By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
(Sports Network) - Like the Atlantic Division in the East, the Pacific Division filled up both conference final spots during last year's playoffs.
In the end, the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings not only ousted Phoenix in five games for the Western Conference title but also lifted the franchise's first Stanley Cup by defeating the New Jersey Devils in the final stage.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
2011-12 - (3rd, 95 pts); Projected Finish - 1st
REVIEW: Considering GM Dean Lombardi had been loading up on talent during a long rebuilding process in LA, it shouldn't have been that big of a surprise when the eighth-seeded Kings finally put it all together last spring. While Lombardi made key moves for former Philadelphia Flyers teammates Mike Richards and Jeff Carter over the last year and a half, the emergence of Jonathan Quick as one of the best goaltenders in the world in 2011-12 was the real missing piece.
KEY ADDITION: Considering how L.A. came on late last season to overcome a slow start, it makes sense that Lombardi opted to bring back every player from their Stanley Cup-winning roster. In lieu of adding a big free agent, having head coach Darryl Sutter back for his first full season behind the Kings' bench could be a big boost for L.A. Sutter was given the job in late December and the Kings went 23-13-11 under him before going on an amazing 16-4 run during the playoffs.
X-FACTOR: Even with Sutter changing the culture in the locker room last season, the Kings wouldn't have made the postseason if Quick hadn't kept the low-scoring club afloat for most of the season. Now at 26 years of age, Quick will need to turn in a repeat performance of 2011-12 if the Kings are expecting to win back-to-back titles, something that hasn't been done since Detroit won it all in 1997 and '98. Last spring's Conn Smythe winner has the added pressure that came with signing a 10-year, $58 million extension with the Kings over the summer and he's also coming off surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, an injury that didn't slow Quick down at all during his amazing playoff run. There's little doubt Quick is going to be a good goalie for a long time, but that doesn't mean turning in an encore performance this season won't be a tall order.
PROGNOSIS: The Kings came of age last season but as the old saying goes, "heavy is the head that wears the crown." A division title could be in the cards for the franchise this season, but more than likely L.A. will discover why repeating as Cup champions is so rare these days.