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Welcome to What Went Wrong, which is a series where we take a look at each team that failed to make the playoffs with an emphasis on why they fell short. We’ll also end each team’s outlook by highlighting some players in the organization to watch going forward, either because the team is looking for them to be key members in the future or because they have something to prove after a less than ideal year.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
The Kings posted a record of 21-28-7 in 2020-21 and missed the playoffs for a third straight season. Los Angeles wasn’t expected to make much in the way of progress during what was anticipated to be another year of the team’s rebuild. However, the team turned some heads with a 9-7-4 start. Unfortunately, the team eventually took steps back when inconsistencies and difficulty scoring creeped back into the team’s play.
Long-time core players Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown played well for the Kings in 2020-21, but they struggled offensively down the stretch. Alex Iafallo joined Doughty and Brown as the team’s only 30-point scorers. Adrian Kempe finished one point shy of that mark. Kopitar led the team with 50 points, while Brown topped the Kings with 17 goals even though he missed the last five matches of the year because of an upper-body injury.
A successful power play of the Kings was part of the team’s hot start, but it faded quickly and never got back on track. Los Angeles finished 19th with a power play percentage of 18.9%. The team’s five-on-five scoring wasn’t that strong to begin with and still managed to get worse as the season progressed. The Kings finished with the third-fewest 5-on-5 goals, with 95, in the NHL. Los Angeles also ranked 27th in the league in goals for per game played (2.54).
Only the Buffalo Sabres scored first in fewer games (19) than the Kings (21). They were outscored by a 62-40 margin in first periods. Philadelphia was on the only team that allowed more first-period goals against (63) than Los Angeles. Slow starts and chasing the game were common themes for the Kings, which is a horrible combination when your team cannot overcome deficits. The Kings were one of just two teams, with the New York Islanders being the other, that failed to score a single goal with their goalie pulled this past season. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Kings did not fare well in one-goal games. They won 5 out of 13 under those circumstances and only one of seven at home.
The Kings slipped from a 0.457 points percentage in 2019-20 during Todd McLellan’s first season as head coach to 0.438 during his second year behind the bench with the organization this past campaign. Still, there are some reasons for optimism. Cal Petersen emerged as a go-to option in the crease with a superb 2020-21 season. Gabriel Vilardi enjoyed some offensive success during his rookie year, while Jaret-Anderson Dolan, Arthur Kaliyev and Quinton Byfield received NHL looks as well and could become fixtures in the lineup as early as next season.
The Kings could make a splash either on the trade front or via free agency this offseason. The team has the resources to accelerate the rebuild process if that is a route that they want to take. Doughty made it known after the season was over that he hopes that will be the case. He wants to take another run with the team’s veteran core group. The Kings have the cap space, picks and prospects to make happen, so it will be interesting to see if GM Rob Blake makes big moves or deploys a more cautious approach, while supplementing the roster along the way, because the team is not close to contending yet.
Drew Doughty - Doughty produced 34 points in 56 games during the 2020-21 season after he had 35 points over 67 appearances the previous campaign. He racked up seven goals and 18 assists through his first 29 outings, but his production slipped considerably afterward. Doughty only picked up one goal and eight helpers in his next 27 contests. That includes a mere three assists in 16 matches to finish the year. Doughty is a key part of the team’s offense, especially on the power play.
Alex Iafallo - Iafallo operated at a 50-point pace in 2019-20 when he registered 17 goals and 43 points in 70 appearances. He stayed within striking distance of that scoring rate this past campaign with 13 markers and 30 points over 55 matches. Iafallo tied for second on the team with 22 even-strength points and he plays valuable top-six forward minutes for the Kings. The team rewarded him with a four-year, $16 million contract extension in April.
Arthur Kaliyev - Kaliyev led the Ontario Reign of the AHL in scoring with 14 goals and 31 points in 40 games during the 2020-21 season. He tied for second among all rookies in goals and ranked fourth overall among first-year players in points. Kaliyev, who was selected with the No. 33 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, also netted a goal in his NHL debut against Anaheim. However, that was the only action he saw with the Kings. Kaliyev should get a chance to see much more playing time in 2021-22 and he could inject some much-needed goal scoring into the lineup.
Quinton Byfield - Byfield supplied one assist in six appearances with Los Angeles after he was chosen with the second overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. The 18-year-old center also had eight goals and 20 points in 32 games with Ontario of the AHL during his first pro campaign. The Kings need Byfield to continue to develop and take steps forward regardless of where he plays in 2021-22. He stands a chance to be a regular with the Kings and he has plenty of upside.
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The Canucks went from taking the Vegas Golden Knights to seven games in the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs to finishing with the worst record in the North Division in 2020-21 with a mark of 23-29-4. The team lost key players to free agency in Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli and Chris Tanev and got off to a rocky start, which included a 2-9-2 run in February.
Vancouver played 13 games in 21 nights to begin the season and then had to play 19 times in 32 days to finish the year because of the organization’s COVID protocol pause. The Canucks had 19 players on the roster unavailable due to COVID protocol in April. The team announced that 21 players and four coaches tested positive for the virus. The team ended up going 24 days between games. Vancouver won three games during a four-game homestand following their return to action, but went on a six-game losing skid afterward. Vancouver had a record of 4-7-1 in May to finish the 2020-21 campaign and closed out their schedule at the same time as the first round of the playoffs because of the delay.
Vancouver struggled to score, while ranking 24th in goals for per game played (2.64). The team’s power play was 25th overall with a success rate of 17.4%. The Canucks didn’t have any 50-point producers, but Brock Boeser came close with 49 and J.T. Miller had 46. Quinn Hughes had 41 points from back end and Bo Horvat had 39 points, but after that there was a steep gap in points with rookie Nils Hoglander coming in with 27 points. Elias Pettersson was limited to just 26 appearances, but he did account for 21 points.
Defending and goaltending were problems for the Canucks, especially early in the year when Braden Holtby and Thatcher Demko both struggled between the pipes. Demko managed stabilize afterward and he seized control of the No. 1 job, but he had some issues again following his return from the team’s COVID crisis. Vancouver finished 26th in goals against per game played (3.34) and surrendered the third-most shots against per game played (33.4).
The team was trailing first in 31 games, which was the seventh-highest total in the league. Vancouver had trouble recovering and won just five times when trailing first, which tied them for the second-fewest in the NHL. The team also had the second-most losses (20) when trailing after the first period.
The Canucks were hit the hardest by COVID, but the team had plenty of shortcomings to overcome before that unfortunate situation befell the roster. It was going to be an uphill climb for the team regardless following a 6-11-0 start. The gap was worsened by the team’s COVID-19 outbreak and the loss of Pettersson to injury certainly didn’t help matters either.
The Canucks will look to get back on track in 2021-22. The team brought back head coach Travis Green with a multi-year contract extension and could do some roster tinkering in the offseason. One of the team’s top prospects, Vasily Podkolzin, is expected to join the fold as well. Vancouver has a strong core group of players, but the team needs more secondary scoring and some depth on the back end.
Elias Pettersson - Pettersson got off to a slow start with one assist in six games before he developed a rhythm offensively. He collected 10 goals and 20 points in 20 matches afterward. The 22-year-old star forward missed the final 30 games of the year with a wrist injury. Pettersson expects to be ready for next season and the Canucks will be looking for him to be the focal point of the offense.
Thatcher Demko - Demko had an inconsistent year despite establishing himself as the team’s go-to netminder. He started the season with a mark of 4-9-1 and a .901 save percentage. Demko had his impressive 8-1-0 stretch after that before concluding the year with a 4-8-0 record. He had some trouble after returning from COVID protocol, but started to play better down the final stretch of the regular season. Demko will be expected to be better in 2021-22, especially if Holtby’s downward trajectory continues and the team doesn’t improve defensively in front of him.
Quinn Hughes - Hughes was impressive during his rookie season with eight goals and 53 points in 68 contests. He had another strong offensive year in 2020-21 with 41 points, including 38 helpers, in 56 matches. Hughes also led the team with 19 power-play points. The 21-year-old defender entered the offseason with the intent of getting better defensively. Hughes had a team-worst minus-24 rating and wants to improve his all-around game.
J.T. Miller - Miller ranked third on the team with 15 goals and second on the team with 46 points in 53 games. He was also second on Vancouver with 18 points on the man advantage. It was challenging year for the Canucks and Miller spoke after the season about the mental and physical toll that it took. He was definitely in need of a break and should benefit from the return of Pettersson to the lineup for the 2021-22 campaign.