Monday, June 10, 2013

How I Would Line Up the L.A. Kings Next Season

I know this is a movie blog, but occasionally I indulge my other love – hockey – specifically the L.A. Kings. The Kings won the Stanley Cup last year, but this year lost in the Conference Final. I would be more upset about this except for one thing – this playoff year, no matter how heartbreaking it was (and losing your final game in double overtime is heartbreaking in the extreme), it was still the Kings third best playoff performance in their 45 year history (I know that’s sad). Their big problem this post season was offense – specifically they didn’t get any. Here is how I would line up the Kings next season to get some. First the Forwards:

Line 1

Okay, so Brown and Kopitar did not do much offensively this post season – but both were banged up. Justin Williams has been a grinder on this line, and effective, but what Brown and Kopi really need is a sniper – Brown creates space and helps the cycle, Kopi cycles with the best and is a great setup man – but they’ve never had that natural sniper to go with them. Toffoli can be that guy for them next season – and has proven he has what it takes.

Line 2

This is certainly a chance – but I like it. Carter skated much better at center this post season than on the wing – leave him there. Williams can be your grinder – the guy who keeps the play alive. Rookie Tanner Pearson is a natural set-up man with great hands. Playing him alongside two vets will help him – and should get him some points.

Line 3

The big problem with the Kings this post season was no depth scoring. So why not do that by moving Richards to the third line? In all honesty, I’d give approximately the same minutes to all of the top three lines – and it will make it harder on the opposition to have more to cover. Vey has been good in the AHL – and is entering the last year of his entry level deal. It’s time to see what he can do. Although he has played at center there, he can also play RW. And the Kings are set at center, so he’ll have to be a winger to stay in the lineup. What I don’t know is who will play LW. I hope the Kings go out and get a third liner with some scoring touch – because no one else in the lineup has that. If not, expect to see Clifford or King there.
Line 4


Kyle Clifford may well be your long term solution for third line left wing – but he’s not there yet. So for now, let him continue to develop and have him bang and crash on the fourth line. Lewis is a great checker and penalty killer – but has virtually no scoring touch. He played well at center when Stoll was out – so let him be the fourth line guy who can move up in the case of injury. As for the right side – I’d give King and Nolan a chance to battle it out. They both looked secure after great playoffs last year – but this year and in the playoffs, they did nothing. Long term, they’re both not going to be here.

Fraser, King/Nolan
Colin Fraser is a very useful piece to have in your back pocket in case of injury – if that happens, Lewis moves up, Fraser draws in, and you’re okay. The other extra is either King or Nolan, whoever Sutter hates most that day.

Who Does That Leave Out?
Dustin Penner, Brad Richardson, Jarret Stoll.

Penner is a free agent, and with the cap falling, the Kings don’t have room for a guy who only scored twice in the shortened regular season, no matter how big of a beast he often is in the playoffs. I’ll miss him. Brad Richardson is also a free agent, and you have to think he’ll look elsewhere – he spends weeks at a time as healthy scratch, but on many teams in the NHL, he’d be a regular fourth liner. The Kings obviously don’t care about his long term career – so he’ll leave.
The difficult one is Stoll. Sutter loves him, and he is a decent third line, checking center. However, the Kings have Kopitar, Carter and Richards, and when they put Stoll on the third line, he generates no offense. The Kings need depth offense, so Stoll should be traded. He’s got an affordable deal, and many teams would love to have him as a third liner. He isn’t going to bring a top prospect or pick or anything, but he should fetch a solid return.




When paired with Doughty, Muzzin got more points and opportunities. The reason is simple – teams key on Doughty, opening up Muzzin. When Regher was one with Doughty, they still keyed on Drew, but Regher didn’t make them pay. Muzzin’s defensive game should improve, and until then, Doughty is good enough on both ends to make up for it.
This does mean that the Kings’ other great defenseman, Voynov, is stuck with Regher. But Regher should be solid enough to let Voynov jump into the play, which is where he’s at his best. This should be a solid second pairing, even if I still wonder why the hell Lombardi thought the Kings needed Regher in the first place – let alone the extension they gave him.

Martinez and Greene were great on the cup run last year. Without Greene, Martinez struggled. But as long as Greene is healthy, I want to see this pairing together again.
As for Ellerby, he’s fine as a 7th d-man who never gets played. The Kings may well look to add another defenseman instead – either on the free agent market or as part of a trade for Stoll or Bernier – in which case, Martinez may also be moved, and Ellerby could still be your 7th man – unless they let him go, and hold onto Martinez. I’m not sure anyone in Manchester is ready for the big time yet.

Who Does This Leave Out?
Rob Scuderi, Willie Mitchell.

I would LOVE to have both of these guys in the Kings lineup next year – I just don’t see it happening. Mitchell missed the entire season this year with knee problems – and the prognosis isn’t good. I think his career is over – so most likely, the Kings will place him on LTIR for the last year of his contract to get him off the cap. As for Scuds – I think the man wants to be PAID. He has been a key piece in two of the last five cup teams (Pittsburgh and L.A.), and is still more than capable of being a top shutdown guy. If the Kings were willing to meet his contract demands, they would have already done so. I think, sadly, it’s so long Scuds!


Next season will be the first of Quick’s long, expensive 10 year extension. The way he played in the playoffs this year, no one should be that worried. As for Bernier, I think his time is done. He wanted out last year, but was still under contract, so really had no power. Now, he’s RFA (and I think has arbitration rights), so he has slightly more power than last year, but not much. Still with the cap coming down, and Bernier due a raise, I think they have to trade him. That either means calling up one of the Manchester goalies, or ideally, picking up a cheap vet on the free agent market.
What will they get for Bernier? No idea. The goalie market will be flooded this summer with the likes of Backstrom and Smith as UFA, Luongo and Miller on the trade block, and possible buyouts for Fleury and Bryzgalov – not to mention the usual array of veteran backups.

However, there is lots of team who could use goalie help. Off the top of my head I think of Phoenix, Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado, St. Louis, Toronto, Buffalo, Washington, Florida, Winnipeg, Philly, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders and New Jersey. They could all want an upgrade of some sort in net, but some don’t want it enough, and some will want the vets. Still, there are a number of teams on this list who may well want a young guy like Bernier. They should get a decent return for him.
Will Any of This Happen?

Undoubtedly, some of it will. I don’t see how they can bring back Penner, or a situation that Scuderi comes back unless he takes a “hometown discount”, or why Richardson would want to come back. They may try to hold onto Bernier another year to give the goalies in Manchester time to be ready to be a backup, but that may not be an option. Toffoli is assured a spot in the lineup next year.
I wonder if they’ll deal Stoll. To me, it’s time to move on – let the youngsters Toffoli, Pearson and Vey have their shot at the NHL level while they’re still on Entry Level Deals, which will help with the reduced cap next season, and see precisely what they have. They don’t want any of them leaving for Europe like Moller and Holloway did, or keep them so long they either have to deal them for next to nothing (Loktionov) or lose them via waivers (Hickey). They’re not there yet – but it won’t be long before they are. Plus, if you look at it, the Kings strength is down the middle – Kopitar, Cater, Richardson, Vey, Lewis and Fraser can all play center. What they may want is another veteran shutdown defenseman – something Stoll could bring in a trade.

What did the Kings in during the playoffs is simple – when Kopitar and Brown played hurt, they didn’t produce enough offense. Carter, Richards, Toffoli and Voynov stepped up admirably, but it wasn’t enough. They need depth scoring – and pretending you’re going to get it with any consistency with King, Lewis, Clifford, Stoll, Fraser and Nolan as your bottom six just isn’t working anymore. Let the kids with offensive upside have a shot at it.
But Lombardi, as is his way, will undoubtedly due what he wants to do, regardless of what I think. And that’s a good thing. I haven’t always agreed with him, but his maneuvers led the Kings to a Cup and a berth in the Conference finals – unquestionably the best post season team in the NHL over the past two years (they won six series – no one else has even won 5). I trust Lombardi to do what needs to be done – even if it isn’t precisely what I would do.

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