NHL free-agency review: How LA Kings stack up in Pacific Division


NHL free-agency review: How LA Kings stack up in Pacific Division

Editor’s note: NHL free agency was fast and furious, and the moves that teams did (and did not) make set the tone for next season. All week, we’ll examine the Sharks’ Pacific Division rivals, and whether their free-agency approach put them in better, worse or the same position. Today, we dive into the LA Kings.

There's no way to sugarcoat it: The Kings took a serious nosedive last season into the cellar of the Western Conference.

With a dismal record both at home and on the road --and only winning month in the entire season --  it's no wonder their rivalry with the Sharks lacked so much oomph last season.

But LA is moving on from that, tapping San Jose's former coach Todd McLellan to stand behind their bench and making steps towards a rebuild. But have they done enough so far this offseason to signal a turnaround?

Here's a look at what the Kings have done since free agency opened up on July 1.

Players who signed

The Kings have added some pieces so far this offseason, although nothing that will fully change the look of the team.

LA got its biggest boost a week after the market opened when they re-signed RFA Alex Iafallo to a two-year deal. The 25-year-old was a rare player on the Kings' roster that improved his game last season and is expected to take on an even bigger role in the 2019-20 season.

The Kings also tried adding depth to their lineup by signing former Red Wings' forward Martin Frk and former Sharks d-man Joakim Ryan to one-year contracts. Neither player posted many points with their respective clubs last season, so it isn't entirely clear if they'll thrive on a new team.

Players who left

The Kings bought out the rest of Dion Phaneuf's contract in June, and the 34-year-old defenseman reportedly has received offers from other teams since the market opened. The loss shouldn't affect LA a ton , considering Phaneuf didn't produce much during his two campaigns there. 

They did lose some depth, however, with winger Brendan Leipsic going to the Capitals on a one-year deal. How the team plans to fill in pieces of their lineup still remains to be seen.

There's a possibility there will be more moves on the horizon, since the Kings only have $9,440,606 in cap space and a couple of players due to hit free agency after next season. They could move Kings staple Tyler Toffoli, who often is mentioned in trade rumors and is coming off of a down season.

[RELATED: Why Roenick won't count out Sharks after losing Pavelski]

Better, worse, or the same?

So far, the Kings haven't done much since the market opened to signal any major change to the team. Even with the few tweaks, the core of the team is still very much intact.

While there's still plenty of time for LA to make more adjustments to its roster, the lack of flexibility under the cap could make that difficult. And if the bulk of the team is staying together, it doesn't appear that there will be any significant changes to how they perform in the Pacific Division next season.

Sharks feel they're rounding into shape with three-game winning streak

Sharks feel they're rounding into shape with three-game winning streak

SAN JOSE - For the first time in a long time, the Sharks looked like, well, the Sharks.

You know, the team fans had become accustomed to watching over the last several seasons. The team that can go up against a tough Western Conference opponent and put on a show. The team that has, also, been pretty absent for the majority of the current season.

San Jose didn't just tally their third straight win on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. They defeated a really good team by playing solid 60-plus minutes of hockey. And in the end, they were rewarded with a 2-1 shootout victory -- a victory they can feel proud of. 

"I think this is the first game where, right from the start, that no matter what the score was, we felt like we were playing our game and we weren't too worried about what they were doing," Erik Karlsson said after the win. "It feels like we're finally starting to look like the team we're supposed to be."

Despite winning their previous contest 6-5, the Sharks were not happy with their overall effort. Going up on a team 4-0 in the first period and then getting outscored 5-2 for the rest of the game isn't going to make any team happy. So while San Jose didn't score as many goals on Saturday against Nashville, they were significantly happier with their 60-minute effort. And when the Predators tallied the first goal of the night during the second period, the Sharks kept grinding until Tomas Hertl buried the equalizer in the third frame.

"One of the better efforts from our group," captain Logan Couture observed. "They had a few chances, but I thought we had better looks. We stuck with it and got that goal to tie it up, which was big."

Hertl himself agreed. "I'm really happy about our team tonight because all 60 minutes were great," he said. "It was the best game of the season, against a really good team."

That's the real kicker there -- that the Sharks beat a good team. Sure, they had a two-game winning streak going into Saturday's contest. But those were wins over the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild, two clubs who have been struggling just as the Sharks have. 

To beat a playoff contender like Nashville is what San Jose needed to boost their confidence.

"We needed to beat a good team like this," head coach Peter DeBoer said. "We knew it would be a good test. We've put together some good spurts of hockey here over the last week. I like some of the things we've been doing but we haven't been doing it enough. We haven't done it against a team like that this year. There were a lot of good signs. Hopefully, we can turn the corner here."

Which is, of course, the next step. The Sharks close out their current homestand against the Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday and still have a ways to go before they get to .500 hockey for the first time this season. San Jose's best bet is to keep playing exactly as they did on Saturday against the Predators.

[RELATED: What we learned from Sharks' shootout win vs. Predators]

"We have to, every night, play like that because we need the points right now," Hertl said. "But It was a really great effort. I think we deserve the two points tonight. We have to just keep going."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's shootout win at home

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's shootout win at home

SAN JOSE – Things didn’t work out too well for the Sharks the last time they faced off against the Predators. This time around, they came to fight.

San Jose put up quite the effort against the tough Central Division club to take a very exciting 1-1 game into overtime.  In the end, it was Timo Meier with the lone marker in the shootout to give the Sharks a 2-1 victory – their third win in a row.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday night's game.

A goalie battle. Who knew.

With both Martin Jones and Juuse Saros going into Saturday’s game with goals-against averages worse than .900, it’s pretty impressive there wasn’t a scoring frenzy. Instead, both netminders put on quite a show – yes, even the home team’s starter.

Compared to some of the games San Jose has played recently, Jones played pretty darn well Saturday night. He was particularly impressive during the Sharks' third-period penalty kill when he stopped two Nashville chances that could have easily broken the tie. After a couple of games where he’s given up the game-winning goal late in the third and erased the positive work San Jose’s offense has done, Jones put up a solid, winning performance on Saturday. 

Setting the pace

San Jose knew they had a tough test ahead of them with the Predators coming to town. The Nashville squad is both a tough team to beat AND was sure to be extra angry coming off of a 9-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. But instead of allowing the Preds to set the tone of the game early on, San Jose gradually built up the pace on their own terms, 

This was a significant improvement over how the Sharks played in Thursday's game against the Wild when they dominated the first period and then lost control over the next 40 minutes. San Jose’s energy built up with every minute of the third period and made for a very entertaining period of overtime. 

Sticking with it

In past games, the Sharks have sat back when the opposition has scored the first goal. So when they couldn't convert on a power-play opportunity less than a minute after Filip Forsberg scored the opening goal on the evening, it looked as though San Jose might have lost their mojo for the rest of the night.

But the Sharks regained their momentum and continued chipping away at Saros, who was standing on his head as San Jose's skaters crowded him. That relentless push finally paid off when Tomas Hertl found the back of the net in the third frame.