Drew Doughty

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Short on talent, Kings are in need of overhaul

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With their teams falling out of the playoff race and the NHL trade deadline just around the corner the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators have sent the message to their fans that changes are probably coming to their roster.

The mindset is simple: The team’s aren’t good enough to win as currently constructed and it is probably time to hit the reset button and start over.  It might mean a step backwards in the short-term for what will — hopefully — be a stronger, more consistent and competitive organization in the not-too-distant future.

There’s another team in the NHL that should look into hitting a similar reset button.

The Los Angeles Kings.

This week they swapped undesirable contracts with the Ottawa Senators when they sent Marian Gaborik packing in exchange for Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf might be able to give the Kings a little more than Gaborik would have over the next few years, but it is probably not enough to move the needle in any meaningful way.

[Related: Senators Trade Dion Phaneuf To Kings]

It’s not that the Kings are terrible. They are not one of the bottom teams in the league and even after losing in Pittsburgh on Thursday night they are still very much alive in the playoff race, sitting three points out of a playoff spot (both a Wild Card spot and the third spot in the Pacific Division) with a couple of teams ahead of them.

Even though they are still “in it,” this season just seems like a re-run over the past three. They’ve missed the playoffs in two of those seasons (and if they fall short this season would be three out of four without a trip to the postseason) and have not won a playoff round since 2014.

After falling short of the postseason a year ago the Kings made some significant changes off the ice by letting go of coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi. The organization said all of the right things about wanting to But the results on the ice are very much the same. A well-coached, well-positioned defensive team that is tough to score against that does a lot of things well but just doesn’t have the high-end talent throughout its roster to take advantage of it and win.

They can’t score. They do not generate a lot offensively. They seem to just lack … excitement. And creativity. And just anything that makes them even somewhat dangerous with the puck.

The big three that was the foundation of their Stanley Cup teams in 2012 and 2014 is still in place.

Anze Kopitar is still one of the great players in the league, but he can’t do it alone. At age 30 he is not getting any younger, either.

Drew Doughty is still a top-tier defenseman, but his contract is up after next season and it is not known if he will re-sign with the team. If he leaves a lot of what makes their defense work goes out the door and there is really no way to replace that.

Jonathan Quick is capable of going on hot streaks where he is unbeatable in net, but he also has stretches where his play dips significantly.

Beyond those three, what else is there here to really get excited about it you’re a Kings fan? Or the Kings as an organization?

You could point to Jeff Carter being sidelined for most of the season and how much his absence has hurt and you wouldn’t be wrong. But he also appeared in all 82 games last season and the Kings still missed the playoffs by eight points.

Dustin Brown had a nice bounce-back season at the start, but his production has cooled considerably in recent months and he’s still 33 year sold and signed for four more years at more than $5.5 million per season. This season will be the first time since 2011-12 he will record more than 36 points in a season. And that required a rather unsustainable hot streak of production at the start of the year to get him there that isn’t likely to be duplicated in future seasons.

Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli represented a next wave of young talent, and they are pretty good players, but now that they are both in the middle of their age 25 seasons this is probably the level of production (maybe 20 goals, maybe 45 points) that should be expected from them on a regular basis. Maybe they are capable of a bigger season on occasion, but probably nothing more than that consistently.

The NHL is getting younger, faster and more skilled every day and the Kings are lagging behind in all of those areas. They are one of the oldest teams in the league, they still try to live through “heavy hockey,” and they just don’t have enough high-end skill outside of their top two or three players. Even worse, there doesn’t seem to be much hope on the horizon that it will be any different unless they make some significant changes to the roster and the way they play.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be a scorched earth, Buffalo Sabres-style tank-fest for the next five years, but the current formula and structure in Los Angeles is no longer working with the current cast. They seem to be more than just one or two tweaks away from fixing it.

The longer they wait on hitting the reset button, the worse it is probably going to get.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Why Rangers’ McDonagh is worth steep trade price

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During this weekend’s Saturday Headlines segment on Sportsnet, Elliotte Friedman noted that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins might rank as frontrunners for New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh.

That mention constituted just a tiny portion of the segment, as players’ names were batted around, yet McDonagh’s name captivates for a number of factors. If you want to dig deep into possible costs for McDonagh, Blueshirt Banter has a great, detailed rundown. As Joe Fortunato mentions, the Rangers don’t need to trade McDonagh, so that could help them fetch a steeper price.

While it wouldn’t be possible to know what the true asking price would be until we saw a deal come to fruition, I’d wager that McDonagh would probably be worth it, especially compared to the reported demands the Ottawa Senators have for Derick Brassard. If you’re talking about only a slight premium price for McDonagh (a top pairing defenseman, something incredibly tough to trade for) versus Brassard (a respectable center, which is valuable but not as rare), it becomes that much easier to stomach a hypothetical McDonagh deal.

[Rangers acknowledge rebuild, avoid Alain Vigneault questions]

Why, you (maybe) ask? Well, allow me …

McDonagh is affordable

There will come a time when McDonagh gets his money. He’ll be part of a defenseman gold rush lead by Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty, also featuring gems like McDonagh, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Ryan Ellis. Some of those guys might sign extensions before their deals expire after the 2018-19 season, yet they all may influence how the crowd gets paid.

That’s certainly a concern for a team wanting to recoup some of the costs of trading for McDonagh by re-signing him, but as it stands, it’s better to be cheap now rather than never.

McDonagh’s an absolute steal at $4.7 million through this season and 2018-19. That makes him more affordable during this looming trade deadline, and easier to work in next summer, particularly if the cap rises as expected.

McDonagh might be a rare player who gets better after a trade

In a lot of cases, a big name struggles after a move. There are plenty of potential explanations for that, from off-ice (dealing with distractions like finding a place to live) to on the ice (chemistry with linemates, a different coach, a less fancy team jet if you’re Mike Modano).

Allow me to wager that McDonagh might actually flourish on a strong team like the Bruins or Lightning, or really any contender that could use someone like him (which, honestly, is just about any contender, especially if they move players along with futures in a trade).

Last season and for some time, McDonagh was chained to Dan Girardi. You can reasonably speculate that such an assignment limited McDonagh in some ways; check this ghastly HERO chart or merely note that the Rangers bought out Girardi, essentially paying him not to play for their team any longer.

This time around, McDonagh’s been lining up most often with Nick Holden only slightly less often than being on the ice at the same time as Henrik Lundqvist, according to Natural Stat TrickVia this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, you can see that Holden might be limiting McDonagh, too.

So, a buyer could look at acquiring McDonagh two ways: by imagining how much he might flourish with a more capable partner or by realizing that he might be able to drag someone limited along. It’s more fun to imagine the flourishing idea, but both scenarios bring value.

The window could always close

The Bruins are flying high in part because young players are stepping into notable roles, but let’s not forget how recently this team seemed like it was getting old and declining. Zdeno Chara is 40, Patrice Bergeron is 32, Tuukka Rask is 30, and even Brad Marchand is 29. Each of those four key players have a lot of mileage on them relative to their age; as we’ve seen with the Blackhawks, regression can close in on a roster with cruel speed.

For all we know, this might be the best rendition we’ll see of these B’s for some time. Maybe it’s best to take a swing for the fence?

The Lightning, on the other hand, seem set for years with a fresh core. Steven Stamkos feels like he’s been around forever, yet he’s still only 27.

That said, the salary cap could make it tough for the Bolts to retain this current surplus. Most obviously, superstar Nikita Kucherov won’t be a nigh-offensive $4.76 million bargain much longer; his deal expires after 2018-19. Why not load up now?

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You can apply similar logic to a vast array of contenders, with the main limitation being whether or not said teams can muster the assets the Rangers would demand for McDonagh. We’ve seen big trades fall flat before, but there’s a strong chance that the talented, versatile blueliner could really move the needle.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Senators extend GM, hint at rebuild

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The theme of this week might be “fledgling teams acknowledging a need to rebuild, even as they frustrate their fans in other ways.”

After the New York Rangers acknowledged reality while skirting the Alain Vigneault issue, the Ottawa Senators followed suit, but they also made the questionable decision to hand GM Pierre Dorion a three-year contract extension.

(The Senators did part ways with president/CEO Tom Anselmi, however.)

Press releases often read as dry material, yet in each case it was interesting to see the writing on the wall not get ignored. Granted, the word “rebuild” itself didn’t get thrown around; the Rangers website used “retool” while the Senators stated that Dorion would “concentrate on building a foundation of sustainable success.”

“Today’s announcement reflects a renewed commitment to scouting, drafting and development,” Owner Eugene Melnyk said. “It may require changes to our lineup. Rest assured, we will only tolerate pain with an endgame in mind: building an organization that wins – at all levels – year in and year out.”

Of course, it’s difficult to ignore that the Senators must “tolerate pain” that is, in many ways, self-inflicted.

It’s likely a relief that Matt Duchene has been picking up steam lately, yet the goal wasn’t just to add a player, but rather find a catalyst to at least make the playoffs. Ottawa wouldn’t have placed a first-rounder that will either be in 2018 or 2019 on the line if they really expected things to play out this way. The Mika ZibanejadDerick Brassard deal is another significant trade made under Dorion’s watch, and while many lean toward New York’s take since Mika Z is younger, the two centers’ play has been fairly even so far.

When you look at the Senators’ salary structure and see some shaky deals, it’s important to remember that some of those errors were made by previous GM Bryan Murray rather than Dorion, who’s only been in that position since April 2016.

Whether it’s trading Zibanejad or Kyle Turris, it’s important to remember that the Senators’ budget-conscious ways likely play a role in some of Dorion’s decisions, shedding some light on some deals where the Senators come across as if they’re paying a premium for lateral moves.

Even if you’re easy on Dorion, it’s kind of tough to believe that he’s not that far removed from being a finalist for GM of the Year, although hiring Guy Boucher had a lot to do with that.

Most important decisions ahead

One way or another, Senators fans aren’t most interested in whether or not their GM was getting an extension in the near future.

This merely clarifies that Dorion (and of course, Melnyk) will end up being involved in the absolutely pivotal decision regarding superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson, whose bargain $6.5 million cap hit expires after 2018-19.

Karlsson’s made no qualms about getting the best deal possible after Drew Doughty hinted at as much. As dire as the Senators seem at times lately, imagining Ottawa without Karlsson is downright frightening. That said, he’s dealt with some significant – and freakish – injuries during his career, and he’s already 27. Re-signing Karlsson likely means rolling the dice that at least a portion of what you’d expect to be a lengthy contract would cover some time past his prime.

Considering that such a deal might carry an AAV above $10M per year, such a contract could be scary.

The Senators have seen long-term pacts go sideways, too. Bobby Ryan‘s $7.25M cap hit runs through (somehow) 2021-22, while they only get slightly more relief with Dion Phaneuf ($7M, ending after 2020-21).

With Karlsson needing a new deal after next season and Mark Stone headed toward RFA status this summer, there are some crucial decisions to be made, and it looks like Dorion will make them, at least alongside his owner.

(Note: we’ve seen GMs and coaches get fired in situations like these, even sometimes in close proximity to extensions, so you can never be totally certain.)

As of this moment, extending Dorion seems like a questionable move, at best.

That said, it’s also questionable to have your GM in a “lame duck” position with an expiring contract in the first place, particularly with some huge decisions looming. If nothing else, the Senators can focus on the Karlsson decision and other choices now, rather than wondering if someone else will be in charge in mere months.

What a mess. Can Dorion clean it up? The Senators are gambling that he can.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Andersen shuts down Preds; Another McDavid effort wasted

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Player Of The Night: Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up a big shootout win over the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night thanks in large part to another great performance from starting goaltender Frederik Andersen.

Andersen stopped 44 out of 46 shots on the night and then another six in the shootout.

It was already the fifth time this season (via NHL Public Relations) Andersen has won a game in which he has stopped at least 40 shots, more than any other goaltender in the NHL. Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson is the only other goalie that has at least four such wins.

With a .922 save percentage on the season Andersen has been great for the Maple Leafs and a huge part of their success. Given that the Maple Leafs still have some work to do to improve defensively he is going to play a big role in determining how far they are able to advance in the playoffs.

McDavid Scores Again, But Oilers Lose Again

For the seventh time in the past three games Connor McDavid found the back of the night for the Edmonton Oilers, and it was a pretty outstanding goal as he blew past Drew Doughty with ease and scored his 22nd goal of the season. The sad thing about McDavid scoring seven goals in the past three games? The Oilers have won just one of those games after losing to the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 on Wednesday night. That is pretty much the story of their season. McDavid is great. The rest of the team stinks. It is going to be one of the all-time great wasted seasons. They remain 13 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference playoff race and pretty much need to win 25 of their next 30 games the rest of the way to have a chance to get in.

Highlight Of The Night

Kasperi Kapanen has been a great addition to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup and he scored a beauty of a shorthanded goal on Wednesday night to put his team up 2-0. Take a look at this individual effort.

Highlight Of The Night Part 2

Speaking of great individual efforts, let’s go back to New York where Boston Bruins forward Tim Schaller kind of embarrassed the Rangers’ defense.

Factoid Of The Night

Drew Doughty became just the second Los Angeles Kings defenseman to record at least 300 career assists and 400 career points. The only other defenseman in team history to reach those milestones was Rob Blake. [NHL Public Reactions]

Scores

Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Nashville Predators 2

Boston Bruins 6, New York Rangers 1

Los Angeles Kings 5, Edmonton Oilers 2

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Key returns: Quick for Kings, Forsberg for Predators

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Tonight’s Los Angeles Kings – Nashville Predators game (watch live on NBCSN) sees two teams closer to full-strength than they’ve been in a while.

Granted, for the Kings, it hasn’t been much of a wait. While Jonathan Quick was activated from IR on Thursday, it might have been partially a function of getting him a breather during the All-Star break as much as anything else.

That said, Quick had been struggling with just one win in his last seven games. He’s off to a bumpy start, with one goal allowed (Craig Smith) after a Ryan Johansen goal was disallowed because of a goalie interference call.

Filip Forsberg made his presence felt on that would-be Johansen goal, creating a turnover and getting the puck to Johansen. The goal didn’t count because Viktor Arvidsson bumped Drew Doughty into Quick.

Moments after this post was published, Forsberg scored early on in the Predators’ 5-on-3 power play.

One month missed

The Predators deserve credit for playing well without Forsberg, with some other key players going in and out of the lineup as well. Nashville was 7-2-2 in his absence.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that they’re a more dangerous team with Forsberg than without, what with the Swedish winger being pretty close to a point-per game guy (34 points in 37 contests coming into Thursday’s action).

Looking at January stats specifically, it’s easiest to see the impact on Johansen, who only managed four assists in 10 games while suffering a -5 rating.

According to Left Wing Lock, the most common Predators trio was Johansen, Arvidsson, and Pontus Aberg. Aberg didn’t really do much with that opportunity, and he went from top-line duty to a healthy scratch with Forsberg back.

***

Particularly in the case of the Predators, Thursday serves as a teaser for what this team is truly capable of, as Ryan Ellis has been revving things up with Forsberg out of the mix.

Granted, there’s still the matter of integrating Mike Fisher back into the lineup, but either way, this could be a force to be reckoned with.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.