The Los Angeles Kings are out of the playoffs after losing to Calgary Thursday. (USATSI)
The Los Angeles Kings are out of the playoffs after losing to Calgary Thursday. (USATSI)

The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be played without the defending champion.

The Los Angeles Kings, winners of two Stanley Cups in the last four years, were eliminated from postseason contention after losing to the Calgary Flames 3-1 on Thursday. With the win, the Flames clinched the last spot in the Pacific Division to make the playoffs for the first time in five years.

Additionally, with the Kings' loss, the Winnipeg Jets clinched the last wild card spot to solidify the Western Conference field, if not the final postseason matchups.

It is just the third time in the last 20 years that the reigning champion won’t be able to defend its title in the following postseason. The last champ to miss the playoffs was  the 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes. Before them, it was the 1995-96 New Jersey Devils.

What makes this so shocking is that the Kings have largely the same team that won them the Cup last year. Only a few changes were made as GM Dean Lombardi looked to lock down many of his core players with expiring contracts on multi-year deals. Now the team will face an offseason of questions about how it all went wrong.

The Kings will also have tough decisions when it comes to contracts for veteran players that are eligible for unrestricted free agency. Conn Smythe winner Justin Williams and two-time Cup winner Jarret Stoll are among those on expiring deals. Young rising star Tyler Toffoli is due to become a restricted free agent and is owed a raise, as is promising backup goalie Martin Jones. Defenseman Andrej Sekera, who was injured after the team spent a first-round pick and a prospect to acquire him from the Hurricanes near the deadline, is also slated for free agency. 

All of those decisions are also going to have to be made knowing full well that Anze Kopitar’s current contract expires after next season and his next deal should be a massive one.

It’s hard to believe that this Kings team, the one that was so resilient in every series of the playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup are going to be watching from their couches this year.

Perhaps more amazingly, they were bounced by the Flames, a team that so many had slated in the preseason to be dreaming of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in the NHL Draft lottery. But the Flames have been all over the Kings all season. They won four of the five games between the two teams this year, including two outside of regulation.

Thursday night was their most impressive win of them all, however. With everything to play for, they stopped a team that had come back from even longer odds last season throughout the playoffs on a seemingly nightly basis.

Jonas Hiller made 33 saves to shut down the Kings. High-scoring rookie Johnny Gaudreau continued his success against Los Angeles with the game’s first goal. Jiri Hudler notched his 30th and 31st goals of the season, the first time he has eclipsed the 30 mark in his career.

The Flames have been defying the odds and statistics all season, but the Kings have too, in an entirely different way.

No two teams have better shown the randomness of hockey  and that no matter how many numbers you throw out there, they still have to play the games. The statistics, advanced or otherwise, only give probabilities, not absolutes. That doesn’t devalue the numbers at all. What it does is show just how incredible the results, both positive for the Flames and negative for the Kings, really are.

The Kings may spend all summer trying to explain what happened this season, but they'll have a hard time finding answers. For those of us on the outside, we're reminded that sometimes sports are at their best when they can't be explained.