After missing the playoffs two seasons in a row, the L.A. Kings have fallen pretty hard from grace. After winning the cup twice in three years, it’s been one bad story after another for the team from Hollywood. Dustin Brown was stripped of the captaincy and relegated to bottom-six duties, not long after former key contributor Mike Richards found himself terminated due to a combination of on-ice, off-ice, and salary issues. Matt Greene had to be bought out entirely. Marian Gaborik is 35, signed for four more seasons, and just put together two underwhelming performances back-t0-back. The defense has gotten more top-heavy, and after losing Brayden McNabb to Vegas in the expansion draft, is set to lose another valuable piece. The head coach who earned the franchise its two rings was fired and a re-tread coach from Philadelphia will get his opportunity in 2017-18.
In an article with the L.A. Times written by Helene Elliotts, GM Rob Blake details the change in philosophy the Kings will need to adopt if they are going to find success in the near future. Ultimately, he wants to predicate the team’s identity more on speed, while staying true to their defensive style. Los Angeles has played a heavy, physical, stifling game to get their championships, and it appears that Blake is shifting away from that mantra next season. He isolated the “core” of the team as Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, and Jonathan Quick. It might be drawn from his sentiment thatt other, more expendable pieces that may be available if the Kings continue to merely tread water.
Los Angeles did make a decent bargain-bin signing in Mike Cammalleri, who was sunk by a capsized New Jersey Devils squad last season. The potential for him to rebound and be productive is quite high, but it may not be nearly enough. The Kings beat out only Philadelphia, Colorado, New Jersey and Vancouver in terms of fewest goals scored. Carter and Pearson were the only twenty-goal scorers on the team. Guaranteed offense is an absolute need, and although former coach Darryl Sutter’s systems were a component of the struggles, the team needs more reliable production. Their defense is still the team’s greatest organizational strength, but it does strike some as odd that a player like McNabb wasn’t shuffled elsewhere for scoring help rather than being sacrificed for nothing to expansion.
If the Kings decide at this late stage to go the free agency route, their options are solid if a bit older. If speed is the determinant factor, that may seem to rule out the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla, while leaving the possibility of a Thomas Vanek signing open. More likely, however, the Blake and the Kings will need to probe the trade market. From there, the team will likely need to surrender future assets if they hope to receive solid scoring in a returning package. The team could take a lot of offensive pressure off of Kopitar (who himself is more of a two-way player) if they could swing a trade for a solid center. Matt Duchene is likely out of their price range, and Alex Galchenyuk’s value just skyrocketed. The bottom-six wingers are dreadfully lacking in experience, so an upgrade to the third line couldn’t hurt. Cap space is tight, however, as the team will only have over $5.5 MM after re-signing RFAs Nick Shore and Kevin Gravel. It may take outside-the-box thinking to bring the Kings back into contender status, but Blake seems primed to make moves, albeit on his own timeline.