LOS ANGELES - Up next for the Los Angeles Kings: First, a parade. Then, the pursuit of free agent Zach Parise come July 1.
These Kings have no intention of winning just one Stanley Cup. They want more. And they are not in any kind of salary cap conundrum, the way past winners have found themselves . They won’t have to dish off quality players - or any players really - the way the Chicago Blackhawks did after winning two years ago.
And while they won’t say so because they can’t legally say so, the captain of the New Jersey Devils is No. 1 on their off-season shopping list.
They want Parise, as do many teams, and they want him badly.
Parise fits perfectly into the Kings’ ultra-competitive philosophy, led by general manager Dean Lombardi and his able assistant, Ron Hextall. What they determined on their way to the Stanley Cup was what so many have known already. But until you witness it up close, experience it with your players - that fine line between success and failure often comes down to little more than effort.
And it’s not just effort. It’s a willingness to compete at a level beyond the norm. That willingness, when combined with superb goaltending by Jonathan Quick, terrific team altering leadership from coach Darryl Sutter, and all-world play from defenceman Drew Doughty, is why the Kings came out of the eighth seed and won 16 playoff games, losing just four, and now have an entire summer to celebrate.
In the post-game hysteria, Hextall, who was once the ultimate competitor himself, approached defenceman Rob Scuderi in the all the noise and spray of the Kings dressing room. He saw Scuderi, with a broken nose, a cut on his lip, a cut on his chin, is face looking like a work of abstract art, all from the game and series changing hit by Steve Bernier of the Devils and had to tell him rather loudly. “You’re the reason why we won the Stanley Cup.”
He yelled that to him once. And then he yelled it more than once.
Scuderi is the prototypical Stanley Cup winner that nobody pays much attention to. All he does is make your team better. This is his second NHL championship. He was part of the Pittsburgh defence when Sidney Crosby’s Penguins won the Cup in 2009. When Scuderi left in free agency for Los Angeles, he was never properly replaced with the Penguins. Circumstances aside, it’s among the reasons Pittsburgh has hardly been a playoff force in recent times.
You need a roster with ultra-competitive players to win the Stanley Cup. Players like Scuderi and Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene. Individually, they may not look like the greatest defencemen on the planet. But collectively, Scuderi pairing with Doughty; Mitchell and Greene playing the shut-down, shot-blocking, fight for every loose puck kind of game, in the end it proved to be the difference between the Kings and their closest rivals, the Devils.
The Devils defence couldn’t match the Los Angeles defence in the Final. And the Kings now hope to replicate that kind of honest intensity, but that’s the real challenge going forward. Just ask the Boston Bruins about that. They seemed set a year ago to make another Cup push. But they couldn’t find the collective team hunger a year later. The Kings are hoping to go to school on the Bruins one year run.
Which is why Parise is so important to them. They love the way he competes. They love his skill level and natural leadership. While Parise has yet to speak openly about his future, the word that has filtered down to NHL general managers is that his No. 1 consideration in choosing a location next year is finding a team that just won’t challenge for the Stanley Cup next year, but will challenge every year.
What team is better set up to win than the Kings? Maybe the Penguins, but their need is on defence. Maybe the Red Wings, but they just lost Nick Lidstrom and Brad Stuart. Maybe the Rangers, but they’re thin up front when compared to Los Angeles.
Imagine one line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, another of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Parise? That may not be exactly the lineup plan but the Kings are doing that kind of imagining as the off-season approaches quickly.
The champs have all their important players under contract for next year with $16 million to spend, assuming the new Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t alter the salary cap number. Only Dustin Penner and Jarret Stoll are unrestricted free agents. They also have a backup goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, who is coveted by several teams.
The options are many for a team that doesn’t want to be one and done. Parise is the equation changer everyone is looking for.