For years we’ve been hearing about how the Los Angeles Kings are doing things the right way, and building through the draft. So far, we haven’t seen much of that translate to the on-ice product. They finally cracked the playoffs last year, but were quickly ousted by a much better Vancouver team. This year, things were looking more positive for the Kings rolling into March, but then Anze Kopitar broke his ankle just before the post-season could get underway. The injury crippled the team as much as it did Kopitar. Without their top center, the Kings gave a valiant effort, but ultimately lacked the punch necessary to defeat the San Jose Sharks. Watching that series you got the sense that the Kings through everything they had at the Sharks, and it just wasn’t enough. Still, the work ethic is a good sign of things to come. The Kings will look to work talented rookie Brayden Schenn into next year’s roster, and also replace depth players like Alexei Ponikarovsky with better fits for the team. Many experts suggest the Kings will once again try to be big players in free agency. You have to wonder though, at what point will people realize that Dean Lombardi just is not going to get land the big fish that way. He has failed in three consecutive years, and his priority right now is getting Drew Doughty locked up long term. Regardless, the future looks good for the Kings.
|Dustin Penner (4.25)||Anze Kopitar (6.8)||Justin Williams (3.65)|
|Ryan Smyth (6.25)||Brayden Schenn (3.14)||Dustin Brown (3.175)|
|Jarret Stoll (3.6)|
|Kyle Clifford (0.87)||Scott Parse (0.9)|
Willie Mitchell (3.5)
Jack Johnson (4.3575)
Rob Scuderi (3.4)
Matt Greene (2.95)
Davis Drewiske (0.6)
Jonathan Quick (1.8)
Jonathan Bernier (1.25)
Cap Hit: 50.4925
Cap Space: 11.7075
RFA: Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds, Alec Martinez, Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis
UFA: Michael Handzus, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Peter Harrold
The Kings have some key resigns to look after first and foremost. It is likely they would prefer to get Drew Doughty locked up before July 1st to avoid attracting any enormous offer sheets. Wayne Simmonds should get a renewal not unlike Drew Stafford (2yrs/1.9 million per) Devin Setoguchi’s (1yr/1.85 million) contract. Only Handzus is likely to get a look from the unrestricted class, but he will have to take a massive discount from the 4 million dollar contract he was previously on. Ponikarovsky was a disaster as Frolov’s replacement.
Cap Reality: The Kings feel they are getting closer to being a true contender every year, and their ownership is likely willing to spent to the cap and beyond to bring Los Angeles a lengthy playoff run.
The Kings have one of, if not the strongest prospect pool in the league. They are covered at pretty much every position. Although Bernier is technically no longer a prospect, he and Quick will solidify the goaltending for years. Behind Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, the Kings have Thomas Hickey, Slava Voynov and Derek Forbort. At forward, they have some of the CHL’s top scorers in Brayden Schenn, and Tyler Toffoli. They also have Andrei Loktionov and Oscar Moller doing solid work at the AHL level. Some prospects, like Hickey for example, have been slow to develop, but the Kings still have an impressive top five. Take a look at their progress over the last couple seasons:
Brayden Schenn (C) – 6’0”, 193 pounds, Age 20
2009/10: 59GP, 34G, 65A, 99P, 55PIM, +41 (WHL)
2010/11: 29GP, 22G, 35A, 57P, 25PIM, +19 (WHL)
Tyler Toffoli (RW) – 6’0”, 181 pounds, Age 19
2009/10: 65GP, 37G, 42A, 79P, 54PIM, +25 (OHL)
2010/11: 68GP, 57G, 51A, 108P, 33PIM, +44 (OHL)
Andrei Loktionov (C) – 5’10”, 180 pounds, Age 21
2009/10: 29GP, 9G, 15A, 24P, 12 PIM, +8 (AHL)
2010/11: 34GP, 8G, 23A, 31P, 6, PIM, +16 (AHL)
2010/11: 19GP, 4G, 3A, 7P, 2 PIM, +2 (NHL)
Thomas Hickey (D) – 5’10”. 182 pounds, Age 22
2009/10: 19GP, 1G, 5A, 6P, 12PIM, -4 (AHL)
2010/11: 77GP, 6G, 18A, 24P, 38PIM, +9 (AHL)
Slava Voynov (D) – 5’11”, 193 pounds, Age 21
2009/10: 79GP, 10G, 19A, 29P, 43PIM, 0 (AHL)
2010/11: 76Gp, 15G, 36A, 51P, 36PIM, +21 (AHL)
The one point one might make against the Kings prospects is that the numbers can sometimes be misleading. Schenn for example, while propped up by TSN and other major media outlets, was not overly impressive in the WHL this year. His numbers were solid, but not unlike Dave Bolland’s junior numbers. His playoff numbers were especially underwhelming. He put up just 11 points in 10 games. That sounds pretty impressive when you consider the scoring leaders in the NHL playoffs, but by comparison to a media whipping boy prospect such as Nazem Kadri (27 points in 12 games at the same age), Schenn is way off the mark. Prospects in western markets that lack exposure tend to get their achievements noticed and their faults glossed over, and that is something Kings fans should be slightly wary of.
Areas of Concern
Second Line Center?
The Kings have a great 1st line center in Anze Kopitar, but are really missing an offensive, play-making style 2nd line center. They rely a lot on grinding out goals and consistent hard work. It is possible Brayden Schenn fills this void adequately next year, but the Kings may look around in the off-season to see what else is available, just in case Schenn needs a year in the minors.
Star Power and Pure Skill
It’s no secret Lombardi would love to add more skill to his line-up. He has tried to land Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and Ilya Kovalchuk in successive free agent pools. He was forced to settle on Dustin Penner at the trade deadline. That acquisition didn’t work out quite as expected. Penner brought more of the same to a roster rich with big, power-forward types. Lombardi needs to add someone with a little more dazzle and finesse to compliment the tough players he already has.
Potential Solutions (Cameron’s Take)
Everyone in the media seems to immediately count the Kings in the mix for landing Brad Richards. However, as you can see from my table above, adding a 7-8.5 million dollar center will leave them little room to resign Doughty and Simmonds. Doughty alone could be very costly, and eat up at least half their remaining cap space. However, if the Kings plan to put Brayden Schenn in the AHL next year, and not make the jump to the NHL, then a Richards signing becomes a little more possible. A lot will depend on how much faith Lombardi has in his prospects, but so far he has shown himself to be almost unwavering in this regard. Don’t count on Richard signing a mega deal with the Kings. Even if the Kings could make it work, would Richards kick Joe Neuwyndyk and the Stars while their down and sign with a divisional rival?
This could be the player that perfectly replaced Alexander Frolov. He is a solid two-way winger with a little bit of skill in his game. He would compliment the very North American group Lombardi has assembled quite nicely. His hard work and enviable skating should endear him to the Kings coaching staff. At the very least, he would be an upgrade on Alexei Ponikarovsky. This is just the kind of under the radar signing Lombardi typically looks for.
It would come as no surprise to anyone if the Capitals shipped Alex Semin out of Washington after signing a 1-year extension with the club. He is heavily criticized for his lacklustre play and is often a source of frustration for his coach. The Russian National team even refused to invite him to the World Championship due to his poor play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Still, Semin is highly skilled, and would potentially provide that elite winger for Kopitar that has long evaded Lombardi. The numbers don’t lie – Semin can put up massive goals and points. I would suggest the Kings have enough heart (Smyth, Brown, Simmonds, Stoll) to overcome Semin’s sometimes cavalier play and make him a highly effective player once more.
If rumors are true that Jeff Carter is going to be the odd man out in Philadelphia, you can expect the Kings to be one of the few teams willing to invest significant assets into acquiring his 11-year contract. The Kings have the prospects, picks, and maybe even the goalie (Bernier) to get this kind of trade down. Carter would give the Kings a lethal one-two punch with Kopitar manning the first line. I am sure Dean Lombardi will be watching the situation in Philadelphia very closely.
Someone on the Kings radar you think I missed? Let me know. Leave me a comment.