Hockey News and Discussions
Each once Pacific Power houses, the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings have almost unpredictably been swept in the first round. As a native Californian, it saddens me to see the Southland NHL-free until September. But I think the playoff losses of the Ducks and the Kings demonstrate the changing of the guard into the new NHL. This is part 1 dealing with the LA Kings.
Recently, I’ve read a couple of articles from professional hockey sources suggesting the Kings should rebuild and I wholeheartedly disagree. The Kings ended the year with the best defense in hockey, as they allowed the fewest goals of any NHL team. And it’s no secret why. LA boasts probably the most underrated defense in the entire league.
First, franchise icon Drew Doughty is one of the best pound for pound defenseman in the game. He may not be a Norris candidate every year, but aside from Erik Karlsson, I can’t think of one defenseman who is more valuable to his team than number 8. Next, head coach John Stevens has no shortage of solid defensemen with which to construct a shutdown defense. Dion Phaneuf, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Derek Forbort have always been solid, above-average defenders, while breakout players like Paul LaDue and Oscar Fantenberg have made a name for themselves in the first round of the 2018 playoffs. The Kings also have depth defensemen Daniel Brickley, Christian Folin (UFA), and Kurtis MacDermid. Collectively, this makes for one intimidating group on the back end.
That core protects Jonathan Quick, who when healthy, is among the best goalies in the NHL.
It has also been endlessly proven that almost any decent goalie can look like a superstar of a backup within the Kings system. This defensive system is so good that Ben Scrivens, Peter Budaj, Jack Campbell, and Darcy Kuemper have produced some of their best work with LA, which showcases the stability and consistency of their structure. With two major areas of their roster utilized to the most of their potential, there is no reason to rebuild. That type of roster construction takes years, maybe even a decade to duplicate. LA has a fierce team right now and they need to make the most of it.
However, the problem lies with their forwards. LA has had a select forward core that can easily be built around, but for some reason, just hasn’t been even though the core is actually really good. Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter make an ideal 1-2 punch at center, while Tyler Toffoli, Trevor Lewis, and Tanner Pearson have been consistent players on the wing. In 2018, even Dustin Brown had a resurgence in LA, tallying 61 points, including 28 goals. If Brown can replicate this year’s productivity, LA has a lot to work with.
The Kings have also re-tooled around some younger players which has yielded some promising results. Adrian Kempe scored 37 points as a 21 year old and Alex Iafallo added 25 points as a rookie.
…And that’s pretty much where the offense ends. The Kings heavily relied on Kopitar all season, much to their detriment. Sure, they tried to address their depth by adding Tobias Rieder from Arizona, but it just didn’t work out (6 points in 20 games).
If LA wants to continue building upon this amazing core, they need more help for Kopitar. But that being said, they need to remember what happens when you invest improperly (see Gaborik). LA has some cap space. With this current roster, LA projects to have just over $2.9 million to spend with only Fantenberg and Rieder to sign. If Clifford or Thompson can be moved while Rieder’s RFA rights are released, or if LA goes big and moves someone like Muzzin and his $4 million hit, they have plenty of room to add the player they need.
In 2018, LA’s forwards looks like this when healthy:
Iafallo Kopitar Brown
Pearson Carter Toffoli
Rieder Kempe Lewis
Thompson Amadio Mitchell
That just isn’t deep enough in today’s game. The Kings would be smart to invest in a top 6 left wing to play with Kopitar, much like they did when they acquired Milan Lucic in 2015-16. Lucic put up 55 points, including 20 goals, in 81 games. Another player like that would go a long way to helping the Kings offense and a player like that could easily restore them to their former glory.
This lack of depth was made even more evident by their series with the Knights. Although the Kings got swept, everything except their scoring was not an issue. Quick posted an unreal .947 SV percentage and 1.55 GAA, so it’s obvious that goaltending and defense isn’t the problem especially when you hold the Golden Knights (the fourth highest scoring team in the regular season) to only 7 goals in 4 games.
But LA only scored 3 goals in 4 games and the lack of depth was ultimately responsible for their defeat and the Kings have to address this. The area that most needs improvement is LA’s 3rd and 4th lines. They need to add someone to play with Kempe or move Iafallo down and find someone to play with Kopitar. Ideally, Iafallo should play 3rd line with Kempe and Lewis to make room for a LW. Which would easily be possible if either Clifford or Thompson would be moved (both make $1.6 mill which is too much for a healthy scratch).
Iafallo and Kempe will get better with more experience, especially since players under 22 and first year players frequently struggle to produce in the post-season. Just ask Evgeni Kuznetsov, Sean Couturier, and Alex Wennberg.
Furthermore, LA now has to deal with a new pacific division that is dominated by the Knights and has the constant speed threats during the regular season of McDavid, Gaudreau, and Boeser. In the playoffs, LA would likely need to go through a pretty fast Jets team or Preds team for the foreseeable future on route to the Stanley Cup Finals. LA needs to respond by getting faster and more explosive. Two players that would really help from free agency that would achieve these goals would be Michael Grabner or James Van Riemsdyk.
If LA could land one or both of these players, they could see a huge offensive turnaround and make an already deep team much better. If Tavares leaves the New York Islanders, they could also attempt to trade for Anders Lee as he could also be a solid alternative.
In addition, LA has their best prospect, Gabriel Vilardi (11th overall in 2017), on the way. With Vilardi eyeing that 3c role in training camp next season, the Kings future is bright. This is also why they shouldn’t rebuild; he’s the heir apparent to Jeff Carter. Why not make the most of what you have now, instead of gambling on what you might have in 5 years?
Best case scenario
LW scorer Kopitar Brown
Pearson Carter Toffoli
Kempe Vilardi Iafallo
Thompson Amadio Lewis
Lw Scorer Kopitar Brown
Pearson Carter Toffoli
Iafallo Kempe Lewis
Thompson Amadio depth player
There’s no reason to hit the panic button Kings fans. I’d argue this is the end of a transition period. What GM Rob Blake does this summer will define the Kings for the seasons to come and he needs to make the most of it. There is a deep market for wingers right now and LA could easily restore themselves to NHL royalty once again.
*all statistics from hockey-reference.com
*all cap information from capfriendly.com