Getty

Few easy answers as Kings face identity crisis after ouster of Lombardi, Sutter

11 Comments

In most cases, when a firing happens, you understand the reasoning behind the decision. Even so, there’s also an important question for the new regime: how much power do they really have to change things?

The Los Angeles Kings stand as an especially interesting case.

With two Stanley Cup victories in tow, franchise history will smile upon the legacies of both GM Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter. Still, new GM Rob Blake and team president Luc Robitaille have some difficult questions to answer.

Let’s categorize the questions they face into two broad categories (more here, even if it was written before Lombardi was fired):

Rebuild or reload?

The Kings have an aging core full of problem contracts, especially if a rough 2016-17 campaign stands as a sign of things to come for Anze Kopitar (rather than an outlier).

Maybe most interestingly, Drew Doughty only has two years remaining on his current deal that carries a reasonable $7 million cap hit.

Theoretically, Rob Blake could look at the situation as being a two-year window to try to continue to contend … or he could try to use Doughty’s deal to try to get out of some of those tough contracts and/or add some high-end draft assets to rebuild faster.

Hogging the puck, but struggling to put it in the net

It’s a tough call because the Kings have generally a) dominated puck possession but b) rarely enjoyed “easy” regular seasons. They’ve very much been a grind-it-out team.

Former Kings goalie Kelly Hrudey wondered if Los Angeles needed to adapt to the league’s larger trend toward faster puck movement and faster players.

“They’re having these discussions about style of play. Is it Darryl’s style that just doesn’t work in today’s game, with the speed and so on, or is their organization that they put on those kinds of players?” Hrudey said recently, as Sportsnet reports. “I’ve covered them twice in the last eight days, and I don’t know if that group can play fast enough.”

Really, it’s been an issue that Lombardi has been aware of some time, wrestling with the topic as early as 2015.

“We’re not able to go in and, I guess, out-skill you,” Lombardi told LA Kings Insider almost exactly two years ago. “It’s not often you’re going to watch and say, ‘wow, they won, and there’s a lot of highlight plays out there.’ So we’re not that type of team, which I think, also, was why we’re successful in playoffs, because we’re used to playing, and we’re built that way. In playoffs it’s about taking away space and creating your own space. You’re not going to get that space you’re going to get during the regular season, so it’s kind of that Catch-22.”

Indeed, that’s the question: maybe it would be ideal to play a faster style, but do they really have the personnel to do so? And then those questions circle back to the previous issue of rebuilding vs. reloading. It’s all … well, very confusing.

***

There are a number of ways this can shake out. Management can blow it all up, trading out as many older players as they can and trying to start from scratch. They could “rebuild on the fly” like the Sharks once dig in moving Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray for picks in 2013. Failing that, they can lean toward smaller tweaks and see if a new coach and/or system might do the trick.

Agent: Numerous Stanley Cup contenders have called on Kunitz

Getty
4 Comments

Chris Kunitz is in demand.

That’s the word from agent Ben Hankinson, who this week told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette his 37-year-old client is garnering major interest from a number of teams — and certain kinds of teams, to be clear.

More:

Hankinson, who represents Kunitz, said he’s fielded calls from as many as 10 teams with a legitimate shot at knocking off the Penguins next season, all interested in signing Kunitz.

“I don’t know where it’s going to end up,” Hankinson said. “Chris does have interest from a lot of teams. Who knows exactly where that interest is going to be once the offers start flying around, but he does have a lot of interest.”

Kunitz, who turns 38 in September, has been told by GM Jim Rutherford to explore free agency (to be fair, Rutherford told all his UFAs this). It’s going to be really interesting what that means for Kunitz, who could bring plenty to a team looking to make a postseason run.

For starters, there’s his experience. Few active NHLers have played — and won — in the playoffs as much as Kunitz. He’s got 161 games on his resume with four Stanley Cups, and was a key contributor for Pittsburgh this past spring.

In 20 games, Kunitz racked up 11 points while averaging 14:52 TOI per night. His nine assists put him tied for fourth on the team, and he famously scored the double-OT winner against Ottawa in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Given the lack of options in this year’s free agent class, Kunitz could score a pretty decent contract. That’s important, as it might be his last. The cagey veteran spoke at the Stanley Cup Final about how this could very well be his last kick at the can with Pittsburgh, and acknowledged that — given how limited opportunities are to win in the NHL — he needed to capitalize on every single one.

“We’ve been together for so long,” Kunitz said. “Our families are close, the kids are getting older and you realize that we’ve been really fortunate to have this great group of guys that have stuck together for so long. It’s rare to have guys stay for that long.

“So you just want to capitalize and make the most of it. [We’ve] all gone out for dinner together before the trade deadline, never knowing where your hockey career’s going to go. It’s something you put into your mind, but you’ve got to go out there and achieve your success every time you can.”

Report: Kovalchuk talking extension with KHL club

Getty
1 Comment

Last week, Devils GM Ray Shero was of the belief that Ilya Kovalchuk was still planning to play in the NHL next season.

Today, however, a Russian media outlet is reporting that Kovalchuk is talking with his KHL club, SKA Saint Petersburg, about a possible extension.

If accurate, that would mesh with an earlier report — the one that Shero ostensibly shot down — that Kovalchuk had decided to keep playing in Russia.

The NHL’s decision to skip the 2018 Winter Olympics may be weighing on Kovalchuk. If he returns to North America, he won’t be able to represent his country in South Korea — a fact that was cemented last week when the NHL released its 2017-18 schedule.

Of course, all this could just be SKA Saint Petersburg making a last-ditch attempt to keep Kovalchuk.

“We have the desire to keep Ilya. He is our hockey player, a patriot and loves to play for the national team,” said club president Gennady Timchenko (translated, per Sportsnet). “We will talk today, and we might have some news later.”

Kovalchuk can’t sign an NHL contract until July 1.

Sens’ Stalberg drawing interest from Swiss League

Getty
Leave a comment

Viktor Stalberg, the veteran forward that was part of Ottawa’s recent playoff run, has reportedly landed on the radar of National League A outfit EV Zug.

Per Swiss Hockey News, club manager Reto Klay confirmed interest in Stalberg, saying he is “among the candidates” to be signed by the team this summer.

Stalberg, 31, split last season between the ‘Canes and Sens, combining to score 11 goals and 16 points in 57 games. He’s previously spent time with the Rangers, Predators, Blackhawks and Maple Leafs, recording a career-high 22 goals and 43 points with Chicago in ’11-12.

He was also part of the ‘Hawks team that captured the Stanley Cup in 2013.

Stalberg has played each of the last two seasons on one-year deals, and it’ll be interesting to see if he lands another one — or, potentially, try and secure a longer-term deal overseas.

Former Oilers tough guy Dave Semenko passes away from cancer

Getty
4 Comments

Former Edmonton Oilers forward Dave Semenko has passed away after a short battle with cancer. Semenko was 59 years old.

The Oilers released a statement earlier this morning:

It is with great sadness we announce the passing of Oilers legend Dave Semenko after a short, but courageous battle with cancer. Dave will be remembered as a fierce competitor, loyal teammate, fan favorite and dear friend to so many. His legendary toughness on the ice is surpassed only by his kindness and caring for others, and his equally legendary wit and sense of humor.

Our hearts go out to Dave’s family and many friends.

Once an Oiler, Always an Oiler

Semenko played for the Oilers for parts of 10 seasons (two in the WHA, eight in the NHL). He also had short stints in Hartford and Toronto.

He finished his NHL career with 65 goals, 153 points and 1,175 penalty minutes in 575 games. Semenko also won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1984 and 1985.