Realigning the Stars
February 13, 2017 | 10:26am ET
A funny thing happened on the way to a mediocre Los Angeles Kings
LOS ANGELES, CA -- A little more than two weeks away from the NHL
trade deadline and the only thing weíre awash in are denials by team
executives that trade discussions for marquee players are taking
place. If you choose to believe those statements, Iíve got some
swampland in Arizona you should consider buying to develop the
Coyotesí next home.
The reality is that itís the time of year that, except for an elite
few, your favorite player has probably been in a conversation with a
front office cat of another team. This year is a unique one -- the
combination of the impending expansion draft and the word that came
down from upon high (Commish Gary Bettman) that the salary cap isnít
budging promises to keep the activity on March 1 close to the level
weíve seen of the past few deadlines.
My pure guess is that weíll see a number in the high teens on deadline
day and Iím willing to throw into the bargain that one player of
significance changes addresses inside the next 10 days.
Here are a few shots on teams and players weíve heard chatter about
over the past few days:
On the Dallas Stars
On the heels of the Stars blowing a three-goal lead in Nashville
yesterday after ending a four-game skid with their continued mastery
of the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, General Manager Jim Nill
should be waiving the white flag shortly to open the access to
legitimate contenders his collection of pending unrestricted free
The numbers say that Dallas still has a puncherís chance for a Western
wild card spot, but the roster says something very different. The
Nashville loss was Exhibit A: a meltdown the likes weíve seen before,
the offense puts goals on the board (three power play goals in this
one), the defense and the netminder (depending on the night) gives it
Running a team that is far more pretender than contender, Nill tried
to resolve one weakness by considering the acquisition of Marc-Andre
Fleury, but his unwillingness to pick up a substantial amount of Antti
Niemi dollars killed the deal (for now). Even if the Stars were to
catch fire on the seven games prior to the deadline, itís what remains
beyond the final horn sounding at 1PM Dallas time on deadline day that
should influence Nill to subtract and not add to this team.
After the March 1 trade deadline, 14 of Dallasí next 18 games are on
the road and two of the home tilts are against the Pacific
Division-leading San Jose Sharks. Itís a schedule that would challenge
a team presently in a playoff spot to maintain traction. For a team
that needs to climb over teams like the Stars need to, it makes the
reality of a post season berth distant.
Thatís the bad news. The good news is that, like the Arizona Coyotes,
there are multiple assets to move to assist in creating the depth
thatís not present, especially on the blueline.
Front and center is right wing Patrick Eaves, who is in the midst of a
glorious career-year that ultimately pays off in a nice multi-year
contract this summer. Eavesí two goal performance in Dallasí 5-2 win
against the Canes raised his season total to 21, establishing a career
high in goals, bettering the 20 he potted way back in the day in his
rookie season with the Ottawa Senators.
Is Eaves the type of player that is going to join a contenderís first
line and put up consistent numbers? Not likely -- heís truly a grinder
in the midst of a fine season and has received offensive opportunity
as Stars Head Coach Lindy Ruff continues to ponder if Jamie Benn and
Tyler Seguin should be together or apart. Heís also been a monster
with the extra man -- his 11 powerplay goals is second in the NHL only
behind Brayden Schenn (12).
With the gentle reminder of how forward depth won the Pittsburgh
Penguins the Cup last June and how it has established the Washington
Capitals as current Cup favorites, while Eaves isnít on the level of
what Phil Kessel brought to the Pittsburgh third line, he clearly can
be an impact player this post season. With the recent trade of one
goal scorer Vernon Fiddler to Nashville getting the Devils a fourth
round pick, thereís no excuse for Nill not to cash in on Eavesí career
season and his oh-so-generous $1 million cap hit that makes him
affordable to any team of interest.
So while Eaves is the clear-cut prize on the roster, there are six
other pending unrestricted free agents of varying quality that should
move, not for top dollar, mind you, but for assets that can be
packaged in another deal.
Had Patrick Sharp had a healthier season, he could likely have been
dealt for a first-round pick, but missing two long stretches due to
concussions makes him a much more riskier acquire despite his proven
ability as a post season point producer. Most likely Nill will have to
hold him until close to the deadline so he can accumulate numbers and
create a buyerís market.
Lauri Korpikoski is a veteran bottom-six player with some touch (7G,
12A) and is a responsible defensive player who could return is
The biggest X-factor is defenseman Johnny Oduya, who would have
provided quality depth for a contender if not for an ankle injury that
has put his status in question. A healthy Oduya probably would have
got Nill a couple of mid-round picks but now may be only worthy of a
risk by a team that expects to be playing in late May.
In another year, Jiri Hudler and Ales Hemsky could get you a high
pick, but this is not another year. Hudler has gone straight down
since he left Calgary last trade deadline with an ineffective run in
Florida than earned him a $2 million, one-year deal with Dallas that
can be fairly judged as an overpayment. Hudler was a healthy scratch
against Carolina and with a line of 2G/5A in 23 games likely returns a
singular late-round pick for a team that believes his ability to play
different forward positions could come in handy down the stretch.
Hemsky still plans to play at some point this season, but like Oduya,
the question of his effectiveness and availability coming off hip
surgery coming off an injury in the World Cup puts his worth at a late
round conditional pick at best.
While none of the above players compare to the likes of Matt Duchene
and Gabriel Landeskog, the sheer quantity of assets at Nillís disposal
should combine to eventually adding one player to his core.
Even if Nill were to execute this free agent strategy effectively,
heís going to have a far better track record with his free agent
signings (and heíll have room on July 1) to make Dallas dangerous in
On the Los Angeles Kings
As a plugged-in LA dude, probably 80% of my Twitter feed has Kings
content and given the up-and-down performance of the team this season,
there are still more questions than answers as the trade deadline
approaches, some short term and other long term.
As far as their most pressing issue of adding a forward who can put
the puck in the net, my impression formed over the past 7-10 days is
that the closer we get to the trade deadline, the further we get from
the General Manager Dean Lombardi finding a capable forward to place
alongside Anze Kopitar.
While Kopitarís numbers have increased along the lines of what is
expected from a No.1 center, he is simply not the type of player that
can do it alone. Yes, his goal production must be better in the final
weeks of the season (is Jeff Carter going to continue at a 44-goal
pace?), but when Head Coach Darryl Sutter lines up Andy Andreoff next
to him for Game 55, you simply cannot say this team is a championship
contender even with a return of Jonathan Quick (your choice of the
actual game he returns).
Lombardi waved the white flag on still another off-season acquisition
with reported waiver wire move of Devin Setoguchi on Sunday, the
poster boy for the lack of quality forward depth on this roster. The
fact that a training camp PTO signing could stick through 55 games by
producing only four goals is not only an indictment of the NHL roster,
but an insight into the lack of NHL-ready forwards in the system as
The Setoguchi waiver makes room for at least one prospect and our
guess is that itís right wing Jonny Brodzinski, who has posted solid
numbers but his powerplay time influences his productivity so he may
be more impactful on the Kings second powerplay than at 5-on-5.
At this point, the far more likely Southern California team to add
Landeskog is the Anaheim Ducks, not the Kings.
Los Angeles is likely a ďrentals onlyĒ player down the stretch and the
quality of that add is in question if they stick to the missive of
holding on to their first-round pick. That doesnít mean they couldnít
add a player of consequence to help an offense that sputters every
third game -- think Detroitís Thomas Vanek or the aforementioned Eaves
-- but what it likely means is that the next trade Lombardi makes
wonít make anybody say, ďnow LA is legit.Ē
Regardless of what the Kings add, the coming weeks will answer a
question that has hovered over this team over the past two plus
seasons -- does their style still win games? Yes, they are among the
finest in puck possession, but when you finally shoot the puck and the
names on the back of the sweaters are King, Lewis, Clifford and Shore,
isnít it more about quality of the player delivering the shot?
Iím going to suggest a factor that no one has offered into the trade
chatter around the Kings: the assessment and quality of their prospect
The number of teams watching the Kingsí farm team in Ontario all
season has been unprecedented; a recent visit by one scout equated the
attendance to that of a World Juniorís tournament game. Even with all
those eyes on their farm, Lombardi is on the record to the LA Times
this week saying that he doesnít anticipate doing a big deal -- even
though the Avalanche scouts spent so much time in Southern California
this winter they should have bought a condo.
Is it possible that after such a detailed review, the Avalanche (and
other teams) decided that the caliber of the talent in the L.A.
pipeline is a cut below what is necessary to bring back a game
changing player? Maybe it was Avs GM Joe Sakic who said Ďno thanks,í
not Lombardi and thatís why discussions never got traction?
With a caveat that every scout has a varying view of talent, perhaps
Adrian Kempeís top end is more likely to be Patrik Berglund than Jeff
Carter, Brodzinski wonít add as much to the offense as Nic Dowd, and
that Paul LaDue has NHL skills but isnít the top-four defenseman that
would allow the Kings to trade Alec Martinez or Jake Muzzin.
As I told you a few weeks back, the shaking of their roster is with
the Tom Gilbert and now the Setoguchi moves, so the final 27 games on
the season (heavily weighted towards home games) should be a proving
ground for their youngsters.
As for the longer-term issue, if youíve watched this team frequently
(and maybe even infrequently), the issue of Marian Gaborikís status is
one that may be coming to a head sooner than expected.
Things looked promising in the Fall when Gaborik looked both speedy
and engaged during the World Cup as part of Team Europe. After being
sidelined with a broken foot from a shot during the tournament,
Gaborikís game has regressed to a point where he was moved down to
work with Dowd on the bottom-six in the Kings impressive 6-3 in
Florida ahead of their bye week. Gaborik offered little in the match,
playing 11:02 and not figuring in any of the Kings six goals, their
second highest goal production of this season. And while Gaborikís six
goals in 33 games isnít a total disaster, his approach and effort has
both his teammates, coaching staff and upper management concerned.
Just a few minutes after the Florida win, I received a text that read
ďsee what happens when (Gaborik) goes down (in the lineup)Ē -- a
distressing observation for a team that hadnít scored in three
regulation games coming in and cannot solve the riddle of finding
Gaborik continues to play a lackadaisical east-west style on this
north-south team that Iím told does not sit well with his teammates,
coaching staff and front office (see a pattern?). But with four years
remaining on a front loaded deal with a salary cap hit of $4.875
million, thereís little Sutter can do other than to shorten his time
on ice in the hopes to spur him once playoff time rolls around.
If the Kings had more NHL-ready forwards in their system, I would take
the drastic step of waiving Gaborik -- maybe you get a long shot
payoff with a waiver claim or really get his attention by having him
ride the same bus to Stockton and Bakersfield that Teddy Purcell,
Gilbert and likely soon Setoguchi are presently enjoying.
Beyond this season, I will bet each and every one of my readers that
Gaborik isnít LAís selection by the Vegas Golden Knights selection in
the expansion draft, barring a miraculous Ďpick this guyí trade, so if
Iím Los Angeles, I seriously look at a buyout on June 30 -- itís not
as onerous as you might think courtesy of Cap Friendly:
The $3.75 million saving for next season would go a long way in the
effort to re-signing either Tyler Toffoli or Tanner Pearson (they will
also gain with departures of Purcell, Gilbert and Dwight King) and
also create a roster spot for Kempe assuming he is not packaged for an
established forward (one scout suggested he should have been recalled
after the Toffoli injury and be paired with Kopitar to gather some
points to prop up his trade value), while moving towards the speed and
skill game the Kings need to more closely align to in order to become
playoff dangerous again.
On the Coyotes and Avalanche
I wrote a few weeks back about the dual opportunity the Arizona
Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche have by being the only clear sellers
this early in the trade market. Iíve seen both teams play at ice level
over the past two weeks and Iím more convinced that Joe Sakic needs to
move either Duchene or Landeskog now, but of the level of play
delivered by the current roster.
I watched Dave Tippettís Coyotes battle the Sharks for every inch of
ice in their 3-2 shootout win at the Shark Tank. Through 65 minutes,
Arizona battled the Pacific leaders and showed an intensity of a team
in the midst of a playoff race. So while General Manager John Chayka
has to execute the movement of his pending unrestricted free agents
well, he doesnít have to deal with a paradigm shift that faces Sakic.
Coloradoís lack of effort in a 5-0 loss in Los Angeles was stunning;
the game was over inside the first eight minutes with two Kings goals.
Iím not the clichť type, but the only way you can describe the
Colorado effort was Ďgoing through the motionsí and it hasnít been a
standalone effort this season.
While I understand Sakicís patience in executing moves that will
define the long team future of the franchise, itís never too soon to
change the teamís culture. If you want to hold either Landeskog or
Duchene until the draft, thatís fine, but to delay the change in
attitude needed now for the sake of getting a slightly better draft
pick or a somewhat better prospect does the organization and more
importantly, the patient Avalanche fans, a disservice.
Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.