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Los Angeles Kings stay step ahead of San Jose Sharks

The Los Angeles Kings spent to keep a proven Stanley Cup champion roster in its prime almost entirely intact. That keeps them the team to beat for the foreseeable future.
The Los Angeles Kings spent to keep a proven Stanley Cup champion roster in its prime almost entirely intact. That keeps them the team to beat for the foreseeable future.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

San Jose Sharks direction

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The Los Angeles Kings stayed ahead of the Pacific Division rival San Jose Sharks by resigning Dwight King Wednesday, July 30. Cap Geek lists the Stanley Cup champions as paying him under $2 million per season through June of 2017.

The Kings are up to the cap but lost only Willie Mitchell from the best postseason team in the NHL over the last three years. Meanwhile, the Sharks have over $6 million of space after losing Dan Boyle, Brad Stuart and some role-playing forwards. Worth being further examined is that the team with more attrition despite being victims both times the rivals met in those three Stanley Cup playoffs could be right to leave the cap room...

The time is now for Los Angeles. Willie Mitchell's best days are behind him and now every player on their roster is between the ages of 21 and 32 except 34-year old Robyn Regehr. Four key forwards between 27 and 32 are locked up through at last 2020, Jonathan Quick will be in net through 2023 and 24-year old defensemen Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov are under contract through 2019.

Their goal is to stay ahead of their chief competitors: San Jose, the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks. By signing King, the team that carries his name has accomplished that goal in losing only one aging player at a position of wealth. As one of many players still peaking, this is a Stanley Cup contender for years to come.

That is not the case with San Jose. Even if general manager Doug Wilson spent $6 million to add a blue-line stud, the unit would still not be as good as the one in Los Angeles. Jonathan Quick is as good as any goalie in the world, giving them an edge in at least two units. Many would argue that gives this ascending team an advantage in all three units, and at the very least the two teams are too close at forward to make much of a difference.

Such a signing would also not catch the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins. The Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers would still be right there. Why should Wilson spend the money if it will not get the results?

The Sharks are talking about extending Justin Braun according to CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz Monday, their total ice-time leader during the 2013-14 NHL season. Nineteen-year old Mirco Mueller may not make the roster this season, but is a safe bet to be on it next and may play a major role as early as the one after that. Jason Demers was locked up after coming off his best season, with even better days ahead. Marc-Edouard Vlasic may have just made the leap from very good to elite. Brent Burns is returning to his former NHL All-Star position, and both are under 30.

San Jose's five reasons—the makings of a great blue line that could be augmented by low-cost veterans if no more than one of the Matts (Irwin and Tennyson) or Taylors (Doherty and Fedun) can make the cut by the 2015-16 NHL season. Playing veterans will hurt their development, and spending to the cap to augment the weakest unit on a team that still would not be good enough surpass the team that won head-to-head in the Stanley Cup playoffs two years in a row.

In general manager Doug Wilson's 10 seasons, the Sharks have five Pacific Division championships, three trips to the Western Conference finals and has made the playoffs every season. His predecessor has had eight seasons with the Kings in that time and has only made five playoffs. However, Dean Lombardi has equaled his successor's three times among the last four standing and won two Stanley Cups in the last three years alone.

San Jose has had pretty much the same core for the last six seasons, and that group has found new ways to fail to capture the Stanley Cup with new supporting casts each year. Worse, this team has just one series win in three seasons since making consecutive Western Conference finals appearances.

Three Sharks that will play the entire 2014-15 NHL season after their 35th birthday and were involved in at least four Stanley Cup failures each are still with the team. Dumping Martin Havlat in particular but also Stuart and Boyle were steps in the right direction toward moving on, but Wilson needs to do more to move the team in a new, more successful direction.

Last time he dumped veteran talent to turn the team over to the youth, San Jose had its best-ever Stanley Cup playoff run with two wins in the Western Conference finals (10-7 overall). Wilson has a solid core of players no older than 30: Tomas Hertl (20), Matt Neito (21), Logan Couture (25), Tommy Wingels (26) and Joe Pavelski (30) at forward, Alex Stalock (27) in net and Burns (29), Braun (27), Vlasic (27) and Demers (26) supporting him have already earned significant NHL roles.

If this team shows it has stopped some of its bad habits continuously outlined on Examiner like complacency with a lead or against certain bad teams, a tendency to pass instead of shoot and poor responses to adversity, Wilson can add a player at the deadline and be as good as any team in the NHL. If some of the young players step up, the Sharks might not even to make a trade to have that status.

If the problems continue, perhaps a trade that further moves forward will present itself. San Jose does not need a core that underperformed in five of Wilson's 10 Stanley Cup playoffs (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2014 each had at least two of the 35-year old-plus veterans) or been leaders of a team with these repeated breakdowns.