No National Hockey League team has repeated as Stanley Cup Champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-1998. Indeed, in all major sports, defending a title has become incredibly difficult. To build an elite team, it usually requires a complete exhaustion of resources, even if it comes at the expense of the future. This creates an inherent disadvantage for the following season because a franchise must adjust to the short-term plans it made the year before. This frequently involves salary-dumping moves, at least some roster fluctuation, and perhaps worst of all, complacency due to the prior season’s success.
The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks are the perfect example of one extreme case: overhauling a roster because of saturation during its championship season. In the summer following the Blackhawks’ Cup victory, then-GM Dale Tallon had to trade emerging stars Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd. He also had to let goaltender Antii Niemi walk in the free agent market after an arbitration battle. These moves, among others, left the team with many holes and for consecutive years they have failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs.
This year’s Los Angeles Kings will fall on the exact other end of the spectrum. Assuming hockey will be played in 2012-2013 and barring significant injuries, the Kings will return their exact roster from last year. History is rife with examples like the aforementioned Blackhawks; however, NHL teams seldom retain 100 percent of their players. I highly doubt that this has happened since the advent of free agency, and only in rare cases might it have happened before that (I urge any reader to find examples). Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi meticulously built the organization from the ground up for the last six years. His blueprint has left Los Angeles in an unprecedented position; it will defend its Stanley Cup season with the exact same team, at least to begin the year.
So, this all begs the question: How will the Kings perform this year? There are valid concerns: that the current group will not develop, that complacency might set in, or simply that the current roster will grow stale without change. However, there are many causes for optimism. Most Kings are on the upside of their careers. Even the team’s top players – Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, and Anze Kopitar – have not yet reached their full potential. Thus, with a drive and commitment most professional athletes possess, these stars, along with many others on the team, should become better hockey players. Additionally, after an indifferent regular season, the Kings found chemistry, goal scoring, and ability to win in the clutch in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the 2012-2013 Kings can channel these same characteristics, they will establish themselves as the class of the Western Conference and put themselves in a position to succeed once more.
If nothing else, the upcoming season will reveal a great deal about the development of a young team that peaked at the right time last season. Successfully defending a title is a rare feat indeed. Previous winners have tinkered with their squads, either by choice or necessity, trying to win multiple Stanley Cups in a row. But the 2012-2013 Kings will approach the challenge in an unconventional manner: with the exact same team.