Sharks

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

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USATSI

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.

Watch Sharks' Joe Thornton, Capitals' Tom Wilson talk trash on benches

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AP

Watch Sharks' Joe Thornton, Capitals' Tom Wilson talk trash on benches

The ice got a little hot Tuesday night in San Jose. Towards the end of the Sharks' 5-2 blowout loss against the Capitals, tempers began to flare. 

Sharks winger Evander Kane was ejected for elbowing Washington defenseman Radko Gudas in the head with slightly over five minutes left in the third period. Gudas' teammates Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin each took exception, with Wilson hitting Kane. 

Kane and Wilson were seen chirping all the way to their respective benches, with Kane exiting the game.

It didn't stop there, too. Sharks center Joe Thornton chimed in before Wilson hit him with a "kiss the ring" comeback. 

[RELATED: Kane fined $5K for elbowing Gudas in Sharks' blowout loss]

Kane avoided suspension, but received the maximum fine of $5,000 for his hit on Gudas. 

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Sharks must handle challenging road trip better than last time around

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AP

Sharks must handle challenging road trip better than last time around

Just four days into December, the Sharks are facing a new level of adversity. They suffered a disappointing loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night and are dealing with some injuries at forward that are keeping the position in flux.

To top it all off, San Jose is about to begin a four-game road trip, three games of which are against Eastern Conference teams. And the last time the Sharks went on a roadie out east, things didn't exactly go well.

In order for the Sharks to keep their good fortunes going, they must pass this test.

"Good teams, tough buildings, a big test," head coach Peter DeBoer said after Tuesday's loss when asked about the upcoming trip. "Our last time on an extended trip we didn't handle it well. So, hopefully, we're in a different place this time."

When you look at the big picture, the Sharks are in a better place than they were at the end of October, when they went 1-3-1 on their east-coast swing. San Jose staged a big rebound in November, showing it could win games in different ways and stand toe-to-toe with just about anyone. After going 4-8-1 in October, the Sharks went 11-4-0 in November and reinserted themselves back into the pack with the other competitive Pacific Division teams.

Nevertheless, the Sharks' upcoming trip -- which kicks off Thursday in Carolina against the Hurricanes and includes a back-to-back against the Lightning and Panthers -- isn't going to be a cakewalk. After the rough outing San Jose's defense had Tuesday against the Capitals, the trip looks even more daunting.

"It's not getting any easier," Brenden Dillon admitted Tuesday. "We're going into some tough buildings. A couple of back-to-backs here with Tampa and Florida. I think we're seeing if we don't play to our identity, if we don't play the right way, what happens."

The Sharks' defense isn't the only area of concern following the loss to Washington. San Jose was starting to see some production from its bottom six at the end of November, but injuries to Tomas Hertl and Antti Suomela are forcing the Sharks to shuffle up their lines yet again. Even with fourth-liners Dylan Gambrell and Noah Gregor finding their stride and contributing more, San Jose's mission to have a four-line team on the ice every night remains an ongoing project.

[RELATED: Kane fined $5K for elbowing Gudas in Sharks' blowout loss]

This isn't to say that the Sharks can't rebound from their loss to the Capitals and have a successful road trip. Their resilience was on display just last week when they bounced back from a tough loss to the Jets to win back-to-back games against the Kings and Coyotes. Plus, Carolina is the only team on the trip that currently has more points than San Jose, and the Hurricanes have lost three of their last four games, including a 2-0 shutout at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. 

Still, though, the Sharks can't afford to play as they did against the Caps on their upcoming road trip. San Jose is about to encounter a major test, and class is in session starting Thursday.