Dustin Brown

Kings’ 2019 NHL Draft crop gives much-needed hope

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Ever since Rob Blake took over as Los Angeles Kings GM, they’ve developed an interesting trend of being stuck in the past in some ways, yet showing far-reaching vision in others.

When it comes to their aging core players, the choices have been risky. Instead of making the painful decision to move on from Drew Doughty, they handed the 29-year-old an extension where his enormous $11 million cap hit runs through 2026-27. Anze Kopitar is already 31, and his $10M cap hit won’t expire until after 2023-24. That’s $21M that could really start to sour for the Kings, and they’re far from the only veterans who could look long in the tooth, and plenty already do.

In many cases, the Kings feel at least a little stuck, as it might not even be plausible to trade away problem deals like Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, or Ilya Kovalchuk, while the Kings haven’t had the stomach to wave goodbye to Jonathan Quick.

So … yeah. Let’s just say that Todd McLellan has his work cut out for him next season.

The good news, though, is that the Kings are soaring at the “rebuilding on the fly” portion of their plan. While the Colorado Avalanche arguably had the strongest crop of all, the Kings drew well-earned acclaim for their own work, and suddenly things aren’t as royally painful for a franchise that hit a big hole in the road this past season.

[2019 NHL Draft Results: Round 1; Rounds 2-7; Winners and losers]

At least, the Kings seemingly knocked it out of the park. As we’ve seen with health concerns for Gabriel Vilardi (11th overall, 2017), it remains difficult to truly tell how high school-aged prospects will actually pan out.

All we can do is make guesses that are as educated as possible, and consensus praise is usually a promising sign. That’s what the Kings received for their work in the 2019 NHL Draft, from some of their top picks, to the fuller picture of depth choices.

Let’s consider a few specifics, and then zoom out.

Alex Turcotte – It feels silly to call the No. 5 pick a “steal,” although Elias Pettersson (fifth before Vilardi in 2017) shows that it can sometimes feel that way, nonetheless.

Some penciled in Turcotte as the third overall pick, but the Blackhawks went for a different center in Kirby Dach. After the Avalanche lept to land Bowen Byram as the first defenseman pick at fourth overall, the opportunity opened up for the Kings to select Turcotte.

For a Kings team that seems to have been left behind in the dust as the NHL gets speedier and more skilled, Turcotte’s talent makes this pick appeal to me. But the Kings were a sandpaper plus skill team during their two Stanley Cup runs, so they likely are also enticed by the edge that also apparently surfaces in his game.

“He’s a beast,” Top overall pick Jack Hughes said of Turcotte, recalling their many days together in the U.S. NTDP, via NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale. “He plays a hard, heavy, skilled game and that’s a tough combination to deal with. Not only does he score goals and make plays, but he’s probably the best face-off guy on our team. A lot of his goals are net-front tips, rebounds and shots in front, proving he’s not just a skilled guy who can score from the perimeter but a guy who goes to the net.”

Tobias Bjornfot: While Turcotte was described as a “home run” by the likes of The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler (sub required), some wonder if Bjornfot was a bit of a reach at 22.

Still, in a first round where teams really reached at times (see: Moritz Seider not even believing he went sixth overall), Bjornfot went around pick 32 on average by Habs Eyes on the Prize’s consensus collection of mock drafts. So, not the end of the world, and their next pick was almost as exciting as Turcotte at 5.

Arthur Kaliyev: Just about every sports draft has its one Aaron Rodgers moment: an expected first-rounder falls all the way to day two.

Kaliyev wasn’t the only expected Friday pick who needed to wait until Saturday, but his snubbing might have been the most shocking. Unlike Bobby Brink likely falling because of his size, Kaliyev is listed at 6-foot-2.

You have to really go deep into armchair psychology about perceived effort to talk yourself out of a forward who scored 51 goals and 51 assists in 67 games for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs last season, especially since he has the size you’d like to see in a top prospect.

In praising the Kaliyev pick (sub required), The Athletic’s Corey Pronman passed along this great quote from acting Bulldogs head coach Vince Laise:

“Arthur is one of the most dynamic players I’ve coached in the OHL in my six years here,” Laise said. “I coached Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat. In my opinion, Arthur is just as good a player as either of those two.”

Kaliyev just turned 18 on Wednesday, too, so he’s one of the youngest players of the 2019 NHL Draft. Sometimes, when you see a player dominate at a level, there’s the worry that they might be taking advantage of being just a bit older than their competition, which absolutely matters in those crucial development years. In Kaliyev’s case, critics couldn’t even knock him for that.

High marks: Personally, the picks of Turcotte and Kaliyev bode well for the Kings, most of all.

Expanding out, experts also approved of their overall haul. People gave the thumbs up for other picks, including Samuel Fagemo at 50th overall. Both Manny Elk and Corey Pronman gave the Kings an ‘A‘ for their work last weekend, and I haven’t personally seen any outlet bashing the work of Blake & Co. Pronman ranks among those who think it’s a special run:

It’s a big weekend, and I’m as excited about this Kings draft class as I’ve been about any I can recall in recent memory.

Last August, Pronman had already ranked the Kings’ system as 10th overall. While a lot can change in a year (see: the health worries about Vilardi, and prospects like Pettersson blowing away expectations), it’s promising that the Kings added a stellar round of selections to a farm system that was already improving.

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Naturally, the Kings still have far more work to do.

If I were Blake, I’d move Alec Martinez. Much like Jake Muzzin, Martinez’s contract is likely to run out before the Kings are truly competitive again, so it’s better to try to snag something promising in return, particularly if Martinez nets a first-rounder like Muzzin did. I’d also trade Jonathan Quick while he still has perceived value around the NHL, as at 33, things could go downhill fast for a goalie who relies so much on athleticism.

Whether they make those courageous moves or not, the Kings must also develop the likes of Turcotte, Kaliyev, and Rasmus Kupari. Todd McLellan’s had a front row seat to prospects flaming out in Edmonton, if they need a reminder of development falling under the “easier said than done” category.

A lot can go wrong, and a lot more needs to be done, but it’s easier to picture better report cards when early exams come back with A’s and B-pluses. By most accounts, the Kings have passed their latest tests with flying colors, making their outlook far brighter today than it was even a full week ago.

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.

Why rebuilding teams should trade for players like Marleau

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The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, and others have discussed an intriguing possibility that the Los Angeles Kings might trade for Patrick Marleau from the cap-strapped Toronto Maple Leafs.

On its face, that seems like an ill-advised trade. Why would the already-old-as-dirt, expensive Kings seek out a near-40-year-old who carries a bloated $6.25 million cap hit?

Yet, in the cap era, it’s a deal that could make a ton of sense for both sides, if the right deal could be hashed out.

The Kings should go even bolder

While LeBrun discusses the Kings wanting to get rid of a different, cheaper problem contract to make the Marleau trade work (sub required), the real goal should be for both teams to acknowledge their situations. The Maple Leafs needs cap space; the Kings need to build up their farm system with picks and prospects.

Instead of trying to move, say, Dustin Brown or Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings should instead find as creative ways as possible to bulk up on futures, while accepting the (admittedly grim) reality that they’ll suffer through 2019-20, if not 2020-21 and beyond.

In fact, if I were Kings GM Rob Blake, I’d pitch sending over Alec Martinez for Marleau, with the goal of really making it costly for the Maple Leafs. Imagine how appealing it would be for the Maple Leafs to move out Marleau’s contract and improve their defense, and imagine how much more of a ransom the Kings could demand if they’re absorbing all the immediate “losses” in such a trade? Could Los Angeles land yet another Maple Leafs first-rounder, say in 2020 or even 2021? Could such a deal be sweetened with, say, the rights to Andreas Johansson?

That trade might not work, but it’s a blueprint

The Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott believes that a deal probably won’t actually work out, and that’s understandable. There are a lot of ins and outs to a would-be trade that could send Marleau to L.A., particularly since Marleau would need to waive his no-trade clause to complete a trade.

But, really, this is just one example.

Rebuilding teams should apply similar logic to any number of other situations, while contenders can be forgiven for thinking more short-term.

Of course, a rebuilding team would also need to embrace the rebuilding reality, and not every team is past the denial stage.

Potential rebuilding teams

The Kings are in a decent position to absorb a tough year or two, what with being not that far removed from two Stanley Cup wins. The Ottawa Senators have already prepared fans for a rebuild, although they also need to avoid making things too brutal after an agonizing year. The Detroit Red Wings could be less resistant to rebuilding under Steve Yzerman than Ken Holland. Other teams should probably at least consider a short pulling off of the Band-Aid, too, with the Anaheim Ducks coming to mind.

What are some of the problem contracts that could be moved? Glad you (may have) asked.

Also, quick note: these mentions are based on my perception of the relative value of players, not necessarily how their teams view them.

Marleau-likes (challenging contracts ending after 2019-20)

  • Again, Marleau is about to turn 40, and his cap hit is $6.25M. His actual salary is just $4.25M, with Cap Friendly listing his salary bonus at $3M. Maybe the Maple Leafs could make his contract even more enticing to move if they eat the salary bonus, then trade him? If it’s not the Kings, someone should try hard to get Marleau, assuming he’d waive for at least a few situations.
  • Ryan Callahan: 34, $5.8M cap hit, $4.7M salary. Callahan to the Red Wings almost feels too obvious, as Yzerman can do his old team the Lightning a cap-related favor, get one of his beloved former Rangers, and land some much-needed pieces. Naturally, other rebuilders should seek this deal out, too, as the Bolts are in just as tough a spot with Brayden Point as the Maple Leafs are in trying to sign Mitch Marner.
  • Nathan Horton: 35, $5.3M cap hit, $3.6M salary. The Maple Leafs have been placing Horton on LTIR since acquiring his contract, but with his reduced actual salary, maybe a team would take that minor headache off of Toronto’s hands?
  • David Clarkson: 36, $5.25M cap hit, $3.25M salary. Basically Vegas’ version of the Horton situation.
  • Zach Bogosian: 29, $5.14M cap hit, $6M salary. Buffalo’s said the right things about liking Bogosian over the years, but with big spending coming up if they want to re-sign Jeff Skinner, not to mention get better … wouldn’t they be better served spending that money on someone who might move the needle?
  • Andrew MacDonald: 33, $5M cap hit, $5.75M salary. Like Bogosian, MacDonald’s salary actually exceeds his cap hit. Maybe you’d get a better return from Philly if you ate one year of his deal? Both the Flyers and Sabres have some added urgency to be better in 2019-20, after all.
  • Martin Hanzal: 33, $4.75M cap hit, $4M salary. The Stars already have a ton of cap space opening up while they made big strides during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You’d think they’d be eager to get more room, earlier, and maybe make a run at someone bold like Artemi Panarin or Erik Karlsson? They were one of the top bidders for Karlsson last summer, apparently, but now they could conceivably add Karlsson without trading away a gem like Miro Heiskanen.
  • Dmitry Kulikov: 29, $4.33M cap hit and salary. Maybe the Jets could more easily keep Jacob Trouba along with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor if they get rid of an underwhelming, expensive defenseman? Just a thought.

If you want to dig even deeper, Cap Friendly’s list is a great guide.

Two years left

Seeking contracts that expire after 2020-21 is a tougher sell, but maybe the rewards would be worth the risk of extended suffering?

  • Corey Perry: 36, $8.625M cap hit. $8M salary in 2019-20; $7M salary ($4M base; $3M salary bonus) in 2020-21. If you’re offering to take on Perry’s contract, you’d probably want a significant package in return. If the Ducks are in rebuild denial, then they’d get a fresher start if they managed to bribe someone to take Perry. Ryan Getzlaf‘s deal also expires after 2020-21 with similar parameters, though it’s less appealing to move him.
  • Kevin Shattenkirk: 32, $6.65 cap hit, cheaper salary in 2020-21. Marc Staal, 34, $5.7M cap hit, cheaper salary in 2020-21. The Rangers’ future is blurry now, as they could go from rebuild to trying to contender if they get Panarin. If they’re really gearing toward contending, maybe they’d want to get rid of some expensive, aging defensemen?
  • David Backes: 35, $6M cap hit, $4M salary each of the next two seasons. The bottom line is that Backes has been a pretty frequent healthy scratch, and the Bruins should funnel his cap hit toward trying to keep both Charlie McAvoy (RFA this offseason) and Torey Krug (UFA after 2020-21).
  • Alexander Steen: 37, $5.75M cap hit, cheaper in 2020-21. Paying this much for a guy who’s become a fourth-liner just isn’t tenable for a contender. He’s been great for the Blues over the years, yet if you want to stay in the mix, you sometimes need to have those tough conversations.
  • Lightning round: Brandon Dubinsky, Matt Niskanen, Artem Anisimov, and Jake Allen, among others. There are a lot of other, less-obvious “let’s take this off your hands” considerations. Check out Cap Friendly’s list if you want to dive down that rabbit hole.

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As you can see, plenty of contenders have contracts they should try to get rid of, and rebuilding teams should capitalize on these situations.

Interestingly, there are fascinating ideas if rebuilders would take on even more than a year or two of baggage. Would it be worth it to ask for a lot for, say, James Neal, particularly if they think Neal might be at least a little better than his disastrous 2018-19 season indicated? Might someone extract a robust package while accepting Milan Lucic‘s positively odious contract?

It’s easier to sell the one or two-year commitments, which is why this post focuses on those more feasible scenarios. Nonetheless, it would be fun for the armchair GMs among us to see executives get truly creative.

Should your team seek these trades out? What level of risk is too much to stomach? Do tell in the comments.

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: Eberle rallies Islanders, DeBrincat scores 40th, another McDavid highlight

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Three Stars

1. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. It has not been Jordan Eberle’s best season, but wow did he come through in a big way for the New York Islanders on Thursday night. He scored two goals in the third period to help the Islanders storm back for a 5-4 win against the Winnipeg Jets. Eberle’s second goal, with less than two minutes to play in regulation, came just 33 seconds after Casey Cizikas tied the game. He is now up to 17 goals and 34 total points on the season as the Islanders took a significant step to securing their first playoff appearance since the 2015-16 season. Read more about tonight’s game here.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Columbus Blue Jackets looked awful in the first period on Thursday night in what was perhaps the biggest game of their season. Then they rebounded over the next 40 minutes to storm back for a massive 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, thanks in part to a pair of goals from Oliver Bjorkstrand. He is now up to 19 goals on the season and helped the Blue Jackets get back into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Read more about tonight’s game here.

3. Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks. In hindsight it is absolutely insane that Alex DeBrincat had to wait until the second-round to get selected in his draft year. He is on his way toward stardom in the NHL and reached the 40-goal mark on Thursday night in the Blackhawks’ 5-4 win over the San Jose Sharks with a pair of goals. He is now the youngest player in Blackhawks history to score 40 goals in a season, eclipsing the mark that was previously set by Steve Larmer. He and Patrick Kane also became just the second set of American-born teammates to score 40 goals in the same season, joining Joe Mullen and Kevin Stevens who did it as members of the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins.

Other notable games and performances from Thursday 

  • The San Jose Sharks’ late season woes continued on Thursday night with their seventh loss in a row, this time against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks fell behind 3-0, eventually rallied to tie the game 4-4, and then ended up losing on a late Chris Kunitz goal. They are six points behind the Calgary Flames for first place in the Pacific Division, a deficit that seems almost insurmountable this late in the season.
  • The Washington Capitals are back in the playoffs and will continue their defense of the Stanley Cup. They were 3-2 winners over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, spoiling the Hurricanes’ plans for their final Storm Surge celebration of the season. Read more about tonight’s game here.
  • The Dallas Stars overcame a two-goal deficit against the Edmonton Oilers and picked up a 3-2 shootout win. Alexander Radulov scored another goal, Miro Heiskanen continued his incredible rookie season with the equalizer, and Jamie Benn scored the deciding goal in the shootout.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau scored two goals for the Florida Panthers in a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. He has been one of their bright spots this season.
  • Dylan Larkin scored two goals for the Detroit Red Wings to reach the 30-goal mark in their 5-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Highlights of the Night

Connor McDavid is always worth watching. Every. Single. Game.

Warren Foegele continued his impressive season for the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night with what is almost certainly his most impressive goal of the year. It was not enough for the Hurricanes as they fell 3-2 to the Washington Capitals. Still an amazing goal though.

The reason for optimism in Vancouver is the young core of players centered around Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and now Quinn Hughes. Hughes recorded his first career point on Thursday night, setting up Boeser, and it was an absolutely incredible play.

Factoids

  • Aleksander Barkov joins Pavel Bure and Olli Jokinen as the only Florida Panthers players to ever record 90 points in a season. [NHL PR]
  • Leon Draisaitl reached the 100-point mark on Thursday night, joining teammate Connor McDavid. They are the first set of Edmonton Oilers teammates to both score 100 points in a single season since Jari Kurri and Jimmy Carson during the 1988-89 season. They won the Stanley Cup that year. The McDavid-Draisaitl Oilers are going to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. The supporting casts are little bit different [NHL PR]
  • Dustin Brown became the Los Angeles Kings’ all-time leader in games played on Thursday night. [NHL PR]

Scores

Detroit Red Wings 5, Buffalo Sabres 4 (OT)

Washington Capitals 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 6, Montreal Canadiens 2

Florida Panthers 5, Ottawa Senators 2

New York Islanders 5, Winnipeg Jets 4

Dallas Stars 3, Edmonton Oilers 2 (SO)

Vancouver Canucks 3, Los Angeles Kings 2 (SO)

Chicago Blackhawks 5, San Jose Sharks 4

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.

Kings ride hot start to beat Ducks

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While a loss would have given the Los Angeles Kings a better chance to improve their draft lottery odds, it’s easier to tell a team to tank than to actually endure that tedium and humiliation. Especially when you’re facing a hated, local rival like the Anaheim Ducks.

The Kings broke a three-game losing streak and earned just their second win since Feb. 9 by beating the Ducks 3-2 on Sunday.

Los Angeles stormed out of the gate in this one, scoring all three of their goals during the first period. Dustin Brown and Kyle Clifford scored the first two Kings goals, but it was the eventual game-winner by Carl Grundstrom that feels the most significant.

Grundstrom, 21, now has a goal in each of his first two NHL games. He was a 2016 second-rounder (57th overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and became a part of the Kings’ organization thanks to the Jake Muzzin trade.

As much as Sunday’s game was about holdover names like Jonathan Quick (18 saves), Los Angeles’ rebuild is about successfully pulling off this rebuild, so seeing positive signs from Grundstrom seems like a victory in itself.

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.

Lightning outlast Kings, win ninth straight in shootout

Few contenders heading into Monday’s deadline required little to no tinkering. Well, just one really.

The Tampa Bay Lightning took the ‘if-it-ain’t-broke’ mentality into the day and decided not to mess with their really good thing. The top team in the National Hockey League then went out on Monday night and once again did what it has done pretty much all year: win.

A 4-3 shootout triumph over the Los Angeles Kings was Tampa’s ninth straight, matched a team consecutive win record set in 2016 and helped them become just the fourth team in league history to reach 100 points in 63 games or fewer.

Win No. 48 wasn’t that easy, however.

The Bolts led 2-0 thanks to first-period strikes from Brayden Point — his 36th — and Anthony Cirelli and were cruising until they hit a speed bump in the third period.

Perhaps lulled to sleep by the Kings, Los Angeles scored three unanswered in just under six minutes to take an unexpected 3-2.

Alex Iafallo scored off his shin pad, Jonny Brodzinski tied the game on a one-timer off a turnover from Andrei Vasilevskiy 5:10 later and Austin Wagner scored 46 seconds after that to take a 3-2 lead.

The goal burst came after the Kings owned the possession at a 60/40 split in the period. after being dominated throughout the first two periods.

J.T. Miller tied the game not long after Wagner gave the Kings the lead, scoring off an ugly turnover.

Drew Doughty said earlier in the day that the Kings need to play with pride down the stretch. Los Angeles came into the game riding a seven-game losing streak (0-5-2) and sat in last place in the Western Conference with 52 points.

Their lot in life didn’t change much with Monday’s loss, but taking a point from the Lightning was a good step in the right direction when it comes to closing out the season with their best foot forward.

Vasilevskiy stopped 30 of 33 saves in the game, and perhaps none bigger than the one above late in the third period on Dustin Brown.

Jack Campbell was solid at the other end for the Kings, stopping 31 of 34.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck