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November 30, 2016 | 9:56am ET
Kingsmen: The Odd Man Out

LOS ANGELES, CA -- Now that the Los Angeles Kings have stabilized their season and appear to be a top three Pacific Division team after being besieged with injuries, I'm going to take a long-range view of this current roster beyond the June 2017 expansion draft.

While there is debate on who will be the current Los Angeles player to be anointed a Golden Knight come the summer (your choice of Dustin Brown, Brayden McNabb or Derek Forbort at this juncture), there are cap implications that point at a specific player having an address other than on the corner of 11th and Figueroa come the Autumn that has nothing to do with what happens on June 20, 2017.

As with any predictions, there are some assumptions that lead to our conclusion, here are mine:

Despite having a more impactful season than his last two, I don't see Brown being the expansion selection for Vegas. He would be the perfect player to be the first public face of the new franchise -- a two time Stanley Cup winner and a family man that has spent endless time in the community in Los Angeles. While the marketing opportunity around Brown is as strong as any selection that will be made, I hear that GM George McPhee has little interest in selecting players with significant term left on their deals (Brown has five seasons remaining on his max-term deal). While Brown would likely welcome a fresh start as well, I've heard that McPhee will steer clear of his deal and those like him (See: Gaborik, Marian)

It's not a stretch to assume Tyler Toffoli will replicate his 30-goal season of the 2015-16 campaign when the season is done. Though Toffoli is trending significantly behind his goal production of last season (5 goals in 22), he is the type of sniper that will likely find a streak that will put him back on track to achieve back-to-back 30 goal season.

Toffoli has all the motivation he needs to post another big campaign as he's at the end of his second NHL contract and a sweetheart deal at that, earning $3.9 million with a cap hit of $3.25 million.

If you look at the Kings' salary cap situation for next season, those cap-induced migraines Dean Lombardi has been suffering since the 2014 Stanley Cup championship don't look to be subsiding anytime soon. As it stands at present, the Kings have $12 million of cap space with 15 contract commitments for next season. Assuming that Brown or Gaborik won't be selected in the expansion draft and can't be traded, the prospect of a long-term Toffoli deal comparable to Brandon Saad's deal ($36 million over 6 years signed on July 3, 2015) swallows approximately half the available cap space going on a third assumption: unrestricted free agents Tom Gilbert, Dwight King and Teddy Purcell do not re-sign.

For the most part, the Kings are well prepared to deal with those subtractions -- Purcell looks to be ill-fitted for the Kings style, and King, though a long time favorite of coach Darryl Sutter, will likely get a contract offer that clears the way for the organization to see if Michael Mersch can be a productive NHL player. The emergence of Kevin Gravel and Forbort will make the impact of a Gilbert departure minimal. Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff stand to get nominal raises as arbitration eligible restricted free agents and should be back in the fold.

And then there was one.....

If my scenario lies up as described, one significant player will soon have the dreaded words "trade bait" ahead of his name and that's Tanner Pearson.

Pearson and Toffoli's NHL fates have been intertwined since they combined current Kings leading scorer Jeff Carter to form "That 70s Line," a crucial component of the 2014 championship. This is not to suggest that Pearson will be an in-season deal as the Kings simply cannot afford to trade away any productive forward. Even with the return of Gaborik, the Kings are at least one and realistically two productive wingers short of being a Western Conference Finalist.

While Lombardi will be on the hunt for another left wing come the trade deadline, if Pearson continues at his current pace he will produce a cap busting 28-goal campaign (like Toffoli, he is an arbitration eligible restricted free agent) that translates into a minimum of $4M+ per year deal. The Kings reaped the benefits of a terrific bridge deal for two seasons (a below-market $2.8 million per for two seasons) so unless Lombardi can work some true magic and make a veteran contract vanish (and don't totally rule out that possibility) he probably comes down to this choice:

Tanner vs. Tyler.

While both players have their virtues Toffoli has the pure, innate talent to produce at a 30-goal per season pace over time. If Pearson does approach the projected total this season, it's more a testament to his ability to maximize the tools given to him and he is more likely to be a 20-goal per player than 30.

What compounds issue for Lombardi is that left wing in not a position of strength in the organizational depth chart.

Brown, although his best seasons have been on his off-wing, appears to be a fixture on the right side for Sutter going forward. The jury is out on the aforementioned Mersch regarding his ability to play at the current pace of NHL play, and former first round draft choice Adrian Kempe still needs to prove he can fill the net in the AHL before he can be anointed a legitimate top six NHL forward.

While time is not of the essence for Kempe (still only 20 years old), the left side must be addressed come to the off-season so the best-case scenario would be to move Pearson for younger (cheaper) left wing talent.

Who are some possible inexpensive talent that could fill the left-wing void? Some suggestions follow with the caveat that itís a very incomplete list:

To mitigate the damage of dealing away a player that doesn't fit into their salary structure, we'll assume an Eastern Conference team would be the preferred target (second bite at the apple -- see: Jones, Martin).

Pittsburgh has attractive options in Conor Sheary or Jake Guentzel, a recent recall who is primarily a center, but is a left shot. If the Penguins could add another asset, adding Pearson to the Sidney Crosby-Patrick Hornqvist line is potential scary. The Penguins would have to sweeten the deal with a second asset, likely a draft pick, to provide equal value while not adding to the Kings payroll.

A League insider made another suggestion to me after the Kings-Islanders game last week noting: "If the Islanders have any chance to keep John Tavares, they're going to have to surround him with more experienced players while they wait on their youth. I think Pearson would look great next to John Tavares."

What would the price be for Pearson in this case? Anthony Beauvillier, their 2015 first round pick, has shown well in a small body of work and would have two seasons remaining on his entry level deal. While is a very different type of player than Pearson, he would inject the speed and skill the Kings need on the wing that is lacking on their depth chart and will help the organization transition further into the speed and skill game the league continues to gravitate to.

RUNNING AFOUL OF FOWLER

The Anaheim Ducks' first quarter of the season is a study in mediocrity, despite having one of the most talented rosters in the League, including arguably the deepest blueline contingent in the NHL.

The most significant change that has occurred by replacing Bruce Boudreau with Randy Carlyle has been the tenor of the post-game press conferences -- the Ducks still struggle to score and surprisingly it's Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf at the top of the list of defenders and they still have a penchant for taking ill-advised penalties in the offensive zone.

There is plenty of time for the Ducks to find their proper waddle and if they can emulate the play of Cam Fowler, clearly their best player during the first two months, they be entangled in a three-way dance for the division title with the other two California entrants, the San Jose Sharks and the Kings.

Combining Fowler's solid play with the spoken commitment by General Manager Bob Murray to keep the core of this team together, rumors haven't ceased about the possibility of Fowler being traded for scoring help on left wing.

The combined poor start by Perry and Getzlaf (on pace for 15 and 7 goals full season production) has magnified the need for an additional scorer not only for the regular season but more importantly, for Game 83 and hopefully far beyond.

As they normally do, rumors find their genesis north of the border, specifically north of the border with Montreal and Toronto at the top of the list. With the Habs looking to bolster their blueline, Fowler would be a marvelous add, but the Habs simply don't have the left shooting, left winger thought to be the bounty for Fowler. While the Leafs have the man with the plan, James van Riemsdyk, to land the top 4 defenseman, that potential trade -- as much as it makes sense -- has been sitting out there so long (I suggested it 18 months ago). If it was to happen, I believe it would have already been done.

For those insisting that Fowler isn't going anywhere, the upcoming expansion draft may significantly impact the ultimate decision.

Given the depth of the assembled roster, the Ducks will lose a skilled player as the only question is who will reside in the 702 come September. What makes the Ducks situation unique and possibly more acute is the number of No Movement Clauses they are committed to.

Along with Getzlaf and Perry, Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa also hold clauses which make them a mandatory protected player come June. The Bieksa NMC puts Murray in a tough spot because it forces him to protect 4 defensemen and 4 forwards -- it's an easy assumption that Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Fowler would be protected. In this version of the protected list, Rakell would be the fourth forward to be protected thus exposing the valuable Jakob Silfverberg.

In my opinion, another draft strategy that Murray can deploy would be to trade Fowler for the left wing of his choice and plug in the draft-exempt Shea Theodore in his place. While Theodore is not yet the player that Fowler is, his permanent placement in the top four should develop him into a comparable talent and if not Brandon Montour could be a future option.

Since Theodore is draft-exempt, Murray could then protect the left wing he acquires and keep his top six intact along with Antoine Vermette. In this permutation, Murray would lose Josh Manson, who was quietly developed into a solid NHL defenseman but it's a far less costly option than Silfverberg.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.

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