Jack Campbell

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What is Rob Blake’s plan to turn around the Kings?

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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.

MORE:
• 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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Looking at four potential No. 1 goalie battles in 2019-20

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Battles for the No. 1 goalie spot heading into any given season often isn’t where teams want to be.

The uncertainty for hockey’s most important position is unsettling and often means the team embroiled in a training camp battle for that club’s top job is far closer to the draft lottery than the Stanley Cup.

Not everyone can have an Andrei Vasilevskiy or a Ben Bishop.

Today, we will focus on a few teams that don’t necessarily have that position locked up, and look into four battles that should play out once training camp gets underway in a couple month’s time.

1. Edmonton Oilers 

Mikko Koskinen is Peter Chiarelli’s last defining moment in a terrible tenure with the Oilers. Chiarelli, apparently with the blessing of the team, gave .900-save-percentage man Koskinen a three-year, $13.5 million raise because of reasons that may never been fully certain.

The deal paved the way for a lot of scrutiny, the exit of Cam Talbot and the continuation of what was a compounding year of bad in Northern Alberta.

Now, the Oilers have Mike Smith in the mix, the goalie who started 40 games and posted an .898 save percentage for the Calgary Flames last season in a timeshare with David Rittitch. But Smith’s experience in the playoffs led head coach Bill Peters to give him the nod in goal.

And now Smith heads up the road to battle for a job in Edmonton. Sure, Koskinen has the contract, but there’s no question that Smith could outplay him in training camp and set up a big decision for newly-minted coach Dave Tippett. Tippett knows Smith well from his days as the bench boss in Arizona.

2. Arizona Coyotes

Speaking of the desert dogs, what’s the plan there?

They essentially have two starting-caliber netminders with Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. Raanta’s season was derailed thanks to injury. He made just 12 starts before Kuemper took over the starting role.

Raanta’s 2017-18 campaign was outstanding with a .930 save percentage across 47 starts. The Coyotes had found someone to replace Mike Smith as a solid No. 1.

When the lower-body injury ended Raanta’s season in Nov. 2018, it would have been easy to write off the Coyotes — something many did.

Kuemper would start 55 games, winning 27 of them and posting a .925 save percentage. His play gave the Coyotes a chance down the stretch, and while it ultimately ended with them not making the playoffs, it certainly showed that Arizona had two viable options between the pipes.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That’s what makes this situation interesting. A time-share might be ideal here. It’s something that’s worked for several teams, including the New York Islanders, and to a certain extent, the Boston Bruins — while not a true timeshare — were able to rest Tuukka Rask more with a quality backup, allowing them to reach Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

If general manager John Chayka wants, he also has quite the asset in either goalie on the trade market, too. Kuemper is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and will likely be looking for a raise.

For now, they have one of the better goaltending tandems in the league and some decisions to make because of it.

3. Ottawa Senators

Craig Anderson has one year left on a deal that will pay him $4.75 million this coming season.

Anders Nilsson is getting $2.6 million next season and impressed in 26 games played last season after getting shipped to Ottawa from Vancouver.

Mike Condon is set to make $2.4 million this season.

Nilsson seems the best bet to grab the starting role after the Sens gave him a two-year deal earlier this summer. Anderson’s season last year wasn’t great and Condon isn’t going to be the starter after playing two games last season.

Nilsson, on his sixth NHL team since being drafted in 2009 by the Islanders, finally found his stride in Ottawa, posting a .914 save percentage on a bad Senators team.

4. Los Angeles Kings

Yes, Jonathan Quick has four years left and yes, he’s getting paid $5.8 million.

He was also a complete disaster last season between the pipes. So were the Kings, for that matter. But who really stood out among the wreckage was backup Jack Campbell.

While Quick, 33, had a less than ideal .888 save percentage across 46 starts, Campbell, 27, and getting paid $5.125 million less than his teammate, put up a .928 on a very bad team. It’s impressive.

While the Kings haven’t done much to improve themselves this summer, giving Campbell a shot at the starting gig might light a spark elsewhere in their lineup. They did seem to play better in front of him, and he inspired confidence with his play.

Perhaps the time is now to give Campbell is chance and let Quick groom him (and potentially Cal Petersen) as the Kings begin to look to the future.

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

Lindback, Rynnas battle for backup job in Dallas

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One of the on-going battles at Stars camp is in goal as the Dallas coaching staff looks for a suitable backup behind No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

It’s a position the Stars have struggled to fill over the past three seasons using Andrew Raycroft, Richard Bachman, Cristopher Nilstorp, Dan Ellis and Tim Thomas.

This season it’ll likely be either Anders Lindback or Jussi Rynnas behind Lehtonen as the two battle in camp.

“It will be very hard. I mean, three weeks and just six exhibition games, you wish you had more time (to decide),” Stars’ goaltending coach Mike Valley told The Dallas Morning News. “But we got to spend some quality time together at the camp, and I think that gives us a great opportunity to really work off of the same page going forward.”

Lindback, 26, wasn’t retained by Tampa Bay after he struggled to replace the injured Ben Bishop last season. Lindback went 8-12-2 with the Lightning during the regular season and lost three playoff games.

“I’m very optimistic,” said Lindback, who signed a one-year deal with the Stars in July. “I think you push last year behind you and you work on being your best, and I think this team will help me do that. I know what I can do, and I know what I have to do, and it’s all up to me now.”

Rynnas, 27, has appeared in just three career NHL games all with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He spent last season in Finland posting a 28-5-7 record with a 1.51 GAA for Karpat before suffering a back injury.

With the confidence of last season his back pocket, Rynnas is looking for another chance at the NHL level.

“It’s the best league, and you want to play in the best league,” he said. “I feel healthy, I am excited to be with this team, a team on the rise, and I think they can push me to the next level.”

Rynnas signed a two-year deal with the Stars on July 7.

Both goalies will require waivers to get to the minors. As a result, if it doesn’t work out in Dallas, their efforts at camp could be used as an audition for one of the other 29 clubs.

“They’re both good goaltenders, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to have them push each other,” Valley said. “They’re confident and hungry, and they want to win this battle, and that should bring out the best in both of them. They’re both excited, and that tells you something about how they’re looking at this.”

The Stars also have 22-year-old prospect Jack Campbell in the mix. The Michigan native was reduced to just 16 games in 2013-14 and is heading into the final year of his entry-level contract with just one NHL appearance under his belt.

Hopefully the Stars can finally find a suitable No. 2 behind Lehtonen, who has battled both groin and back injuries throughout his career. Both Lindback and Rynnas are more experienced making them a suitable fit for a backup role over Campbell, who will likely start in Texas of the American Hockey League once again.

Related: Stars putting their hopes in Lehtonen

PHT Morning Skate: Blake thinks Scott won’t get big suspension ‘people are waiting for’

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Los Angeles Kings assistant GM Rob Blake is predicting that whatever suspension Buffalo Sabres forward John Scott gets, disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan will face criticism for it not being enough. “I don’t see it being the big one (suspension) people are waiting for,” Blake said. He used to work with Shanahan. (Edmonton Journal)

Sean Monahan is earning plenty of praise for his poise. (Flames.nhl.com)

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Monday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the link.

Chris Stewart might be available for the St. Louis Blues’ match on Tuesday, but they aren’t likely to have Magnus Paajarvi. Both forwards suffered upper-body injuries Saturday. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Former defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom misses playing in the NHL, but he still thinks it was his time to retire. It’s allowed him to help coach his son’s team in Sweden and he enjoys all the extra time he now has with his family. (Detroit Free Press)

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Brandon Sutter is searching for his first goal of the season going into Monday’s game against his old team, the Carolina Hurricanes. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Dallas Stars goaltending prospect Jack Campbell’s new mask pays tribute to former President John F. Kennedy. (The Score)

Dallas activates Lehtonen, recalls Rome, demotes Campbell

The day after allowing six goals and 47 shots against Anaheim, the Dallas Stars made a flurry of transactions to shore things up defensively.

The first, and arguably most important, was activating Kari Lehtonen from injured reserve. The Finnish netminder suffered a lower-body injury on Oct. 11 and has been shelved ever since, leaving starting goalie duties to backup Dan Ellis and prospect Jack Campbell, the latter getting lit up for the aforementioned six goals against the Ducks on Sunday.

The Stars have gone 1-4-0 since Lehtonen got hurt, so his return is a welcome one.

Dallas also recalled veteran defenseman Aaron Rome from AHL Texas on Monday, sending down Campbell to make room on the active roster.

Rome, 30, hasn’t played at all this year due to a hip injury. He did conduct a brief rehab assignment with Texas, recording three shots on goal and six penalty minutes in three games.

Rome appeared in 27 games for Dallas last year, recording five assists while averaging 15:20 TOI per game. He should provide stability and experience on a blueline that’s been scorched recently — Dallas has surrendered 22 goals in its last five games, including 11 over the past two.