Thursday, July 31, 2008
Check, check, and check.
Patrick O’Sullivan’s growth this season was really one of those rare occurrences that management wishes would happen to all of their young prospects. This season my Sophomore Stud was one of the few to play in all 82 games. He blew all expectations by scoring 22 goals and 31 assists for 53 points. He actually had the most shots on net with 220 (followed closely by Dustin Brown with 219). His growth on the defensive end was definitely noticeable and he fought his way up to the top line. When Michael Cammalleri was placed on IR due to a rib injury, Sully stepped up to the plate and delivered. He didn’t exactly render Cammy obsolete, but he did prove that the Kings were fine without Cammy’s sniper shot and, therefore, was expendable once the trade deadline came around.
While he was proving that he belonged with the young guns in the lineup, he was also displaying his defensive abilities. His backchecking abilities became better and he became noticeably stronger on the puck. If there was one thing I could point to that was less than stellar, it was something that he’d do game after game (it seemed); it’d be the same move while leading the attack into the offensive zone. He’d get the puck, get across the offensive blueline, and leave the puck for someone else on his team. The problem with this was that, more often than not, there would be no one immediately behind him to grab the puck, so that a turnover would occur even before the Kings were able to create any offense. This caused me endless frustrations because you could just see it coming; you knew that’s what Sully was going to do. At the same time, it’s easy for me to be sitting at home or in the upper bowl critiquing his play. And really, if that’s the only thing I’m critiquing, I think we’re lucky.
His defensive efforts were rewarded at the end of the season when he was named the Best Defensive Player on the team by the media. It really couldn’t have been anyone else getting this award. Brownie and Anze Kopitar are definitely great defensive forwards, but Sully showed his badass-ness with his ability to chase people down with strides that appeared short and choppy but that were actually extremely efficient. This was also put on display when he gained more and more ice time on the PK. By the end of the season he was in every PK situation with Michal Handzus and it seemed that every time they were out there, one of them would be prowling for that shorthanded opportunity to make a split second appearance. When it did, whoever got the puck first pounced on it and drove as fast as he could to the other end of the ice. This resulted in 3 shorthanded goals for Sully and 3 for Handzus.
There is actually another thing I can mention about Sully that isn’t exactly 100% positive. But before I go into that, I’m going to backtrack to create a better chain of events. At the beginning of the season, whenever the Kings made it to the shootout, the three shooters were always Kopi, Brownie, and Cammy. As the season progressed and as the roster started to develop, I noticed that whenever Alexander Frolov would have a great game, he’d be placed in the shootout in lieu of Cammy, which I completely agreed with. Around this time when Fro was getting some shootout attention, it was clear that Sully also had some sick skills with the puck and totally deserved a spot in the shootout as well. With Brownie and Kopi in there every time (which is how it should be) that third spot was open to whoever had the best game out of Fro, Cammy, and Sully. When the latter started to kick ass in the shootout, I would commence my bitching and moaning whenever he wasn’t the third shooter. Even when he was the 4th shooter, I would still bitch. Anyway, I started to notice that he’d take the shot the same way every time he was out there. He would pick up the puck, shift to the right, pick up speed, and once he got past the hash marks, he’d wrist it between the goaltender’s right leg and right arm.
It became predictable and it was amplified by the fact that when he started doing interviews, he would talk about how he had used that same move in the shootout since he was a kid. I thought announcing that was a bad idea and it was proved as such when the Kings played the Ducks in the game that went to the 6th round of the shootout. He went for the same shot and Jonas Hiller flat out denied him. It may have worked against Marty Turco in early January, but it won’t against Jonas Hiller in late March. So I hope Sully has learned his lesson in that you shouldn’t blatantly give away your move like that. I’m sure teams would have figured it out soon anyway; but, perhaps his talking about it accelerated it a bit. In saying that, I’m sure he’ll bust out some more sick moves next season in the shootout.
After the season finally came to an end, Sully and Brownie traveled to Canada for the IIHF World Championships to represent USA Hockey. I wrote some posts on the tournament on all my Kings who were in the Championships. Sully had another great showing in an international tournament, so congrats to him.
Even though the Kings didn’t draft Sully, he still proved that the youth movement is the direction this franchise should be headed. Lombardi’s philosophies are working and I’m glad that Sully is now considered a part of this pain-inducing process. I don’t think I ever viewed him as a defensive liability, but he definitely has stepped up his overall game and is displaying top line skill. He improved immensely as the season went along and I expect him to be one of the top flight players on the roster next year.
As of today, Sully still has not re-signed with the Kings. Apparently his agent and the Kings are still deciding on how much Sully is worth when compared to other players around the league who are of similar caliber. In Episode 1.6 of Kings World Podcast I predicted that Sully would get a 5-year deal with the payout as such; $3 million, $3, $3.5, $3.5, $4. This would take him to UFA status and would include a no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract. I didn’t like the inflated contracts that GMs were handing out like candy on July 1st, so I’m curious to see how close I actually get to the contract terms whenever the Kings and Sully decide to consummate their relationship on a long-term basis.
I'll keep you posted...