EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Two Los Angeles Kings season-ticket holders were watching the Kings' final practice of the offseason Friday morning. They had waited a long time to watch the banner-raising ceremony scheduled for Saturday afternoon, only they weren't going to be able to make it. They had scheduled a cruise long before anyone dreamed the NHL season wouldn't start until Jan. 19.
Once the collective bargaining agreement was settled, it became clear that the season would start while they were on a boat.
"I was hoping one of the sides wouldn't ratify it," one of them joked.
But it might work out in the long run for these two fans, because the same lockout that bumped the start of the season to January eliminated one of the hurdles the Kings would have had to face with a normal start.
They're not dealing with the shortened summer that comes with a Stanley Cup win. There's no mental exhaustion that comes with being pulled in every direction. They've had more than enough time to recover physically, although Anze Kopitar and Willie Mitchell will miss the start of the season with injuries suffered during the lockout.
Despite that, this Kings team is in better shape to repeat than any in NHL's salary cap era.
"If you started in October, you'd have a little of that hangover," said defenseman Rob Scuderi, winner of two Stanley Cups. "At this point, it's been a long, long time since we've played, and we played the last game of the season."
That last game came on June 11, more than seven months ago.
"Everybody is on an even playing field," said goalie Jonathan Quick, who used the extra time to recover from back surgery. "We're one of 30 right now. We have 48 games to become one of 16. That's the goal."
GM Dean Lombardi spent serious time in the offseason researching the best way to repeat. He tried to add another star forward like the Red Wings did with Marian Hossa after their Cup win in 2008 by taking a run at Zach Parise during free agency. That didn't work. He tried to add a hungry veteran in pursuing Shane Doan. That didn't work either.
His ultimate solution was to bring back the entire team. Every player who was on the ice in Game 6 against the Devils is back.
That's not a luxury recent winners have enjoyed. The Blackhawks had to completely restructure their roster because of the salary cap and have never been the same without players like Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien and Antti Niemi.
None of that happened in Los Angeles.
Not only is everybody back for the Kings, but Lombardi believes they should be better.
"This team is not the same team. Ten of these guys are 25 or under," Lombardi said. "It's not the same team because they haven't reached their prime. If they're committed to getting better, it's a different team."
Floating the theory that the Kings benefit from the lockout gets a hostile response from Lombardi. For one, he thinks the theory is unoriginal.
And two, he points to the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and the New York Rangers as teams that played in a shortened season following a championship and didn't have success.
"The 49ers win a Super Bowl, strike-shortened season and come back [3-6]. The New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup, strike-shortened season and come back and ... barely make the playoffs," Lombardi said. "So if you want to go on history, it doesn't bear it out."
Pointing out the small sample doesn't convince him.
"You're looking at history and you're trying to write the story and you don't have any backup," he said.
The problem is that there is no comparison. Lombardi has found athletes who learned the hard lesson of how to handle the season following a championship who later went on to win more championships. But you still have to endure the rough season to learn the lesson. Experiencing it through somebody else isn't easy. Plus, that scenario hasn't happened yet in the salary-cap era of the NHL.
There is no data set in which to project what this lockout means for the Kings.
"I don't profess in any way to know the answer," Lombardi said. "I'm debating your thesis with counterarguments that doesn't allow your thesis to hold. I'm saying you might be right, but you have better look at it from [other] perspectives."
The one thing we know for a certainty is that there is now a target on the Kings. That was a point Hossa made Friday afternoon after Blackhawks practice at the Kings' training facility. He saw it with the 2009 Red Wings and again after he won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks.
"When you win the Stanley Cup, everybody will be ready for you, right?" Hossa said. "That's how we felt in 2010. Now coming here to this building is going to be a huge game for everybody."
Not only did the Kings win, but they did it in dominating fashion. Then they brought everybody back to try again. Teams like the Blues and Coyotes who lost to the Kings will be eager for another crack at them. Everybody else who watched it happen will want to see if they can do any better against this Kings team.
Starting with the Blackhawks on Saturday.
"They're going to be like the measurement," Hossa said. "Every team wants to win and beat the Stanley Cup champ."