Jeff Carter

Getty

Short on talent, Kings are in need of overhaul

4 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

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.

————

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Nugent-Hopkins for Hoffman makes sense; OAR dominate Slovenia

Getty
1 Comment
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Team USA veterans like Brian Gionta and Matt Gilroy have helped young players feel comfortable. (NBC Olympics)

• Slovenia managed to beat Team USA, but they weren’t so fortunate against the Olympic Athletes of Russia. (NBC Olympics)

• The puck used to score Korea’s first goal at the Olympics is heading to the Hockey Hall of Fame. (Yonhap News)

• American Matt McIlvane has the opportunity of a lifetime to be part of Team Germany’s coaching staff. (NBC Olympics)

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

• The Kings probably won’t have to make a trade to get an offensive boost, as Jeff Carter is closing in on a return. (LA Times)

• A trade involving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mike Hoffman makes a lot of sense for the Sens and Oilers. (TSN.ca)

• It’s been a rough year for the Blackhawks, but it looks like they have a plan moving forward. (ESPN)

• Dave Lozo writes an interesting piece about how every team should make the playoffs! (Vice Sports)

• Sabres could Chad Johnson could be on the move before the trade deadline. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• How will Lightning GM Steve Yzerman approach the trade deadline? (Raw Charge)

• Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers has a hard time scoring on breakaways. (Jets Nation)

Zach Werenski showed off his elite vision while shopping for furniture. (1st Ohio Battery)

• Here’s the story of a young hockey player that left Canaan to come to Canada to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL. (Times of Israel)

• Certain Sabres have stepped up in Jack Eichel‘s absence. (Die By the Blade)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Possible trade destinations for Rick Nash

Getty Images
9 Comments

Not long ago, PHT passed along word that the New York Rangers have reportedly asked Rick Nash to hand over his no-trade lists.

Basically, it breaks down as: 18 teams he wouldn’t accept a trade to and 12 teams he’d accept a trade to.

As TSN’s Bob McKenzie notes in that post, it’s possible that Nash could try to short-circuit a potential move by listing 12 teams that wouldn’t be likely to have interest. It’s also worth noting that we don’t know how either of Nash’s lists shake out.

While much is up in the air, there are some objective facts worth keeping in mind: Nash is 33, so it’s that much more likely that he’d be seen as a pure rental. As a pending UFA, he could easily return to the Rangers during the summer, if there’s mutual interest.

Nash also carries a colossal $7.8 million cap hit this season. On the bright side, Cap Friendly estimates his remaining cap hit as $2.6M as of today; either way, a team might prefer that the Rangers retain at least part of his salary, or eat a funky contract in return.

One other note: back in June 2016, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported that Nash would not accept a trade to a Canadian team on a previous no-trade list. It’s unclear if that stance has changed, as he might be more amenable to such an idea in a contract year.

Anyway, it could be a fun exercise to ponder 12 potential destinations for Nash. Keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily a list of the 12 most likely destinations. In a lot of cases, it came down to entertainment value, so your mileage may vary.

Now, in no particular order while assuming that the Rangers wouldn’t send Nash to the Islanders:

Columbus Blue Jackets

How fun would a reunion be?

Back in 2002, Nash became the Blue Jackets’ first-ever No. 1 overall pick after they selected fourth overall in 2000 and eighth in 2001. In nine seasons with Columbus, Nash was often the only bright side on shaky roster, scoring almost 300 goals. The nostalgia factor would be extremely cool here.

But it’s not just about that.

Nash has experience with John Tortorella, something that should never be underestimated. This Blue Jackets team seems like it should be taking the next step forward; maybe an old hero could give them that extra shove?

(It helps that Columbus has relatively solid salary cap flexibility, too.)

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Rangers might not want to enhance their division rival’s chances of winning three in a row, but what if Pittsburgh makes them a great offer?

Pittsburgh would probably need to package a contract or two to make this work (Ian Cole, maybe a Carl Hagelin reunion?), yet that thought might sweeten the pot for the Blueshirts.

Injuries have really been an issue for the Penguins, so Nash would be a nice fit, especially since he’d likely do well in their aggressive offense. Who knows how many shots this core has left, so why not take a big swing with Nash?

Washington Capitals

Bonus points in this case for uniting kindred spirits.

The Capitals put up big numbers in the regular season, only to suffer heartbreak in the playoffs, though the attacks on their character often feel like a bit much.

Rick Nash puts up big numbers in the reg–you know what, you probably get where that is going.

It would be poetic if the Capitals and Nash finally broke through together, much like that time A-Rod actually tore up the MLB playoffs.

St. Louis Blues

Injuries and regression took the bloom off the rose a bit for the Blues – remember when they were one of the hottest teams in the league? – but Nash could really tie the room together, especially if they insist on loading up with that top line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Nash – Paul StastnyAlexander Steen could be an extremely expensive and potentially dangerous second line, with plenty of motivation considering that Stastny, like Nash, is in a contract year.

You could probably assign some of that Capitals logic to Nash with St. Louis, too, as they’ve been snakebitten around spring time far too often.

San Jose Sharks

Let’s end this trilogy of torment with the Sharks (granted, San Jose shook off at least some of its baggage in making the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.)

This Sharks team is getting old enough that Nash won’t stick out like a sore thumb, so that’s nice.

Speaking of soreness, the Sharks’ trade decisions may hinge on Joe Thornton‘s knee, and adding Nash would make a lot of sense with a reasonably healthy Jumbo Joe. The two enjoyed some great scoring times together in Switzerland during one of the NHL’s lockouts, so maybe they’d rekindle that magic again? Thornton’s one of the rare expiring contract guys who’s actually making slightly more than Nash at $8M.

Dallas Stars

Consider how imbalanced the Stars’ scoring has been this season, and then imagine what would happen to this team if one or more of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, and John Klingberg got hurt?

Nash could add some punch to a team that’s making strides under Ken Hitchcock. You might not think that Dallas is a team that needs to worry about its window closing, but consider this: Tyler Seguin’s $5.75M cap hit expires after 2018-19. If they lock him up after that (psst. they should), then they might not have the cash for future rentals.

Why not stream a blockbuster while you still can?

Boston Bruins

Most of these teams would need the Rangers to take on a shaky contract, retain some salary, or both. The B’s rank as one of the tougher nuts to crack in that regard, and I’d wager that they’d probably be a better destination for fellow Rangers trade piece Michael Grabner with all of that in mind.

That said, it would be an interesting fit. During a playoff series, someone might miraculously slow down the locomotive that is the Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak line. If so, a supplemental scorer such as Nash could make a sneaky-impressive Bruins team that much more formidable.

Winnipeg Jets

So, we’re going to name a Canadian team here or there, just in case. As Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said on Saturday:

“Maybe, just maybe, a guy like Rick Nash would be of interest,” Kypreos said. “I don’t know whether or not that would fit in with where he is in his list of teams that he’d want to go to. But that’s the type of guy I think that Winnipeg would be looking at.”

Beyond the Jets’ legitimate potential for a deep run (or at least a first ever playoff win), imagine how much offense Nash could generate if he landed on a line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele? Hey, if Nash waited until closer to the trade deadline, he’d bypass a good chunk of the brutal Winnipeg winter as well.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Winnipeg seems more realistic than Toronto if Nash resists the fishbowl atmosphere of Canadian media coverage. That said, maybe playing for Mike Babcock would make a difference?

Babs loves his veteran forwards, and his heart likely warms for Canadian Olympians, so that’s two boxes Nash checks off.

Again, this one might be far-fetched, yet Nash in a Maple Leafs jersey sounds pretty fun.

Anaheim Ducks

Ignore the Ducks’ youthful, impressive defensemen for a moment and consider their aging veteran forwards. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are both 32, while Ryan Kesler is 33. Much like Nash, these guys have a lot of mileage on them as longtime go-to players.

It’s been an odd duck season for Anaheim, but if they can get it together (and lock up a playoff spot), few teams would be all that eager to face this team in the playoffs. Nash could be that boost they need.

Los Angeles Kings

At least when it comes to forwards, the California teams sure feel a little creaky these days, don’t they?

Much like with the Sharks and Joe Thornton, a flawed Kings team could be a dangerous dark horse candidate if a) they land Nash and b) their injured center – in this case, Jeff Carter – can come back and be at least mostly himself.

Then again, the old guard in L.A. loved going for power forwards in Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic, and those short-term moves left quite a bit to be desired, so maybe this wouldn’t appeal enough to the Kings.

Philadelphia Flyers

You could put a number of teams in this 12th spot. Maybe the Devils and Rangers would make nice long enough to find a deal? Perhaps the Hurricanes would be proactive and try to fight their way out of purgatory?

Philly might be a little harsh for a streaky scorer like Nash, but look at that current lineup, and imagine it with that little extra “oomph.” Nash could allow the Flyers to move Jakub Voracek back with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. He could fit into that deadly top power play or maybe echo Phil Kessel in Pittsburgh by giving this team a more varied attack.

Despite a frustrating four-game losing streak, the Flyers are still in wild card position as of this writing. GM Ron Hextall has done a masterful job breaking the organization’s old, reckless habits of going after headline-stealing trades and signings. Still, every now and then it actually pays to be bold. They merely need to consult the other team in their state for prime examples.

***

To reiterate, this is not a list of the 12 teams Nash would accept trades to. He still might refuse a trip to the Great White North. He may only want to stay as close to NYC as possible.

That said, it can often be as fun to picture different trade scenarios as it is to watch real ones play out.

What are some other teams that would make sense? And would you even want Nash on your team? Do tell.

NHL.com’s Dan Rosen reasonably throws the Nashville Predators in the mix, too:

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.

How good are the red-hot Kings, really?

Getty
3 Comments

The Los Angeles Kings play beyond a lot of people’s sleepy times, so many might have missed this, but they’re once again boiling-hot right now, what with their seven-game winning streak. While the St. Louis Blues are up there with them, the Kings came into Friday leading the Western Conference with 41 points in just 30 games played.

With all of that in mind, let’s ponder who and what might be driving the Kings, how this year’s team remains different from the Darryl Sutter days, and the hot streaks that might cool off.

GOATpitar

Giving long-time great players “lifetime achievement” awards via individual trophies is one part charming and two parts obnoxious, but if you must force such a sentiment, Anze Kopitar‘s making quite the argument for a hat-tip Hart Trophy.

For one thing, he’s in range of the Art Ross Trophy after years of being a guy who would top out around 70 points, leaving him strong but not strong enough to threaten for the lead. With 36 points in 30 games, Kopitar could eclipse his career-best 81 points from 2009-10, the only time he hit the 80-range. As of this writing, he’s ranked sixth overall in the NHL.

That’s impressive on its own, but consider that he’s been chained to Dustin Brown (who’s MYSTERIOUSLY enjoying a profound career revival) and Alex Iafallo, an undrafted forward who came into 2017-18 with nary a game of NHL experience under his belt. Hot take: the gap between Kopitar and Brown is larger than that between Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

Wherever you rank Kopitar among the elite, he’s reclaimed his place as one of the best forwards – nay, players – in the NHL. As it turns out, some of those “I feel healthy!” stories have some merit, after all.

The Kings’ triumvirate reigns

So far, Los Angeles has been propelled by its biggest names: Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick, three stars so revitalized, it’s kind of surprising that someone hasn’t flopped out some asinine “The Kings hated Darryl Sutter theory.”

(Oh no, I didn’t jinx it, did I? Sorry.)

Doughty currently has 24 points on the season, ranking third among Kings scorers. He could set career-highs, and even if he slows down, seems likely to at least generate the third 50+ point season of his career. Oh yeah, Doughty’s also gleefully acknowledging the buckets of money he’ll likely collect after his contract expires following the 2018-19 campaign. Seasons like these might not hurt his value, you might assume.

Finally, there’s Jonathan Quick …

Ridiculous goaltending

… Which brings us to at least one big, red flag.

With a career .916 save percentage, Quick might be playing over his head a bit with his current season, generating a splendid .929 mark.

Then again, maybe you could argue that the Kings are playing to his strengths more often system-wise, and/or getting him to tweak his techniques to best take advantage of his outstanding athleticism. Those are all plausible points, although it’s reasonable to wonder if he might, say, slip closer to a still-very-good .920 flat.

The overall goaltending is almost certain to slip, though, as Darcy Kuemper (career .912 save percentage) isn’t likely to maintain a shockingly efficient .941 save percentage.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Kings will go from sitting on the netminding throne to allowing goals like jesters, but one would expect at least some regression. It will be intriguing to find out how much they might slip.

No longer the puck hogs

For years, the Kings were far and away the most dominant team from a puck possession standpoint, while also often suffering from poor shooting and/or save percentages. Now, according to Natural Stat Trick and other sites, they’re a middle-of-the-pack possession team with blindingly outstanding shooting and saving numbers.

The truth is out there is likely somewhere in between with this team. The organizational push toward quality after years of quantity is modern-minded, so this is ultimately a good step, even if some of the results might be a touch misleading.

Road warriors

One trait the Kings share with many of the other NHL’s top teams is just how well their game has traveled so far. Right now, they’re a bit better on the road (10-3-1) than at home (9-5-2). Maybe that will dip a bit, but it’s nice to bank those tougher wins while you can. In many cases, winning those extra road games could mean, say, getting that playoff Game 7 at home a bit more often.

Interesting supporting cast

So, there are some intriguing things to consider about the Kings:

  • Iafallo ranks as one of a few solid new/new-ish players. Adrian Kempe‘s been great so far, while established-but-under-the-radar wingers Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli are contributing nicely. Just feast your eyes on this beauty of a goal.

And, heck, this one for good measure:

  • I feel the need to mention that Jake Muzzin‘s been quite effective, too, and continues to build a nice resume as one of the other guys on the Kings defense.
  • Some veteran scorers could influence this team’s ceiling.

On one hand, you have Jeff Carter, a forward who’s carried the Kings offense during significant stretches during recent seasons, sometimes being the main catalyst when Kopitar struggled. Can he get healthy? Is he finally hitting the regression wall with his 33rd birthday looming on New Year’s Day? (Aside: today is Doughty’s birthday, fittingly enough.)

On the other hand, Marian Gaborik has six points in eight games. This isn’t to say that Gabby will find the fountain of youth and regain his status as “that high-scoring guy when he’s able to play,” but if he can even flirt with the form he showed in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Kings suddenly have depth to go with what’s been a top-heavy group so far.

***

Overall, there are some clear signs that the Kings are probably playing over their heads.

A team that once was forced to grind through bad luck and low-percentage plays now seems to hit the lottery with percentages more than we’ve seen with L.A. in some time.

Still, it’s not all gloomy, especially if the Kings can beef up their supporting cast. Considering the age of their core players, they might just want to test their championship window and ponder a worthwhile “rental” or two.

A franchise that once seemed to be swirling down the sink now gets to swing for the fence one more time.

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: Backhander compliments

Getty

Arena/expansion fun

Another positive step for an NHL team in Seattle.

Hurricanes on the way to being sold, but not moved (and more).

Notable Nights

There were a handful of strong player of the night candidates, so let’s rattle them off. Before you get angry that your guy was left out, please note that this is a lightning round, not a comprehensive list.

  • Jakub Voracek is really starting to heat up, collecting three assists in the Flyers’ 4-1 win against the Canucks, Philly’s third consecutive win. This is the second time in three games that Voracek’s managed a three-assist night, with one assist sandwiched in between for seven points in three contests.

Instead of allowing mediocre shooting luck to be his downfall (seven goals on 108 SOG for just 6.5 percent success rate), Voracek is piling up points; he now has a whopping 37 points in 29 games. You could argue that he’s the greatest catalyst for a fantastic trio with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.

  • Two guys with two-goal nights make the list because of context. David Backes managed two tallies despite the reasonable argument that he shouldn’t be playing so soon after having part of his colon removed. Sean Monahan, meanwhile, is starting to earn the nickname Mr. Overtime.

  • Joe Thornton‘s three-point night helped the Sharks manage an impressive comeback against the Hurricanes, culminating in a 5-4 OT win. They had been down 4-2 late in the contest.

Stealing that ’70s Show

Jeff Carter‘s sadly on the shelf, but two other key cast members of “That ’70s Line” combined for a beauty. Tyler Toffoli did most of the work in befuddling the Senators – including Erik Karlsson – while Tanner Pearson scored the goal:

Backhanders: not dead yet

Boy, it seemed like there were some especially nice backhand goals tonight. Gabriel Landeskog and Steven Stamkos dueled with backhand goals in the time you’d reheat leftovers in the microwave (with Stamkos’ tally being my favorite of the two, style-wise):

Christian Dvorak broke a personal slump with one of the best goals of the night. The turnover he forced really sold it.

More Factoids

Vladislav Namestnikov and Steven Stamkos both were back to business in scoring one goal and two assists apiece, and the Lightning are just on another level. So consider those two as additional player of the night.

And one more Jumbo Joe note, because beating Jaromir Jagr in a stat is almost always a feat worth gloating about:

The Kings now lead the West with 41 standings points after rattling off their seventh win in a row on Thursday night. Impressive stuff.

Scary Moment

Along with Sidney Crosby‘s injury scare, there was this moment for the Coyotes. Yikes:

Rieder returned soon after, but like with Crosby, it’s wise to monitor the situation.

Scores

Bruins 6, Coyotes 1
Penguins 4, Islanders 3 (OT)
Flames 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Lightning 5, Avalanche 2
Panthers 6, Jets 4
Blues 3, Stars 0
Flyers 4, Canucks 1
Kings 4, Senators 3 (OT)
Sharks 5, Hurricanes 4 (OT)

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.