Five questions: NHL Western Conference
1. Can the Kings repeat as Stanley Cup champions? No one has won the Cup two years in a row since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. In the Kings’ favor: The lockout gave them time to recover from the usual Cup hangover, and their roster stayed intact. Not in their favor: They’ll open without center Anze Kopitar (knee) and defenseman Willie Mitchell (knee).
2. How will the Red Wings adjust to life without Nicklas Lidstrom? The NHL should rename the Norris Trophy for the smooth, savvy Swede, who won the award as top defender seven times and showed no decline leading up to his retirement. The retirement of forward Tomas Holmstrom, who made a living as an irritant around the net, also will leave a big void.
3. Will the Wild’s investment in Ryan Suter and Zach Parise pay off? Thanks to the shortened season, the Wild won’t have to pay the whole freight on the duo’s twin, 13-year, $98-million deals. Still, the Wild are paying a lot for a midmarket team that isn’t good enough to challenge for the Cup.
4.Where will Roberto Luongo end up? The Canucks’ goaltender was overtaken by teammate Cory Schneider, who finished the Canucks’ first-round playoff loss to the Kings. Luongo said after last season he would waive his no-trade clause and was reported to be bound for Toronto, and that deal might happen now that Brian Burke was fired by the Maple Leafs. Luongo is signed through 2020-21 at a hefty cap hit of $5.333 million a year.
5. Can the Predators remain competitive after losing Suter to free agency? They’ve been a model for small-market teams. The Predators are always feisty, and goalie Pekka Rinne stopped 92.3 percent of the league-leading 2,153 shots he faced, but nothing will be easy for them this season.
Helene Elliott, L.A. Times