Kings’ problems run far deeper than their coach

8 Comments

The Los Angeles Kings put an end to the John Stevens era on Sunday afternoon, firing the coach just 13 games into his second season behind their bench. Given how horrendous they looked in their first-round playoff exit a year ago, and how much they have struggled this season, some sort of a change somewhere in the organization seemed inevitable. The coach is usually the first place teams look in a last-ditch effort to save a season that is teetering on the brink of falling apart.

Maybe Stevens wasn’t the right coach for the Kings.

Maybe the team needed a different voice and some new ideas and a new approach and a new system.

But even if all of that is true there should be no mistaking that the Kings’ decision on Sunday is nothing more than a short-term band-aid on what has become a run-of-the-mill franchise with a growing list of long-term problems.

[Related: Kings fire John Stevens]

Last February I argued that the Kings were one of the aging, veteran teams in the NHL that were in dire need of a top-to-bottom overhaul. They were short on high-end talent, short on youth, short on speed, and still trying to play a brand of hockey from an era that no longer exists.

Their solution over the summer: To bring a 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk back from Russia following a five year absence from the NHL.

And that was it.

And while Kovalchuk has been as good as the Kings could have possibly expected him to be (he actually leads the team in scoring with 11 points in 13 games), he alone was never going to be enough to fix a stagnant offense that looked like it was playing a completely different, and not to mention vastly inferior, game than the Vegas team that skated circles around them in the playoffs. An offense that has finished higher than 14th in goals scored once over the past decade. An offense that, more often than not, is in the bottom-five of the league.

Unless he brought a time machine back from Russia that could transport him back to 2009 he was not going to be able to make the Kings younger or faster, two of the biggest issues currently plaguing the current organization. He was just going to be another mid-30s player that is a fraction of his former dominant self on a team built around mid-30s players that are fractions of their once dominant selves.

Here is the current situation the Kings are facing on the day they fired their coach.

  • They are at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, already eight points out of a playoff spot, and facing a daunting mountain when it comes to making the postseason. This after missing the playoffs in two of the previous four seasons and not making it out of the first round since 2014.
  • They are the second oldest team in the NHL and still play at a glacial pace.
  • They have one of the biggest salary cap numbers in the league and do not have any big contracts coming off the books after this season.
  • They only have three players on the roster right now under the age of 25 that have appeared in more than eight games this season. Those three players — Austin Wagner, Michael Amadio, and Adrian Kempe — are all averaging less than 12 minutes of ice-time per game and have combined for three points this season.
  • They have seven players over the age of 31 signed for at least three more seasons.
  • The key players that are still in the prime of their careers, specifically Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, are simply … okay. They are decent middle-six players, but if either one of them ever gives you 50 points in a season it would be considered a huge success. They are not core players to build around.

Anything there that excites you?

Just about the best thing you could say about this Kings team right now to offer any sort of short-term hope is that Anze Kopitar has yet to play his best hockey this season, and that they are finally getting Dustin Brown back in the lineup after he missed the first month of the season.

But is Brown going to be able to repeat his 2017-18 performance, which is looking like a pretty significant outlier given where his career has gone over the past four years? Is Kopitar going to be able to provide enough offense to drag the rest of the team behind him again?

And that’s not even getting into the fact they are going to be playing backup goalies for the next few weeks as Jonathan Quick remains sidelined.

Whether it is John Stevens, or Willie Desjardins, or some yet-to-be-named coach that is sitting at home waiting for a phone call, it is going to be a huge ask to expect them to make something out of this current setup.

Even after firing the coach, the Kings are still a team in need of a rebuild.

It is a team that has been in need of a rebuild for maybe two years now.

Unfortunately for them no one in the organization seems to realize it yet.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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: NHL trade deadline reactions

NHL News
Getty
Leave a 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.

• Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas got most of his trade work done before the trade deadline. (Toronto Sun)

• The Vegas Golden Knights signed Nick Holden to a two-year contract extension on Monday. (Vegas Golden Knights)

• Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving tinkered with his lineup without giving much away. (Calgary Herald)

• The Pittsburgh Penguins did not add any defenseman on Monday but still need to figure out their defense pairings. (Pensburgh)

• The Montreal Canadiens failed to give their fans much clarity after a confusing trade deadline. (Sportsnet)

• The Edmonton Oilers added a ton of speed up front (Edmonton Journal)

• This trade deadline turned out to be uncharted territory for the Carolina Hurricanes. (Canes Country)

• The Buffalo Sabres players made their pleas on the ice and general manager Jason Botterill listened. (The Buffalo News)

• Despite some big rumors the Minnesota Wild stood pat at the trade deadline. (Star Tribune)

• Will Erik Gustafsson and Derek Forbort be enough to get the Calgar Flames in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? (The Hockey News)

• The Philadelphia Flyers tried to bolster their lines. (NBC Philadelphia)

• Ilya Kovalchuk is a low-risk spark for the Washington Capitals. (Japers’ Rink)

• The Rangers are finally back after wild NHL trade deadline. (New York Post)

• Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman looks to the future. (Chicago Tribune)

• Don Sweeney added depth and financial flexibility at the NHL trade deadline for the Boston Bruins (Bruins Daily)

• It was tough to for Ottawa Senators fans to see Jean-Gabriel Pageau go, but it was great to see the return. (Silver Seven Sens)

• After a quiet NHL trade deadline Winnipeg Jets fans are going to expect some movement this summer. (Winnipeg Free Press)

• The Buffalo Sabres were aggressive deals at the NHL trade deadlie. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

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.

First-round picks not for rent on NHL trade deadline day

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Not many first-round picks were in play at the NHL trade deadline Monday, except for contenders picking up players for now and the future.

The New York Islanders traded a conditional first-round pick to Ottawa as part of their trade for center Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Tampa Bay Lightning also parted with a first-rounder to get 26-year-old forward Barclay Goodrow from San Jose. The Carolina Hurricanes sent the New York Rangers a first round pick for 25-year-old defenseman Brady Skjei.

Goodrow has another year left on his contract, Skjei is signed for four seasons after this one and the Islanders locked up Pageau with a $30 million, six-year contract extension.

”He has signed an extension, and we’re delighted with that, especially with the age he’s at and what we feel he can bring,” Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said.

Tampa Bay also sent Vancouver’s first-round pick to New Jersey last week for Blake Coleman, and Boston gave up its first to get Ondrej Kase from Anaheim and shed David Backes’ contract. Other top teams were less willing to take that leap.

”I thought it was important that we kept our first-round pick,” said Washington Captials general manager Brian MacLellan, who traded a second-rounder, a third and a conditional third to get defenseman Brenden Dillon and winger Ilya Kovalchuk. ”I think if you want to add players at the deadline, you’ve got to spend seconds and thirds. And it’s whether you want to do the firsts.”

BATTLE OF ALBERTA

The Edmonton Oilers tried to give Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl some help by acquiring winger Andreas Athanasiou from Detroit and forward Tyler Ennis from Ottawa.

Edmonton sent 2020 and 2021 second-round picks and forward Sam Gagner to Detroit for Athanansiou, who’s a restricted free agent after this season. The Oilers also got winger Ryan Kuffner in the trade.

The Oilers got Ennis for a 2021 fifth-rounder and Sunday night acquired defenseman Mike Green from the Red Wings.

The Alberta rival Calgary Flames answered by getting defensemen Erik Gustafsson from Chicago and Derek Forbort from Los Angeles.

LEHNER TO VEGAS

The Vegas Golden Knights got goaltender Robin Lehner from the Blackhawks in a three-team trade that also involved the Maple Leafs.

Vegas traded backup goalie Malcolm Subban, prospect Slava Demin and a 2020 second-round pick to Chicago for Lehner.

The popular Lehner said he was excited to be going to Vegas, tweeting: ”Going to be a ride. Can’t wait to get there.” He is expected to back up Marc-Andre Fleury.

Toronto got a 2020 fifth-rounder for retaining part of Lehner’s salary and also sent prospect forward Martins Dzierkals to the Golden Knights.

SABRES ACTIVE

The Buffalo Sabres bought and sold on deadline day, getting wingers Wayne Simmonds and Dominik Kahun in a pair of trades.

Buffalo dealt a conditional 2021 fifth-round pick to New Jersey for Simmonds, a pending free agent, and traded forwards Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary to Pittsburgh for Kahun. The 24-year-old Kahun has 10 goals and 17 assists for the Penguins this season.

Simmonds, 31, adds depth to Buffalo’s forward ranks. The Sabres have been looking for secondary scoring behind captain and leading scorer Jack Eichel.

Trades juice up arms race in deep Metropolitan Division

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Metropolitan Division was already the deepest and most competitive in the NHL.

Now the race to the finish is getting juiced up.

Nearly every Metro contender made a move ahead of Monday’s trade deadline to gear up for the playoff push. The first-place Washington Capitals got it started by acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk, Pittsburgh answered by getting fellow veteran winger Patrick Marleau from San Jose and the New York Islanders got a major reinforcement in the form of center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who they signed to a $30 million, six-year extension.

And those teams weren’t alone. Carolina got immediate help by trading for forward Vincent Trocheck and defensemen Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen; Philadelphia made two depth forward moves by getting Derek Grant and Nate Thompson; and the Columbus Blue Jackets traded once-promising prospect Sonny Milano to Anaheim for forward Devin Shore.

Even the New York Rangers, whose recent hot streak put them within striking distance of a playoff position, kept forward Chris Kreider in the fold with a seven-year extension rather than dealing him away.

”Metro was pretty active,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. ”It is a tough division. Each team could beat the other team on any given night, you know, given good goaltending and I think every one of these teams thinks that they have a chance to come out of the Metro, which I believe they do.”

With seven teams in contention for four or five playoff spots, the arms race is on.

”I thought we were all pretty close going into it and now I think we’re all still close, only better teams,” MacLellan said. ”I think everybody did a good job in our division, and it’s going to be hard to get out of it.”

The Islanders traded conditional first- and third-round picks and a second to Ottawa for Pageau, who could be an ideal fit by adding offense. The Islanders rank 22nd in the league in goals per game, which probably won’t cut it when trying to compete with the high-scoring Capitals, Penguins and Flyers.

”You always have to wait and see,” Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello said. ”Sometimes I’ve seen the smallest move make a major difference.”

Washington and Pittsburgh each spent only a third-round pick to get a veteran looking to win the Stanley Cup for the first time. Kovalchuk joins a potent attack led by fellow Russians Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marleau will be a sentimental favorite with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

”Patrick is a player who can play anywhere in our lineup,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. ”He’s a good two-way player, provides leadership and will be a good fit with our team.”

Carolina paid the price of two roster players and two prospects for Trocheck, who has two more years left on his contract. Then, the Hurricanes strengthened their blue line amid injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce by getting Skjei and Vatanen.

GM Chuck Fletcher said the Flyers ”stuck to our plan” amid all the moves around the division.

Forwards Derek Grant and Nate Thompson are perfect for the Flyers’ mold as big, tough competitors who provide some needed depth. With Pageau’s price tag set so high, Philadelphia gave up only two fifth-round picks and a prospect to solve their need for centers and add size.

”They have always been a team that has had that confidence in the teams that they are hard to play against,” Thompson. ”Over the last few years, they have added speed and skill, but even their skilled guys are hard to play against and play with that snarl and I think that is something that you always think about when you play against the Flyers.”

Islanders bolstered with trade-deadline addition of Pageau

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — After standing pat at the trade deadline a year ago, New York Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello stressed that he didn’t believe in making a deal just to get a new player or two.

It had to be for the right players who would improve the team.

Lamoriello had the same message Monday after acquiring center Jean-Gabriel Pageau from Ottawa at this year’s deadline. The move came eight days after the addition of defenseman Andy Greene from New Jersey.

“I think the message to our players in both years is we believe in them and we will always try and make the team better,” Lamoriello said on a conference call.

“You have to be careful at the given time what the needs are and who the type of player is that you want in there and you target that. And if you don’t get that player, you don’t just make a move for the sake of doing it. Last year, we would have made a move if we could’ve gotten the player that maybe we felt could’ve added and not just been another player. Fortunately for us this year, we were able to get that player in that position.”

That’s a big step for an Islanders team that had frustrated some fans by failing to make significant moves at the deadline in recent years. However, when Lamoriello was hired in May 2018, he vowed to change the culture of a team that had missed the playoffs for the eighth time in 11 seasons.

He’s done just that.

Last season, the Islanders spent a big chunk of the season at the top of the Metropolitan Division before finishing second. They swept Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs when everything seemed to be going their way, then got swept by Carolina when they struggled to score.

This season, New York had a stellar start that featured a franchise-record 17-game point streak (15-0-2) before cooling off and shuffling between third place in the division and the Eastern Conference’s two wild cards in recent weeks – even briefly falling out of a playoff spot entirely.

“I’ve heard only good things about the Islanders,” said the 27-year-old Pageau, who agreed to a six-year, $30 million extension following the trade. “I couldn’t be more excited to go on a team that’s going to be competing every year for a playoff, for a championship. … As a player, that’s what we play for, that’s what drives us.”

While Greene was brought on to help a defensive unit that was weakened after Adam Pelech’s season-ending Achilles injury last month, Pageau bolsters the Islanders in the middle. He will likely center the third line behind Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson, with Casey Cizikas on the fourth line once he heals up after a laceration on his left leg.

Pageau comes to New York after putting up a career-high 24 goals and 40 points – just three shy of his best – in 60 games with Ottawa this season. He had four goals and five assists on the power play, and three goals and three assists short-handed.

“It solidifies down the middle for a good period of time,” Lamoriello said. “(Pageau) is a player who fits right in with who we are, the way we play and the style we play. I don’t think there will be much of an adjustment period for him. … I don’t think there were many people out there that could have filled this need, and we were fortunate to get one of them that could.”

Lamoriello wasn’t concerned that Pageau’s extension – which comes after the team re-signed captain Anders Lee and fellow forwards Nelson and Jordan Eberle to big deals last summer – would be a hindrance this summer when Barzal and defensemen Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews are restricted free agents.

“We’ll worry about that when the time comes,” Lamoriello said. “We certainly have every intention of signing our restricted free agents.”

Pageau was expected to join the Islanders on Tuesday ahead of their home game against the rival New York Rangers, but both he and Lamoriello were unsure if all the paperwork would be filed and approved in time for the newcomer to make his debut.

“I know playing the Rangers is a big rivalry,” said Pageau, who had four goals against the Rangers in a 2017 playoff game. “Obviously it’d be an exciting start to play the game.”