NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings from Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
While the Avalanche hope to become true Stanley Cup contenders, the Kings wonder how to reclaim that form.
The next few months are crucial for both teams, only in dramatically different ways. After looking at Colorado’s climb to contention, let’s ponder how the Kings are handling their rebuild.
Kings get off to strong start with rebuild
Experts already rave about the building blocks the Kings have amassed.
The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler (sub required) and The Hockey Writers’ Josh Bell both ranked the Kings’ farm system number one in recent articles. In fact, Wheeler ranked the Kings first with “no hesitation.”
They seem to be combining quantity with quality. Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed six Kings prospects in his top 100 rankings (sub required), with Arthur Kaliyev finishing highest at seventh. Five of those six landed in the top 50 of that list, with Samuel Fagemo barely missing at 53.
You can nitpick elements of that pool, as with just about any. But overall, it seems like the Kings are pressing many of the right buttons. So far.
Trade deadline provides opportunities as Kings rebuild
Rob Blake could accelerate this rebuild with deft trades.
To his credit, he was already aggressive in landing a nice haul for Jake Muzzin last season, and once again extracted a solid package from Toronto in the Jack Campbell trade.
Neither Tyler Toffoli nor Alec Martinez boast the same trade value as Muzzin, but maybe the Kings can seize some opportunities anyway? This year’s deadline market seems pretty shallow, so perhaps Blake may take advantage.
Who should stick around?
Looking further down the line, it’s tough to imagine the Kings shaking loose from Jeff Carter or Dustin Brown. Moving Jonathan Quick also sounds unlikely.
(That said, the Kings should pull the trigger if there are suitors, and if Carter and others would comply.)
Ultimately, your optimism may vary regarding the futures for veteran stars Kopitar (32, $10M AAV through 2023-24) and Doughty (30, $11M AAV through 2026-27). Actually, go ahead and take a moment to wince at those contracts. That’s a natural reaction.
There’s only so much the Kings can do about the aging curve, at least since they already signed the extensions. The Kings could at least take steps to be proactive, though, with hopes that Doughty and/or Kopitar can still help out once the prospects (hopefully) bloom.
Right now, Doughty is averaging almost 26 minutes of ice time per game (25:56) while Kopitar is logging almost 21 (20:46). With the Kings far out of contention, I must ask … why would you run them into the ground? Wouldn’t it be wiser to take measures to keep them fresher for 2020-21 and beyond?
That’s where Todd McLellan creates an interesting dialogue. On one hand, there’s evidence that he’s a good or even very good coach, including in Hockey Viz’s breakdowns. That data argues that McLellan positively impacts his teams on both ends, especially lately:
The Kings can’t judge their coach based on structure alone, though. McLellan received some criticism for how he handled young players like Jesse Puljujarvi in Edmonton, so Los Angeles must be wary about McLellan’s development impact.
If McLellan can’t be convinced to scale down minutes for the likes of Doughty and Kopitar (at least after the deadline, in particular), then that’s a contextual problem, too.
Kings need some lottery ball luck for next phase of rebuild
Right now, the Kings rank as the worst team in the West, and second worst in the NHL. The Senators could sink below the Kings and grab the second-best lottery odds:
Shrewd moves propel rebuilds forward, but luck is crucial, too. As excited as people are about their prospects, the Kings’ rebuild could swing based on getting the chance to draft Alexis Lafreniere, landing another blue-chipper like Quinton Byfield, or slipping just out of the truly elite range.
[Mock Draft for 2020; prospect rankings heading into the season]
Up to this point, the Kings are doing a good job “making their own luck.” Even so, the trade deadline and 2020 NHL Draft represent the biggest make-or-break moments of all.
Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher will call the matchup. On-site studio coverage at Air Force Academy will feature Kathryn Tappen hosting alongside analyst Patrick Sharp and reporter Rutledge Wood.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.