It’s that time of the year again, when everybody in the hockey world nearly loses their mind. Executives, scouts, coaches, fans, media, et al. have been consumed with trade talk for several weeks now and it will only continue to increase leading into Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline.
As in past years, we have recently spent endless hours on phone calls, exchanging text messages, and face-to-face conversations, checking in with our sources, to gather all the latest thinking from within the Kings organization. If you’re an avid MayorsManor reader, you already know the Kings are in “win now” mode. GM Dean Lombardi is looking to load up for what he’s hoping will be a deep playoff run. Tweaking his roster will be tough, though, as he isn’t looking to move any major name off of his current NHL roster and doesn’t have a No. 1 pick in this June’s draft. So how will one of the league’s most masterful minds once again work some magic? Let’s explore several key areas…
1. Position, position, position – Most hockey people will tell you it takes five key positions to win a championship – a goaltender, two centers, and two defensemen. Los Angeles has four of the five, with Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Drew Doughty. Thus, they’re primary focus is defense. They are also looking for a depth forward (more on this in a moment). Somewhat off the radar, they are also interested in upgrading their backup goaltending position. However, that situation will most likely have to wait until the summer. They simply don’t have the assets to make three moves right now, unless the most perfect trade landed somehow landed in their lap. There is nothing cooking in that direction at the moment, nor is it expected to materialize. If the Kings come out of the deadline with a goaltender, that will most likely mean they struck out with one of their two priorities, a defenseman and/or depth forward.
2. Cap space – The Kings have plenty of cap space to take on most contracts. With money saved from various players on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) and with the fact you’re only acquiring the balance of a player’s contract when you get him at the deadline, not his full cap hit, L.A. shouldn’t have too many issues in this area. One of the real challenges in the market right now is the lack of quality defensemen. There are a handful of candidates, according to several in management, just none who are the perfect fit. All of that said, the Kings’ inner circle appears to be aligned in their desire to add a quality defenseman. All things being equal, the consensus is, that position needs a little more juice before the Kings could be considered the favorite in a potential Western Conference clash with Chicago.
3. Dustin Brown – The Kings captain isn’t going anywhere… at least not yet. We covered this topic in detail here. Read it, you’ll understand the full situation and what lies ahead. Without a 2016 first round draft pick to flip, Lombardi will have to dig deep into his pool of assets and find a way to get creative. From what we’ve gathered, the preference is not necessarily move somebody off of the NHL roster (injuries have created openings, sending Nick Shore to the AHL is an option, etc.), but if it comes to that, look for somebody from the bottom-6 forward group to be on the move. There is a glut of talent there to begin with and it was strongly suggested to us that at least two players from that group won’t be back next year anyway. We don’t see Tanner Pearson moving this weekend. Beyond that, you could make a strong case for any one of Dwight King, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Andy Andreoff, etc. to be retained; along with a valid argument why they should be the one to go.
4. Rental vs. Non-Rental – Building on the above point, L.A. is looking for rental players. Any non-rental acquisition could prevent them from re-signing Milan Lucic this summer. Finding a way to ink the rugged forward is one of management’s top priorities. On the plus side, Lucic is said to be highly motivated to stay in Los Angeles. Winning a Cup here could further cement that desire. Yet, it will be tough, as he would almost surely have to take less to stay with the Kings than what he would get on the open market. Remember, Boston is eating half of his salary this year, and that was one of the keys to getting him tucked under this season’s salary cap. Lombardi won’t have that benefit in future years.
5. Matt Greene – Remember him? Word is, he should be back skating and ready to go in early April. That’s a pretty nice depth defenseman to add to your roster heading into the playoffs. The Kings love his warrior mentality and he is a great locker room guy. He can’t come back quickly enough. Marian Gaborik is also expected back for the playoffs. Like Brown in 2013, he isn’t having surgery, will rest/rehab his MCL and play through it.
6. Keith Yandle – Lombardi has always been a fan and his interest in acquiring the American-born defenseman several years ago was well documented. At this point, it’s unclear if the Rangers are even willing to move him. As one executive described it to us, “he would just be a tougher fit for us.”
7. Dan Hamhuis – When he was a free agent, the Kings were pushing hard to get him. Now, he is 33 years old and from what we’ve gathered, the public comments about him not (yet) waiving his no trade clause are said to be true, not just lip service. Some hockey people question his desire to be traded to a contender.
8. Calgary – Up front, Jiri Hudler is under consideration as a possible depth acquisition. On the backend, from all indications, Kris Russell is one of the three defenseman the Kings are keying in on at the moment. While he is also one of those players we referred to above as “not the ideal fit,” it was noted to us by several in management that Russell has the intangibles L.A. is looking for. We took a deeper look at this possible acquisition here.
9. Nashville and Montreal – Both teams have been heavily scouting the Kings of late, both at the NHL and AHL levels. Specific to the Habs, the Kings are not looking to grab P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, or Jeff Petry from the Montreal blueline. If there is a deal to be made here, it is believed to be for somebody like Nathan Beaulieu (Montreal’s 2011 first round pick). This would be a deal similar to the Brayden McBabb trade, where the Kings are looking to add more for the future than the present.
10. Adrian Kempe – While it is always risky to be absolute when talking about a player’s availability, we are more than comfortable stating Kempe isn’t going anywhere. For some reason, we were inundated with similar questions about Tyler Toffoli a few years ago. And just like then, while other reports swirled that the Kings were open to moving him, all of our top sources merely laughed at the notion. Same thing here. As we noted in our most recent rankings of the Kings’ Top 10 prospects, Kempe and Michael Mersch are the two prospects labeled as untouchable. It would take something beyond extraordinary to make such a deal happen… and nothing has been talked about in this direction, despite what you might be reading elsewhere. One final note on prospects, look for center Nic Dowd to most likely get a call up after all of the roster issues shake out after the trade deadline.
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