NORTH AMERICA’S NEXT TOP BLOGGER – DAY THREE

It’s Day Three on North America’s Next Top Blogger… and it’s time to go big… or go home! The rules are simple… each day this week, we are going to feature a potential new writer for The Royal Half and post their answers to the TRH Questionnaire. (Check out Day One here and Day Two here.) Then… it’s up to you, loyal TRH reader, to decide who is going to move on to the next round by posting your comments below and voting in the poll at the bottom of the page. Tonight, it’s the most shocking episode of Next Top Blogger yet… and as these two bloggers will do whatever it takes to win… including throwing each other under the bus.

First up is Todd S. Jenkins, who is very involved locally with Southern California Sled Hockey. You can find him on Twitter @epistrophy68. Here are some of Todd’s answers to the TRH Questionnaire, as well as his sample post.

1) Please give us a brief history of your level of Los Angeles Kings fandom.

My level of Los Angeles Kings fandom was, until about four years ago, nada bueno por kaka. I had turned my back on all things hockey after being uprooted from Atlanta in 1979 and dragged to SoCal. Missing my beloved Flames, long before they whored themselves out to Calgary, I swore off the Noble Game for the better part of thirty years. Then, as fate would have it, my disabled son’s newfound interest in sled hockey — a sport that didn’t exist in SoCal until we by-God brought it here, thankyewverramuch — coaxed my fickle ass back to the game. The Ontario Reign reminded me why I had loved the game so much as a kid, and when the Kings took our sled program under their wing I realized that, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and his name is Anschutz. Or maybe Robitaille. I’m not sure; which one sounds more North Pole-y? Now repentant of my cold-oval apostasy, I follow the Kings like a drunken groupie follows a worn-out 80s pop band on their final cycle through low-rent bar hell. Okay, maybe that’s the wrong metaphor.

2) Besides the LA Kings winning the Stanley Cup, what is the greatest moment in LA Kings history for you?

For me, historically it would be the Miracle on Manchester, bar none. In the past few years that I’ve been actively following the club, it would be Richards’ Gordie Howe hattie during the semis. Love that dude.

3) Why do you want to write for TRH? What sort of stories/articles would you want to do that you aren’t seeing currently on The Royal Half?

I’ve been looking for an opportunity to be able to write about hockey, especially the Kings, for a while now. I’ve always written about music or cartoonists or Route 66 history, but this sport fascinates me and I’d like the chance to not only dig into it more deeply, but share something about what it does for me as a fan and supporter. I think you guys do an incredible job of covering all aspects of the sport, so I’m not sure what kind of articles I would add. How about something about the players in the pipeline to King-ness: Zykov, Bartosak, Berube, Dowd and whatnot? Some of these guys have really interesting stories that have gotten them this far. (And yes, some of them are as boring as a Barbara Cartland romance, but hey, gotta weed out the wheat among the chaff.)

4) Who is your favorite member of #TeamTRH and why? Who is your least favorite member of #TeamTRH and why?

I gotta give much love to Spike because he covers the Ontario Reign so well. The Reign gave our sled team their first break, and of course we carry their name, but mostly Spike just does a fine job spreading word of our ECHL locals. Least favorite member of Team TRH would be Pumper, but *only* because his name gives me indigestion. I can’t read his posts without remembering my salad days as a teenaged floor sweeper and sausage maker in a German deli. Oh, his writing? Spot on, mate, no grief there.

5) What is your least favorite part of The Royal Half? Please be honest.

Oh, jeez. Really? Honestly, probably some of the language used. Not because I’m a prude — I follow hockey, for Pete’s sake — but because I have two young kids and a team full of even younger kids that I can’t share a lot of your posts with. That, and I wish you guys had given more love to Penner when Lombardi was treating him like that ugly, goat-breathed uncle you only see at Thanksgiving who can’t shut up about his bunions. But that’s my biggest hangup about the whole postseason: Penner was my favorite King, even though he couldn’t find his ass with both hands and a 50-page illustrated guide until the playoffs hit. Not your fault, though. And the counseling has helped, although I’m still haunted by dreams of big, black 25s swinging futilely at vampire bats.

6) Gretzky or Robitaille? Please explain.

Gretzky: the points, the Lady Byng, and the public image. Without Gretzky, SoCal might still be a hockey wasteland. Yes, he choked and fled after he broke Gordie Howe’s record, but the legacy was there. No disrespect to Robitaille because he got the Kings to the finals for the first time and really gave it his all. But I think the combined weight of history and numbers puts Gretzky on top.

What is the biggest missing piece heading into the season for the LA Kings?
By Todd S. Jenkins

As the new season draws ever closer – and still too damn slowly – the Kings are still piecing together the puzzle of the 2013-14 team. There’s a lot of promise and, perhaps, just as many questions about whether they can make another solid run at the Cup, or if that bird has flown on the winds of trade.

One of the more troublesome missing pieces is, natch, The Piece. Scuderi is back with the Penguins for four years and hella more lucre than the Kings’ salary pool would allow. While the defense looks pretty solid for the year, Scuderi’s utility and fearlessness will be sorely missed. Yet we’ll always remember that, in a grand moment of karma, it was taking out Scuderi that cost Jersey the Stanley Cup.

That gap could be offset if Willie Mitchell is really healthy enough to perform at top level. Mitchell was the team’s major question mark for all of last season, and the crystal ball is still all shmooed up as far as his future is concerned. Of course, if he does return full force and on fire, that would be nothing but good for the team. On the other hand, with Mitchell commanding more ice, Ellerby and Martinez could find themselves warming the bench more than pulling their weight.

The crease isn’t much of an issue as long as the brick wall Quick remains healthy and on task. Jonathan Bernier would be missed more if he had been utilized more, but his reliability and taut focus were overshadowed all season by the Miracle from Milford. Chances are Ben Scrivens will occupy the bench more than the sheet, too. He’s not quite a proven quantity – he just nailed down his first career shutout in February – but it would be nice if he could strut his stuff a little more than he’s expected to.

Frattin, the other warm body picked up in exchange for Bernier, seems almost redundant in the big picture, yet he could change the game. His hockey sense is solid, his speed is unmistakable, and in combo with Stoll he could be a real force on the third line. Still, righty forwards aren’t rare, and Frattin never quite became the player the Leafs hoped for. His past is checkered but hopefully distant; who wants to replace post-win pancake breakfasts with the ritual flinging of lawnmowers off the Staples Center roof?

Ah, the pancakes. For my money, the most important missing piece in the Kings’ puzzle will be kinda Penner-shaped. I know, I know: Penner had as much hope of staying a King as Dustin Brown has of sprouting teeth. The loss still hurts those of us who wanted manna from heaven. Yes, Season Penner was as reliable as a streetcorner Rolex. Yes, he could piss off Darryl Sutter with a stray hiccup. Yes, there was a snowball’s chance that any workable offer would be tossed to him in this hellish environment. And yes, Penner spent mucho ice time acting more like a defenseman than a reliable forward. But Playoff Penner was a joy to behold, and you sure can’t dispute his public appeal. The tweets, the interviews, that miraculous beard: all sweet fodder for the fans and reporters, even as management shook its collective head. We raise a forkful of flapjacks and wish Penner well as he returns to the Ducks.

More importantly, in Penner’s wake we wish for a real left wing in the black-and-white. For all his flaws, Penner was just about the only guy who held down the left side with any consistency. (Scuderi’s absence from port-side defense won’t help matters.) No doubt Daniel Carcillo was picked up from Chicago to fill that role, but this guy is – on newsprint, anyway – about as iffy as McSorley on a bender. For all the GM’s lip service about good character, the Kings’ goon quotient may have just leaped a level with this acquisition, and one hopes that Carcillo’s puck handling will outshine his notoriously crappy timing of penalties. The team, and the fans, want to see less Carbomb and more crack shot. A solid left-wing performance will do more to endear Carcillo to the people than all the goonery he can muster. Hard checks don’t win Cups; unified, well-rounded teams do. Maybe Carcillo, Frattin, Scrivens and their benchmates will tattoo that inside their eyelids before the brinewater flows. And so we wait.

Alright, North America! It’s time for you to decide.
Place your vote above and let’s hear what you have to say in comments below!
And now, let’s hear from our 2nd contestant for Day Three of…
North America’s Next Top Blogger!

Next is Matt Bell, who you can find on Twitter @Mbell56. Here are some of Matt’s answers to the TRH Questionnaire, as well as his sample post.

1) Please give us a brief history of your level of Los Angeles Kings fandom.

I grew up in western Wisconsin, about 90 miles east of Minneapolis/St. Paul. My father was a diehard North Stars fan, and I was raised a North Stars fan. When we got stabbed in the back by Mr. Norman Green in 1993, and the stars moved to Dallas; we were left without a team. We hated the Blackhawks and Red Wings, so neither of those teams made sense for us other than being geographically somewhat close to us. So dad and I decided to pick Wayne Gretzky and his LA Kings going into the 93-94 season. We had pulled for the Kings the season prior in the Finals, and we decided that we should pull for a winner for once since we were free agent fans of sorts. Even when the Wild came to be in Minnesota, we stuck with the Kings. It certainly helped that my family relocated to Southern California in 2008 after I decided to stay out here when I left the Marine Corps. Admittedly I had to follow the Kings as best I could from 2003-2006 because I was deployed most of the time. I have been grateful to be close enough to STAPLES to catch some live games, and of course I occupy Ponda every time the Kings come to Anaheim.

My father died of colon Cancer in November of last year, so the Kings’ Stanley Cup run was the last hockey he saw. It will always be an extra special season to me for that reason. It wasn’t just the Stanley Cup, it was the pinnacle in a moment when my father needed anything to feel good about.

2) Besides the LA Kings winning the Stanley Cup, what is the greatest moment in LA Kings history for you?

Although this is probably unpopular it would probably be Rob Blake’s Norris trophy winning season. Not only did they make the playoffs after a few years of suckitude, but my favorite player won the biggest trophy in all of sports. I named my first born Blake after Rob Blake, and I named my second Drew. I am a defenseman, so I naturally picked defensemen as my favorite players. Though I hated Rob Blake for what he did to my favorite team, it didn’t change the years of my childhood where I idolized him.

3) Why do you want to write for TRH? What sort of stories/articles would you want to do that you aren’t seeing currently on The Royal Half?

Well first of all, I’m a huge Mayor’s Manor/TRH fan boy. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that I can get all the serious news from Mr. Hoven, and I can get some comedic relief with the Royal Half. So there’s the fan aspect to my interest. I will play hockey as long as I possibly can, but being able to write about hockey is timeless. I can do that until I die. To be a bigger part of the Kings community for a long time would certainly be an awesome story to tell my grandkids one day.

I’d love to write in-depth articles on issues facing the team whether it be injury, the play of a particular player, or just opinion pieces. I also follow minor league hockey so I could write about the Kings prospects in the system.

4) Who is your favorite member of #TeamTRH and why? Who is your least favorite member of #TeamTRH and why?

My favorite member of TRH would have to be The Half himself. He’s knowledgeable yet funny without coming off as trying too hard. I’d say my least favorite member would be One Girl, One Puck. Though I’ve had several positive interactions with her on Twitter, I had to unfollow her. Her infatuation with the Detroit Red Wings gets to be more than mildly annoying. Also she hates Robyn Regehr. I am a big Robyn Regehr fan; so there’s that.

5) What is your least favorite part of The Royal Half? Please be honest.

I would say all of the written content is outstanding. I guess I get annoyed with the All The Kings Men Podcast when The Half, who has vast hockey knowledge, chooses to try and do a standup routine instead of talking hockey. A joke here or there is fine, and he has gotten better, but there’s times when he’s just searching too long and hard for a laugh. It can throw off the flow of the podcast at times. It’s my only real complaint

6) Gretzky or Robitaille? Please explain.

Robitaille. He is a King, plain and simple. I’m glad Gretzky came and made hockey bigger out here, but I will always truly think of him as an Edmonton Oiler.

What is the biggest missing piece heading into the season for the LA Kings?
By Matt Bell

No one can argue that the Kings had a successful run in the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season.  Expectations were high that the Kings would easily reproduce their dominating style of play during the regular season and cruise into the playoffs atop the Pacific Division.  The season did not play out in that exact manner, but the Kings were good enough to secure the fifth seed in the Western Conference.  After an exhaustive six game brawl with the St. Louis Blues and a seven game gut-check with the rival San Jose Sharks, the Kings moved on to the Western Conference Finals only to lose unspectacularly in a five game series to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.  The question became, what the difference was between the dominant champions and the apparently pedestrian defending champions.

The Kings had every right to believe that they were properly positioned to defend their first ever Stanley Cup.  After all GM Dean Lombardi had ensured that every player from the Stanley Cup team returned for the title defense.  Jonathan Quick would be the starting goalie throughout the season given the delayed start to the season.  However the Kings were an inconsistent group to start the year.  They would completely dominate with the familiar style that was so effective during the Cup run one night, and then they would seem to be out of gas.  In some games the ferocious fore-check would seem to disappear.  In other games the fore check would manufacture offense that often times was not there.  So going into the playoffs people that follow the team closely weren’t sure what to make of their chances.

When the Kings were finally bounced from the playoffs, people began pointing to different reasons why they believed the Kings could not seem to keep up with the Blackhawks.  Some pointed out that superstar centerman Anze Kopitar had a sub-par performance at best.  Others pointed to the poor defensive play in front of goaltender Jonathan Quick during the series.  A small minority even pointed to Jonathan Quick himself as the problem.  All of the criticisms were certainly warranted at one time or another, but the fact was that the Kings were not a very good offensive team throughout the playoffs.  Other than winger Justin Williams, the rest of the top-six seemed to disappear.  The Kings got almost zero production out of their bottom six in the way of offense, and that is where I believe the problem lies.

Whether Darryl Sutter likes it or not, there is such thing as momentum in a hockey game.  Momentum can come from a lot of things, the foremost being putting the puck in the net.  However, momentum can come in other ways, a big hit, a big save, or just the ability to possess the puck for long periods of time.  The Kings sorely lacked in those areas in the 2013 playoffs.  They lacked the physicality that rightfully earned them the reputation as being tough to play against.  The fourth line that was so effective in the playoffs in 2012 disappeared in 2013.  As the top six were busy not scoring goals, satisfied with cancelling out the other teams’ top lines, the bottom six were busy turning the puck over and essentially playing soft.  You cannot have a soft fourth line in today’s NHL.  Great fourth lines are the difference in today’s NHL.  In 2012 Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, and Collin Fraser were able to get on the ice, smoke the opposing teams’ defensemen through the glass, and even chip in offensively at times.  This created a lot of momentum for the team when it wasn’t going well offensively.  The fourth line could change the tempo of the game in 45 seconds.  The top six would respond with their own physical play and as a whole the Kings became known for their trademark physicality.

So going into the 2013-2014 season the Kings sorely need to fine their ‘energy line’ again.  I think that’s what GM Dean Lombardi sought when trading for Chicago’s Daniel Carcillo last month.  While the trade raised some eyebrows within Kings Media circles.  The fact is Lombardi knows that he must get some grit back in that fourth line.  While Jordan Nolan has displayed his willingness to drop the gloves, he was largely a slow and ineffective player last year.  Dwight King was even less effective.  While Darryl Sutter juggled lines constantly throughout the playoffs to some success, he never could put together a true momentum changing fourth line.  He desperately needs to do so if the Kings are to regain their form going into next year.  They need to find a line that can get on the ice with the sole purpose of possessing the puck and laying bone crunching checks again.  That’s the kind of line that can save a team in a game where things aren’t going well in the skill areas of the game.  The Blues used this strategy very effectively in the first round series last year.  The Blues fourth line took some of the will out of the Kings in the first two games.  The Kings rallied to win based on sheer talent.  The same thing happened in the San Jose series.  Andrew Shaw’s line drove the Kings to their limit in the Western Conference Finals last season.  Toews, Kane, and Hossa were the on the receiving end of more than one manufactured momentum shift where the Kings looked in disarray after being put on their heels by Chicago’s fourth line.

Going into camp the battle in the defensive corps will hog most of the spot light, but look for a truly entertaining battle in the trenches for spots on the Kings’ fourth line.  Center Collin Fraser fits the bill, but the wingers are going to have to duke it out.  I believe this problem was at the forefront of Dean Lombardi’s mind, and I fully expect him to work further to resolve the issue if need be.  Look for him to attempt to solidify his bottom 6 and the left wing spot before moving into the regular season.  There is a surplus of defensemen on the roster, and I foresee movement to address any problems in the bottom six, particularly on the fourth line, if no one steps up their game.  Nolan, King, and Carcillo will be an interesting mini-drama that will be played out in the preseason as it stands, but expect a dark horse to arrive and make it an all-out battle for those roster spots.

Alright, North America! It’s time for you to decide.
Place your vote above and let’s hear what you have to say in comments below!

The Royal Half has been a Los Angeles Kings fan since 1988 and a Half-Season Ticket Holder since 2002. He has seen the following goaltenders play in person for the Los Angeles Kings… Kelly Hrudey, Grant Fuhr, Byron Dafoe, Jamie Storr, Stephane Fiset, Felix Potvin, Cristobal Huet, Roman Cechmanek, Mathieu Garon, Adam Hauser, Jason LaBarbera, Barry Brust, Sean Burke, Dan Cloutier, Yutaka Fukufuji, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Erik Ersberg, Jonathan Bernier, Jonathan Quick, Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones.You can follow The Royal Half on Twitter @TheRoyalHalf.