As I begin to look back on the 2021-22 season, I keep returning to May 13 as a marker for how far things have genuinely progressed.
13th of May, 2021, The Los Angeles Kings lost the second of two games in Colorado to end their season. Due to COVID rescheduling, the Kings had to play games that late, games that were lame-duck for the Kings, playing against a club vying for the Presidents’ Trophy. They lost their last two regular-season games against the Avalanche by a combined 11-1 score, games that were not competitive between teams in two different places, with distinct motives.
13th of May, 2022, The Los Angeles Kings took off for Edmonton to prepare for the first round of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. In 365 days, the Kings moved from meaningless, planned games to be on the cusp of winning their first playoff series since 2014. And while they fell short of that goal with Friday night’s 2-0 loss to the Oilers, their progress over the previous year has been tremendous.
It’s alright to be dissatisfied by last night’s game and the series. Because this was a winnable series, failing to complete the task is disheartening. At home, Game 6 was winnable. On the road, Game 7 was winnable. Throughout the seven games, the Kings gave themselves a chance to win. This was not the infamous “waste of eight days” that facing Colorado in the first round was. This was a hard-fought, contested series that the Kings had every chance of winning. It’s a letdown that they didn’t discover a method to accomplish it.
However, it is a dismal conclusion to anything but a poor season.
Most outside sources had the Kings on the outside looking in the postseason race. They projected the Kings to finish sixth to eighth in the Pacific Division, with summer improvements but still a long way from postseason contention. Those forecasts proved to be inaccurate. The Kings have seen offseason signings flourish, veterans return to form, and younger players take on greater responsibilities in the lineup. Despite a spate of injuries that put the Kings in the top five in the NHL in terms of man-games lost, particularly on the blueline, a resilient and organized bunch found a way to make the playoffs.
There is something to be proud of in it.
It’s fine to experience both sets of feelings at the same time. When you’re in the middle of a series and involved in the team on the ice, losing in seven games will always hurt, even if you can see the wider picture. On the other hand, that wider image creates a vision of optimism, even amid a disappointing present.
Last night’s emotions on a team-wide level were heightened by Dustin Brown, who laced up his skates for the final time in the NHL. Brown is one of the franchise’s all-time greats, and we expect to see him return for a game soon to have his number 23 jersey elevated to the rafters at Crypto.com Arena. The Kings haven’t honored a player with a jersey retirement ceremony since Rob Blake in 2015. Brown will buck the pattern and set a new one, with three of his present colleagues following him when the time comes.
Last night, Anze Kopitar openly represented grief and dissatisfaction in the room. When questioned about Brown, his emotions permitted him to say only five words, choking back the tears as best he could, a picture of the two’s connection over the previous 16 years. Brown will be continuously recognized by the organization during the summer, as emotions calm, and we can look more objectively at Brown’s career achievements.
According to Head Coach Todd McLellan, “we go ahead starting today.”
He concluded his opening statement from yesterday night’s news conference by stating that the 2022-23 season begins today and that, based on his experience, it would be a difficult one. It’s not a remark he clarified or one to which we have context. However, his statements summed up the tiny and large picture approach, with a look ahead to what’s to come and possibly the arduous work that remains ahead to take the next step forward. As exit interviews begin in the coming days, we’ll receive more insight into what that job may include as we chat with McLellan and General Manager Rob Blake in a more protracted, less raw situation.
We’ll have comprehensive coverage of those interviews and anything else that comes up between now and then. The Ontario Reign face elimination tonight in a playoff game at Toyota Arena at 8 p.m., with three games remaining at home to prolong their season. They’ll need to win all three, which will begin later today.
I’d like to say thank you from there. When it comes to covering this club, an 82-game schedule brought a variety of possibilities, difficulties, and moments. Being at the office full-time, outside of the bubble, with certain components assisting the product here on LAKI and others, I believe, holding it back, was a new job for me. Yes, I have. I have a few ideas for improving site coverage for next season, but without the community’s support here, those ideas will go nowhere. I owe you thanks for that.
It was an exciting season to chronicle and hopefully signaled the beginning of this organization’s return to where it wants and needs to be. I hope you all had the opportunity to appreciate that coverage and the insight and information presented throughout a complete program for the first time since 2019.
Summer naturally brings and displays a different timetable. A few ideas are in the works for that time of year, including some much-needed rest and leisure. Sunday greetings. Reign supreme. Insiders, we’ll talk shortly.