Kings have put long-term faith in their goaltender. The 2012 Conn Smythe winner has experienced some ups and downs over the past few seasons, but based on the comments by Kings management and teammates, he is still viewed as one of the cornerstones of this team. Quick does need to turn things around, however. With a .909 save percentage over the past two seasons combined, he's a long way away from the guy that put up a .929 mark in 2011-12. As long as the Kings keep winning, they may not worry about Quick's subpar numbers, but with nine years remaining on that deal, they should be looking for a bounceback campaign from their top goaltender. He has to be better than the league average and hasn't been the past two seasons. How he was acquired: 2005 NHL Entry Draft, third round, 72nd overall
Dustin Brown: The numbers weren't there for Brown last season, but as the team's captain and under a long-term contract, he's an important part of the organization on a number of levels. The agitating, physical forward is coming out of one of the least productive season of his NHL career with just 27 points in 79 games. He bounced back a bit in the playoffs, though, with a 14-point performance before he was the first to lift the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years. Brown is a homegrown guy who was with this organization in some of its leanest years. Should he regain some productivity and get back up to the 50-plus point guy he should be, last season will look more like a hiccup than a concern. Most teams would view their captain as an important part of their core and that's why he makes this list over a few others. How he was acquired: 2003 NHL Entry Draft, first round, 13th overall
Marian Gaborik: Only with the club for 19 regular-season games and 26 playoff contests, Gaborik is a new addition to the core. He makes the cut thanks to the new seven-year deal he signed with the club that comes with a manageable cap hit, but risky term. Gaborik clearly brought an element the Kings needed more of last season with his ability to score. He led the playoffs with 14 goals and has been one of the league's better goal scorers over the past decade. With three 40-plus goal seasons to his name and four more with 30 or more, he has proven to be a scorer. Gaborik is also oft-injured, which is why there should be some concern. If he stays healthy, though, the Kings have another key player they know can put the puck in the net. How he was acquired: Traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Matt Frattin, a second-round draft pick, conditional third-round pick on March 6, 2014
Justin Williams: After claiming the Conn Smythe with a virtuoso performance during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, Williams could remain relatively anonymous no more. He posted 25 points in the postseason and finished third on the team with 43 points last season. Williams has only one year remaining on his current contract and will be 33 years old when the contract expires. After such a strong performance in the postseason and depending on how next season goes, the Kings will have a tough decision. There are some young guys coming up that will need more ice time, which means Williams, in spite of everything, could be expendable as the team needs to alleviate cap concerns. Heading into next season, however, he will remain a key player for a team that could threaten to repeat as champs and that's why he's included with this group. How he was acquired: Traded from the Carolina Hurricanes for Patrick O'Sullivan and a second-round pick on March 4, 2009
Who's next in line
The next obvious option for the Kings to be included in their core, and they probably already are internally for the Kings, are defensemen Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin. Both have offensive capabilities, but showed growth defensively last season. As they continue to round out their games, they'll be even more effective. Having a highly-mobile defense is a big key in today's NHL and these two help the Kings in that department.
Muzzin and Voynov, along with Doughty, give the Kings a rather sound trio for years to come. All are 25 or younger. The only hiccup at this point is that Muzzin will be playing on the last year of his contract next season, meaning the team will have to see how many UFA years they can buy on the restricted free agent's next deal. That could get a little pricier.
It also looks like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson could soon step into even bigger roles with the team in the near future as they showed great poise and effectiveness in the playoffs. The duo seemed to grow up a lot in the postseason and probably have plenty more growth ahead of them. Both one day may challenge the more established veterans for their jobs without the Kings missing a beat.
The interesting thing about the Kings is that they could conceivably add a few more players to the core from their current roster. The strength of this team may be less in its core and more in its overall depth. With four lines that can all play in a variety of situations and a defensive corps that is balanced in its puck-movement and physicality, the Kings really have a good thing going.
That said, it really all starts with this group, especially Kopitar and Doughty. They are driving this bus and should continue doing so for the foreseeable future.
For the purposes of this summer project, we capped the number of players to be included at seven. That left guys like Jake Muzzin, Slava Voynov and Mike Richards, whose long-term deal may just marry him to the franchise for the duration, out of the mix. But it's clear all are important members of the Kings.
Considering the upcoming deals that will be due to Williams and Kopitar, this core group may shuffle a bit over the next two or three years, but this is a foundation any team could build off of. Another deep playoff run next year looks likely.
This group also shows the importance of drafting well. Kopitar, Doughty, Brown and Quick are all homegrown players that allowed the team to go out and seek help via trades, which is how each of Carter, Williams and Gaborik were brought in. The less you have to go outside, the better. Additionally, the club hasn't needed to be active on the often too-expensive free agent market. That keeps costs manageable and the big money is spent more sensibly on the guys who have been there for a while.
The Kings are set up to be contenders for years to come. Assuming Kopitar gets locked down to a near-max deal (which he so obviously deserves), there may need to be some maneuvering, but not before trying another run next season. That's a good situation to be in for the two-time champs.