In a trade that few likely saw coming, the Los Angeles Kings have established themselves as buyers at this trade deadline with the acquisition of New York Rangers forward Brendan Lemieux. The Rangers announced that they have dealt the 25-year-old grinder to L.A. in exchange for a 2021 fourth-round draft pick. Lemieux’s contact carries a $1.55MM AAV and expires after the 2021-22 season, at which time he will be a restricted free agent.
From the Rangers’ perspective, maybe this trade should not have been a surprise. As Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes, New York is dealing with a difficult roster crunch right now and he believes that they have been looking to swap a contract for a draft pick for some time. Lemieux has also seemingly hit a wall in his offensive development as well, appearing to be no more than a 25-point player at best, and as such has been relegated to a fourth-line role with the Rangers where his physicality and energy can be best implemented. Lemieux serves the role well, but he is more valuable to a contender than to a team like the Rangers that needs to focus on evaluating their young talent and putting together a playoff-caliber core. With that said, New York is not the most aggressive team and will need to look elsewhere for that spark with Lemieux now gone.
The more intriguing aspect of this deal is the team on the other side. The Kings have been one of the NHL’s positive surprises thus far, still very much in the conversation for a playoff spot in the West Division albeit more so before their current cold streak. It’s not so much L.A.’s impressive pipeline turning the team around either as it is their veterans leading the charge. Bringing in a relatively older player who is seemingly locked into a fourth-line role, especially one with term remaining on his contract, would have been a very strange move for the rebuilding Kings prior to this season, but given their recent success it could help them both get into the postseason and handle the increased pace and physicality of playoff hockey. Lemieux also adds the aggression element that L.A. too often lacks; the team averages about 18 hits per game (7th-worst in the NHL) and has just six fighting majors on the year (tied for 9th-fewest).
One repercussion of this move that may not immediately jump to mind but could become important down the road is the Expansion Draft impact. For the Kings, Lemieux is an additional term forward that the team will need to decide whether or not to protect, although his addition does guarantee that they should meet exposure requirements at forward one way or another. The Rangers are not in as lucky a situation following Lemieux’s departure. Although New York needed to move a player to create roster space, moving a regular starter signed beyond this season could put them in a difficult spot. As of right now, the team only has two players who meet the requirements for the two-forward exposure quota – Ryan Strome and Kevin Rooney – and Strome is likely to be protected. The only other player who can meet the requirements this season is Colin Blackwell, who needs to play in five more games. If Blackwell does not reach the games played requirement due to injury or trade or if the Rangers instead choose to protect the current top-six scoring forward, they will be one body short of the quota – a spot that Lemieux was expected to fill – and will have to make an addition before the draft.