After winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history earlier this year and creating more local hockey buzz than ever before, the Los Angeles Kings have been forced to put their title defense on hold. With the present NHL lockout threatening the existence of the Kings' 2012-2013 season, many players have decided on taking their talents elsewhere for the time being. While some players have found time on the ice with minor league affiliates, others have signed contracts to play abroad during the work stoppage.
Center Anze Kopitar, the Kings' leading scorer last season, has been playing overseas for Mora IK of Sweden's second highest league, Allsvenskan. Kopitar was one of the first players to find a new home during the current NHL work stoppage, signing a deal back in September to play alongside his brother Gasper. Although the competition isn't quite at an NHL level, Kopitar has produced over a point per game, with eight goals and 14 assists in 20 games since joining Mora IK.
Kings captain and winger Dustin Brown, one of the team's brightest stars during their 2012 Stanley Cup winning run, has also signed a deal to play in Europe. Brown is playing in the National League A, the top-tier of the Swiss hockey league system, for the ZSC Lions in Zurich, Switzerland. The move to ZSC has reunited him with former Los Angeles Kings coach, and current Lions coach, Marc Crawford.
Other Kings players who have signed to play in Europe include goalie Jonathan Bernier and defenseman Alec Martinez. Bernier is currently playing for Heilbronner Falken in the 2nd Bundesliga, Germany's second highest professional league, while Martinez joined TPS Turku of Finland's highest professional league, SM-liiga. For Bernier, the lockout may be a blessing in disguise, providing him an opportunity to earn plenty of ice time at a competitive level. He saw very little playing time last season while serving as Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick's primary back-up. Since joining Heilbronner Falken in mid-October, Bernier has posted a 2.51 goals against average in 11 games played, just two games shy of the 13 he started all of last season for the Kings. On the other hand, Martinez may not feel as fortunate for the opportunity that the lockout had given him. In his 11th game with TPS Turku, the 25-year-old defenseman was struck in the face by a slap shot, and required surgery for a shattered cheekbone. Martinez totaled two points, along with a +2 rating during his 11 games with the Finnish club.
Kyle Clifford is the latest Kings player to join a new team during the lockout. Clifford recently made his debut with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL, and has one goal and one assist through two games played.
Three of the younger players from last years roster, defenseman Slava Voynov and forwards Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, have returned to the Kings' minor league affiliate during the lockout, playing with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League. All three players made an impact at the NHL level after their call-ups during last seasons run to the Stanley Cup.
Until the franchise's first championship banner is raised on an eventual opening night, some other players will continue to hone their skills individually or in small group workouts during the work stoppage. But for the players who have taken the lockout as an opportunity to play elsewhere, the work stoppage presents them the prospect of further developing their game while still playing at a competitive level. Although there currently doesn't seem to be any resolution in sight to the NHL labor dispute, these players remain persistent on improving their abilities and staying in game shape, even after they have accomplished their ultimate team goal in bringing the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles.
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