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.