LA Kings: The Kids Are All Right – Or Are They?

The big question in Los Angeles on Trade Deadline Day 2011 is do the Kings have the right mix of players to make a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup this season?

In net, they’re set. Jonathan Quick is proving to be an elite goalie. So, check that off your list.

On defense, their top-four defensemen are near the top, if not the top unit, in the Western Conference. Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell. That’s a formidable group. However, two questions come to mind. One, for as good as Willie Mitchell has been this year, can he stay healthy? If not, do the Kings have enough depth on defense?

Offensively speaking, much has been made about the lack of goal production this season. Yet, understand three key issues:

* This isn’t 1995 anymore. You can’t just spend money to fix the problem. GM Dean Lombardi can’t just go out and get all the big name players he wants today. In the salary cap era he has to think about this year, next year and the following year. It seems to be something most people don’t want to hear about when coming up with their trade proposals. Acquiring Jarome Iginla and all his goals sounds great, but what about those two more years on his contract at $7-million? That would severally tie Lombardi’s hands going into next season.

* It seems every year at the Trade Deadline half the GMs in the league are saying the same thing – they’re looking for a top-six forward and a top-four defenseman. With so many people wanting the same thing, it drives up the price. This year is even more complex because only a few teams have truly been eliminated from playoff competition. Even fewer sellers means those willing to deal can drive prices higher than usual.

* Position counts. You can’t just go out and get the five best players. What if they’re all centers? Where would you play them? Also, this isn’t an All Star Game or fantasy hockey – thus, each line plays a specific role. You can’t play a top point-producing center on your fourth line. That’s not the right role or fit. So, when you see another team make a move and think ‘Why didn’t the Kings do that?’ look at (a) what it would have cost to do the same deal and (b) where the Kings would have played that guy.

Now, on to the roster…

The untouchables would seem to include Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Doughty, Johnson and Quick. Essentially, they make up the core of the team and will be counted on heavily to get the team deep in the playoffs for many years to come.

For the others, start with Ryan Smyth. At 35, he isn’t part of the future ‘core’ – although he’s under contract for one more season and is probably the one guy on the team that makes every forward he plays with better. He’s not going anywhere.

Michal Handzus is a free agent’s at season’s end. However, he’s probably the best defensive forward on the team and he isn’t expected to be dealt.

[update]  Justin Williams just signed a new four-year deal.  So, obviously he’s staying.

Alexei Ponikarovsky is on a one year deal and the Kings are thin at left wing. Highly unlikely he would be part of any deal.

Kings fans seemed to be mixed on Kevin Westgarth’s value to the team. Yet, Lombardi has said several times he didn’t like how the Kings were pushed around the last few seasons. As their only true heavyweight, even if he doesn’t get a lot of minutes, expect Westgarth to remain with the Kings…unless some Eastern Conference team is willing to overpay for him.

Kyle Clifford – consider him Wayne Simmonds 2.0 and he plays left wing. That should make him untouchable.

Which brings us to Simmonds and Jarret Stoll.

The Kings don’t want to lose Simmonds. He’s Doughty’s best friend (business or not, don’t underestimate this point), a fan favorite and a player who should grow into a top-six forward.

However, being mindful of the old adage that ‘to get something of value you have to give something of value,’ understand that any significant deal the Kings would entertain almost certainly can’t be exclusively for prospects and/or draft picks, something better might have to be included.

Trading Stoll doesn’t make much sense on the surface, especially considering he’s the team’s best face-off guy and has a knack for scoring timely goals. Still, positionally speaking, Stoll may need to be moved to make way for Brayden Schenn next season.

Leaving the three most likely movable assets off of the current roster as Simmonds, Stoll and Jonathan Bernier.

With Quick firmly becoming the guy in LA, Benier looks like another of the possible chips that Lombardi may have to part with.

Just keep in mind that the overall market for goalies is down right now. Meaning his trade value is probably lower compared to what it will be this summer.

Plus – and this is a key point – if he is traded, the Kings will also need to make another move to get a new back-up (or receive one in the trade for Bernier). Neither of the goalies in Manchester can be expected to back-up Quick in the playoffs. They’ll want an experienced guy.

The tricky trade off in moving any of the three current roster players is something Scuderi talked about recently, describing what he went through in Pittsburgh…

“I remember the 2007-08 season in Pittsburgh we made the big trade to get Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis, also Hal Gill later. We had some guys leaving town that had been there all year and helped us get to that point too. But, it speaks volumes to you as a player that the management and the coaches think ‘This is the year, we’ve got a great thing going, let’s make a run for the Stanley Cup.’ So, it’s a double edged sword. You get to know your teammates throughout the year and you want to be successful with them. But, you also realize there are other players out there and other combinations that may work.”

A ‘small’ deal – one that would include players like Brad Richardson, Oscar Moller, Trevor Lewis, Peter Harrold, Davis Drewiske, etc. – is likely to return something like a Freddy Modin / Jeff Halpern calibre player (last year’s deadline day acquisitions).

For deals that require high-end prospects, assume Schenn is off the table…unless Lombardi can get someone like Rick Nash, a top line forward in his prime and under contract for many years to come.

On the other hand, one guy who seems to have little future in LA despite what some in the organization might say, is former first round draft pick Thomas Hickey. Maybe all is fine though with the young defenseman. Maybe they’re just giving him the ‘Bernier treatment’ and letting him spend the full year with the Monarchs. But, with an injury history and him not getting the captaincy in Manchester this year, plus his size – who knows.

The best fish out there to acquire is most likely Brad Richards in Dallas. That’s a big time deal that comes with equally large questions though.

His health (concussion), the Stars not likely to trade with a division rival and him being an unrestricted free agent this summer make it a difficult situation. Plus, how much are the Kings willing to give up for what could be a rental?

He’s a center. With fit in mind, that would suggest Stoll possibly involved.

On left wing – the team’s most glaring need – there are reports out there about them possibly being interested in Dustin Penner, but why? He’s a classic under-achiever.

Curtis Glencross in Calgary is possibly an option. He’s another unrestricted free agent this summer and has already set a new career high in goals (20).

Minnesota’s Andrew Brunette would have been perfect IF the Wild had fallen out of contention by now (they haven’t, so he’s likely not available). He’s averaged over 20 goals the last five seasons, has missed only 3 games during that time (!) and is money in the playoffs – 34 points in 43 games.

On defense the Kings will be looking for a depth player, so the names aren’t going to be as sexy. For example, even if the Predators were to trade Shea Weber, it’s unlikely LA would be in on the deal. They have Johnson, Doughty and Scuderi as their top three. Thus, they’re looking for guys just below that level.

Tim Gleason in Carolina is an option and with Ottawa GM Bryan Murray going into full-blown rebuild in Ottawa, maybe Brian Lee could be pried away. A 2005 first round draft pick, Lee’s development seems to have a slowed a bit. Perhaps he’d benefit from a change of scenery.

Maybe Robyn Regehr in Calgary too.

There were rumors a few weeks ago that suggested Atlanta may be willing to part with Zach Bogosian.  That would probably be a little too rich for the Kings at this point in time.  A deal like that could only be made after the offense is improved first.  There are only so many assets to trade away.

To recap, the Kings are set in goal and what they need on offense comes down to philosophy.

If you’re a ‘defense and goaltending first’ GM, you make a few small tweaks with a depth forward (or two) and let things ride as is.

If the lack of scoring is a concern you can’t stomach, then the solution comes with risk.  You may have to trade a significant chunk of your future (i.e. Schenn, Simmonds, etc.) for what could amount to a rental. You’ll probably also have to give up roster players which will create other holes for you – at a time when you don’t have a lot of depth on offense.  So, will you have really helped yourself?

Either way, knowing Lombardi, he’ll pull off something that few saw coming.

The Mayor

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