Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings.
Let’s ponder three questions facing the Los Angeles Kings.
1. What is Rob Blake’s end-game this season?
The short-term outlook appears to be incredibly grim. Even if Anze Kopitar bounces back (and he better at $10 million a season for the four years) and Jonathan Quick stays healthy and improves upon his disastrous save percentage from last year, will it really move the needle in the right direction?
Blake’s ace up his sleeve, if he has one, is several should-be motivated players entering contract years. The likes of Tyler Toffoli, Trevor Lewis, Kyle Clifford and Derek Forbort will be looking for new deals (and likely not in L.A.)
Ideally, Blake and Co. would be promoting these folks so they can ship them out at the trade deadline for assets.
There’s not a whole lot else he can do. There are some contracts — Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Ilya Kovalchuk — that likely aren’t going anywhere, so Blake needs to get what he can for the players he can deal.
This season needs to be about prospect development and getting the most back from the trade deadline as possible. Give fans a reason to hope again after last season’s abomination.
[MORE: 2018-19 review | X-factor]
2. Is it time to usher in the next crop of goaltenders?
Quick is coming off the worst season of his career and still has four years left on a contract paying him $5.8 million annually.
The days of him being worth that kind of cash seem behind him. Two of the past three seasons have been marred by significant injuries and with the team deteriorating around him, questions of motivation understandably have come into play.
It’s entirely possible that Quick bounces back this season. If healthy and rejuvenated under new head coach Todd McLellan, perhaps Quick can rekindle his Vezina-caliber play.
But even if everything falls into place for Quick, should the team run with it?
If this team is truly thinking of rebuilding, more time should be afforded to Jack Campbell — the one bright spot on the Kings roster last season — and Cal Petersen, who the Kings are very high on when it comes to leading this team in the future.
And perhaps that’s the direction the team should take, with Quick acting more as a high-priced mentor.
3. Can Todd McLellan start to fix the problems?
The Kings aren’t expected to be relevant this year in terms of the standings, but can they at least ice a competitive team?
That’s the tall order that McLellan took on when he accepted the post in Los Angeles.
He enters a situation where the team had the second-fewest goals-for, fourth-most goals against and special teams that were hardly memorable. And he’s been given a cast of players, many of which are on the back nine of their careers.
A tall order, indeed.
McLellan should be focused on the young blood in the team while using the veterans he has to mentor them. He also needs to showcase the team’s pending unrestricted free agents to receive as much value as the team can get at the trade deadline.
McLellan isn’t going to be expected to win now, or at least shouldn’t be. But progress on the team’s future needs to be made.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck