Quiet offseason still has Kings stuck in neutral
When the Los Angeles Kings traded veteran defender Jake Muzzin at the end of January it looked to be the beginning of a much-needed and long overdue rebuild.
Muzzin was a core player a championship winning team in Los Angeles, and with still one more year remaining on his contract he was one of the more valuable trade chips the team had to move in an effort to begin turning the page and beginning a new chapter. Because he still had term on his contract the Kings were under no immediate pressure to trade him, but it was still a very logical thing for them to do.
In the immediate aftermath of the trade general manager Rob Blake hinted that more changes were coming by saying, “I don’t want to get into specifics of players, but we are actively looking at making moves for the future of the organization.”
At the time the Kings were stumbling toward their worst regular season in years and on track to miss the playoffs for the third time in five years, a stretch that has seen the organization win just one playoff game.
What sort of changes did they make after that?
Other than hiring a new head coach -- former Sharks and Oilers bench boss Todd McLellan -- it has been a shockingly quiet offseason for the Kings.
[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]
How quiet has it been? Here is a rundown of every major roster transaction the team has made since trading Muzzin in late January.
- Traded Carl Hagelin, who had played only 22 games with the team after being acquired for Tanner Pearson, to the Washington Capitals for two mid-round draft picks
- Traded Nate Thompson, who had played only 79 games with the team, to the Montreal Canadiens for a fourth-round draft pick
- Traded Oscar Fantenberg, who had played only 74 games with the team, to the Calgary Flames for a conditional pick in 2020.
- Bought out the final two years of Dion Phaneuf’s contract
- Signed Joakim Ryan to a one-year deal in free agency
That is it. That is the list of changes.
They shuffled out a few inconsequential depth players that had almost zero history with the team and made almost zero impact, while adding a depth defender on a one-year, bargain basement deal.
In the middle of all of that the Kings did have, by most accounts, a strong draft with three of top 33 picks, but they are probably at least two or three years away from seeing some sort of a meaningful return on those picks.
In the short-term, the Kings have done next to nothing to move the franchise toward any one meaningful direction.
They are not any closer to a much-needed rebuild and are bringing back the same core of players that has clearly demonstrated over the past five years that it is not good enough to compete for a championship. Or even be a serious threat in the playoffs.
Not only are they lacking impact players, but their best, most talented, and highest paid players (Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jonathan Quick) are all another year older and, in most cases, in a continued state of decline.
Doughty is the “young” player in that group and will turn 30 this upcoming season. He is not only coming off the worst season of his career, but is signed for another eight years at $11 million per season. The Kings desperately need to hope this past season was a fluke and not a sign of what is ahead. The same can be said for Quick whose 2018-19 performance put him among the worst performing goalies in the league.
If they are still under the illusion that this core can somehow still compete, they have not done anything to complement them and build around them.
They have yet to make a meaningful trade and have been one of the quietest teams on the free agent market, not even dipping their toes into the pool.
Other than basically swapping out Phaneuf for Ryan on the blue line the Kings seem destined to bring back the same team that looked overmatched throughout the entire 2018-19 season and was one of the worst teams in the NHL.
Sure, it is possible that Doughty bounces back, and it would be nearly impossible for Quick to be as bad as he was in net over another full season. But would that be enough to make make up more than 20 points in the standings and take the Kings from the Western Conference basement and move them back to playoff contention?
They have some fresh faces and young players on the roster (Austin Wagner, Adrian Kempe, Carl Grundstrom), but there is probably not a difference-maker or All-Star among the group.
There are still a couple of months for things to change and the Kings to do something to alter the course of the franchise, but the longer they go without doing something the more this team is going to flail around in the state of irrelevance it has been stuck in for the past half-decade.
The short-term outlook remains bleak, and they still have not take enough steps to improve the long-term outlook.