Over the past few days, Kings fans have reached out through social media and email to enquire about what Dean Lombardi might be up to now that he finally has some salary cap relief for Slava Voynov’s spot on the L.A. roster.
Before we get into what is likely to unfold, it is always important to properly set the table for a discussion like this. Let’s quickly rewind to early 2013. When pending free agent Rob Scuderi and Lombardi couldn’t agree on a long-term contract extension, and with Willie Mitchell out injured, newly acquired Robyn Regehr was given a two-year extension. Why in the world is this coming up now, you ask? Because (a) this isn’t a video game or fantasy hockey problem, where the Kings are simply looking for a big name player to replace Voynov and (b) that sequence of events, beginning with Scuderi not re-signing, is somewhat tied to the big picture – and, thus, the explanation of which scenarios may make the most sense in the months to come.
With Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin already set as the top pair around this time last year, Lombardi spent the early months of 2014 trying to find a top shutdown defenseman to play with Slava Voynov – knowing that, like Scuderi the summer prior, Mitchell was going to walk in July 2014. Specifically, Lombardi was looking for, or at least let’s say strongly preferred, to acquire a left shot dman to pair with the right shot Russian.
As we repeatedly mentioned prior to the trade deadline last March, Lombardi wasn’t very impressed with what was available in the marketplace. And just as we told you, contrary to reports elsewhere, top prospects Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson were not available. That’s another important point here, as it ties into some points coming up.
What Lombardi did was trade two of his “next tier” prospects – Hudson Fasching and Nic Deslauriers – to acquire a player that club officials believed was the “best defenseman not playing in the NHL,” Brayden McNabb. The plan all along was to quickly groom McNabb to be Voynov’s partner over the first half of this season. If the results weren’t coming together by the All Star break (late January), Lombardi and crew could begin looking for a veteran defenseman that might be available from one of the teams that had fallen out of the playoff race. As a backup plan, they would have Jeff Schultz, another left shot, waiting in Manchester.
This brings us to the present.
First, a quick legal note. One lawyer told MayorsManor, a best case scenario would have the Voynov situation wrapped up within about 70 days from the Dec. 1 arraignment, provided he does not waive his right to a speedy trial (similar to what happened with the NFL’s Adrian Peterson). If they do waive that right, there is no guessing when the trial date may be set for. Hold that thought for a moment, while we return to actual hockey talk.
Nov. 24 update from a lawyer, further clarifying the paragraph above — Voynov will need to enter a plea at his arraignment, most likely not guilty. The charges against him then must be brought to a preliminary hearing within 10 court days (excludes weekends and holidays) of his arraignment. A preliminary hearing is where the judge decides if there is enough evidence to have the charges against Voynov taken to a formal trial. This process is like a filter for felony cases. The burden at the preliminary hearing is NOT “beyond a reasonable doubt.” There is no jury at this stage. Typically, the defense doesn’t put on their case, only the prosecution does.
If the judge finds enough evidence to send the case to trial, he or she will announce that. The prosecutors then have to file a new charging document called an “information.” Voynov would have to appear again, formally pleading not guilty to the information. He then has to be brought to a jury trial within 60 calendar days from that point.
This all usually moves pretty quickly after the arraignment, but Voynov also has the option to “waive time” – which means the process slows down and some or all of the above timelines can be extended, even greatly.
Yes, signing Alec Martinez is a priority. The Kings were always interested in retaining his services – at the right price and with the right term – even before Voynov’s legal troubles. Many see the current void on the Kings blueline as giving Martinez a little extra leverage now in those conversations. The reality is, it’s not that simple. You can’t just slot Martinez into Voynov’s spot in the pairings and move ahead. One of the key reasons is the Kings (Lombardi, Sutter, etc.) prefer to have each pairing feature one right and one left shot. Voynov is a right shot. Martinez is a left shot. Making Martinez the puck mover on the second pairing means, essentially, lefty McNabb is no longer the partner in that duo. Regehr and Schultz, also left shots, are no longer the backup plan. There is now a hole on the second pairing.
Linear thinking would then suggest Lombardi needs to find a right shot shutdown guy to pair with Martinez. However, Sutter is then left with a third pairing of primarily shut down and physical guys (McNabb, Matt Greene, etc.), and the team loses some of the offense and transition game they had with Martinez as part of the third pairing.
The market place is likely going to dictate how this shakes out. They could go after a right shot to pair with Martinez. Yet, the more likely scenario is to eventually acquire an offensive-minded right shot that would be paired with McNabb. The problem in either scenario is that from what we’ve been told by league sources, the market for defensemen is even tighter now that it was nine months ago. Teams like Anaheim, Colorado, Dallas, and Vancouver are all looking for defensemen, as well. And that’s just in the Western Conference. You’re also dealing with a marketplace where all but a few teams think they still have a shot at the playoffs.
From what we’ve gathered from our sources inside the Kings organization over the past few days, the most likely scenario has them holding the course for now. Lombardi’s patience has paid off time and time again, and he isn’t feeling the pressure to make a panic trade.
Management is very comfortable with Schultz joining the Kings lineup at any moment, now that they have the cap room. As for the other defensemen in Manchester, both Derek Forbort and Colin Miller have been getting good reviews from the team officials that have kept close tabs on them this season. Forbort, a 2010 first round draft pick, shoots left, and is most likely still another year away from being NHL ready. Miller, a fifth round pick in 2012, has quietly emerged as a real contender for a call-up this year. He’s a right shot and has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 17 games for the Monarchs – nearly matching his totals from all of last season.
It is much more likely one of those players gets called up before a trade takes place. Also, any possible deal is far more likely in 2015 than it is before Christmas. At the very least, we’ve been told that for a trade to go down prior to Voynov’s Dec. 1 arraignment hearing would require something to just fall into the Kings’ lap – a scenario that that isn’t there at the moment. With a fair degree of uncertainty on which direction things may go during the court appearance, forcing something prior isn’t really the Lombardi way.
If it is eventually determined that filling the hole internally isn’t working, and assuming Voynov is believed to be lost for the season, then a trade becomes much more likely.
Despite others in the media trying to connect the dots, Lombardi had the opportunity to buy Mike Richards out over the summer and/or trade him. He chose to keep him then, and he’s very likely to keep him through at least next summer. With the Kings newfound cap relief, his contract isn’t an issue at the moment. Richards is a winner and Lombardi is extremely loyal. Contrary to all the talk elsewhere, people either get that concept or they don’t. Further, Lombardi realizes / believes this group is on the verge of something special. Winning another Stanley Cup this year would solidify their spot in history. He’s not about to deal a key part of the equation without getting something major back in return. And, sorry, Tyler Myers, doesn’t fit the bill.
In an ideal world – and we know that isn’t always possible – Lombardi is most likely looking to work some of his legendary magic by dealing some of his second tier assets into the piece he wants. That means third or fourth line players in combination with draft picks and/or prospects. Think of the McNabb trade and you’re on the right track.
Which prospects are we talking about? In speaking with our sources among the Kings executive group, Nick Shore is “as close to untouchable as there is.” You’re going to hear his name mentioned a lot, just like you heard people talking about Toffoli last season. Don’t believe it. Lombardi and his trusted lieutenants consider Shore just about NHL ready and view him as a valuable piece of the future roster – especially considering the uncertainty of the Kings depth down the middle two to three years from now (Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter might be the only two centers under contract by then).
If you follow the MayorsManor Prospect Rankings, you’re certainly aware of the other two players who would be considered “the big three” among the Kings future. We’ve been told, “it would take one hell of a trade” to get either Valentin Zykov or Adrian Kempe, with the latter close to being in the Shore category of untouchable. It was also noted to us that, again, the defenseman they would need in return to even think about a team getting somebody like Zykov isn’t even available at the moment.
Back to the prospect rankings (and if haven’t read them, you should because there is a lot of information in there that will clue you into the future) it’s names like Nic Dowd, Michael Mersch, and Jordan Weal who are much more likely to be included in any possible deal.
Although it’s hard to predict which players one of the other 29 NHL teams will make available that Lombardi and Sutter would covet, but from what we’ve gathered, it would likely need to be somebody who fits the Kings long-term plans, not a rental or short-term fix. If it’s a veteran, they’ll be seeking somebody who is already under contract for a number of years. Lombardi already has enough contracts to worry about next summer and he’ll be seeking cost certainly on any such trade, not just a warm body.
Again, Myers, isn’t the answer, because as Lombardi has said in the past, he’d rather tame a tiger than paint stripes on a kitty cat.
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