Hockey analytics pioneer Rob Vollman is ESPN Insider's armchair GM this season, exploring how modern statistics can inform front-office decisions.
When the Los Angeles Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup this past June, they stood not only as the league's champions but also as the best possession team in the NHL for the previous three seasons combined -- and by quite a margin. And yet, here we are one-third of the way into the new season, and the Kings rank 22nd in terms of possession, enduring the steepest drop-off that has been observed since these metrics were first recorded eight years ago.
Based on my research, the issue starts along the defensive-zone blue line. The Kings have historically been a team that forces the dump-and-chase from opponents, but a couple of key absences and some early-season lapses have allowed opponents to enter L.A.'s zone with control of the puck more frequently than normal, and consequently to attempt far more shots.
So far, these defensive problems have been countered by exceptional play from netminders Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones, but what happens if and when they drop back down to normal? The Kings started off a strong 6-1-1 thanks to a perfect homestand, but have been a mediocre 8-7-4 since then, including a 3-4-4 record on the road, and have consequently slid to fourth in the Pacific Division. A failure by Quick to remain at the Vezina Trophy level could be all it takes for last season's champions to hit the links early this spring.
But why exactly has their possession been down so much this season, and what -- if anything -- can be done about it? Let's explore.