The Los Angeles Kings are dreadful. There are no two ways about it. Offensively, Los Angeles is dead-last in the league, producing 2.15 goals per game. Defensively, there are barely 10 teams that have been more porous, the Kings’ 3.09 goals against per game sitting 13th in the NHL. The power play is the league’s third-worst. The penalty kill is fourth from the bottom. And as Los Angeles takes a glimpse at the standings Friday, they do so looking up at 30 other teams.
All of this is to say it’s time for the Kings to take a long hard look in the mirror and do what many suggested they should after not one, not two, not three, but four consecutive seasons in which the campaign ended in the first round or earlier: overhaul this roster and retool before it’s far too late.
We know, we know. That’s not an ideal scenario for a team that’s less than five years removed from winning its second Stanley Cup in three seasons, and it also flies in the face of what Drew Doughty said when he inked his gargantuan eight-year, $88-million contract. (“We’re not here to rebuild,” Doughty said of his discussions with GM Rob Blake and team president Luc Robitaille. “We’re going to continue to try to move pieces around, draft picks, develop our prospects and make a better team.”) But the idea of a minor rebuild has become almost unavoidable at this point. This isn’t to suggest the trading of Doughty or Anze Kopitar. Quite the opposite, in fact. Keeping the very core of the Kings intact is important. But the deck around the two mainstays should be shuffled significantly.
Even if you’re not sold on the idea, consider the assets the Kings have that are easily tradable commodities as we head towards the December roster freeze and, not all that long after, the trade deadline. Front offices often thirst for, overrate and overpay for Stanley Cup experience, and the Kings have that in droves.
Up front, Jeff Carter, who carries a $5.27-million cap hit over the next three seasons, would likely be an incredibly sought after veteran scorer, and while he’s struggled mightily this season, scoring just six goals and 15 points in 33 games, who doesn’t believe he’d be due for an offensive uptick as part of a more freewheeling attack? Despite spending much of last season on the shelf, Carter, 33, is only two seasons removed from a 32-goal season and has scored 19 goals in his past 60 games. That’s a 26-goal pace over a complete season, which would make Carter more than capable as a middle-six scorer on most contenders.
Additionally, teams would likely pay a high price to acquire Tyler Toffoli, a 26-year-old who was part of the Kings’ 2014 Stanley Cup-winning club and scored seven goals and 14 points as a third-liner during that run. Has he, like Carter, struggled this season? Absolutely, without question. But Toffoli was a 20-goal scorer last season and is on a reasonable $4.6-million contract for the remainder of this season and next. He could be a useful second-line scoring winger for a team looking to add offensive punch now and into next season.
This isn’t to mention the blueliners, either, and you can rest-assured contending, playoff-bound teams will come hard at Los Angeles’ defenders if they haven’t already been moved by the deadline. That’s particularly the case for two-time Cup winner Alec Martinez (currently on the injured reserve) and 2014 champion Jake Muzzin, who carry twin $4-million cap hits with the former’s deal expiring in three seasons and the latter’s after next season. Both can be more than serviceable in second-pairing roles, and they’re proven playoff performers who will be able to log heavy minutes at the toughest time of the campaign.
The added bonus with the four aforementioned players? There’s nothing stopping the Kings from selling them off to the highest bidders. Unlike other core members in Los Angeles, not one of Carter, Toffoli, Martinez or Muzzin has no-trade or no-move protection, which means any and all suitors can pursue the rearguards. And while payment at or before the deadline varies, all four players would seem to be worth high-round picks at the very least — low firsts or seconds doesn’t seem unreasonable — with a prospect or two, maybe even a roster player, thrown in. And that’s a really good start on a retooling in Los Angeles, even if it means the Kings would be without two top-six forwards, two top-six defensemen and set up for some lean years for at least a couple seasons' time.
But forget about the short-term pain and think about the long-term potential. With Los Angeles’ apparent destiny to earn at least top-three odds in the draft lottery this summer, Los Angeles does have honest-to-goodness potential to undergo an expedited, somewhat Toronto Maple Leafs-esque rebuild.
The addition of an NHL-ready prospect such as Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko speeds up the entire process, and another year as a basement team could put the Kings back in contention for the top pick in 2020. That has potential to give Los Angeles its Matthews and Marner-lite. And it's not as if the Kings are without talented up-and-comers who could surround two future top picks. Between Gabe Vilardi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Kale Clague and Rasmus Kupari, as well as those already in the NHL such as Adrian Kempe, Alex Iafallo and Matt Luff, there’s potential top-six talent waiting in the wings that could see an offensively inept and defensively inconsistent club earn its way back into the post-season. Moving players such asCarter, Toffoli, Martinez and Muzzin would result in a few additional chances to hit in the draft, too. Add to it some smart off-season signings and the Kings are right back in business.
Does that mean there wouldn’t be bumps along the way and overhauling the roster is going to be easy? Not at all. Los Angeles would have to have some luck at the draft, a few prospects might miss and, maybe worst of all, any rebuild, no matter how minor, is going to have to come at the cost of wasting a few quality years of Doughty and Kopitar’s careers. But blowing this thing up now is better than the alternative, which is continuing on with an aging roster and throwing money around in an effort to jumpstart an already-last place team that is showing very few signs of life.