Kings Roundtable 2.0

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 25: Goaltender Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings leaves home en route to Staples Center before Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 25, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. Vancouver "won" 4-2 to "win" the series four games to two. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

[ed. note: Some player names have been awkwardly altered to the player's complete name, in order to engage the stupid auto-tagger.]

RudyKelly:  I was wondering if you guys wanted to have another round table on what the Kings need to do in the off-season (Kovalchuk) to help get them back in the playoffs (Kovalchuk). Last time it seemed more like we just answered questions without interacting with one another, so maybe this time we try to be a little more conversational? Also, Kovalchuk.

Connie Kim: Sure, how do you want to do it?

RudyKelly:  Well I guess one of you should start since I'm a guest. Maybe kick an opening question to me, I write a little bit, Quisp writes 1,000 words, Connie and I stare in amazement?

Quisp: Well, Happy Kovalchuk to you, too.

My opening question would be: Rudy, every other word out of your mouth is Kovalchuk. What the hell is the matter with you?

 

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RudyKelly:  I know. If you traveled into my head it would sound like that scene from Being John Malkovich. ("Kovalchuk Kovalchuk?" "Ah, Kovalchuk!")  But in my defense, I'm absolutely in love with Ilya Kovalchuk. If I could marry a man, I'd marry Ilya. I love his play. I love his scent. I want to eat ice cream with him and playfully dab some whipped cream on his nose with my spoon. We'd both giggle and then Tugboat would come in and bury his face in the carton and we'd both exclaim, "Oh, Tugboat!" I know he's going to command a lot and I know it's probably not a good idea for our long-range plans; I absolutely do not care. I'd go up to 7 years or so and ~$7.33 for him, around what Eric Staal got. Anymore than that and I get antsy. But I mean, have you seen that guy? He's amazing. Plus, he's Russian. In conclusion, Kovalchuk. But I may be a tad irrational about him*. What do you guys think?

*Just a tad.

Connie Kim: You'd go for 7 years, over $7mil? Wow...too rich for my blood. I think the days of the big-ass contracts are going out the door.

Quisp: Without addressing the issue of whether Kovalchuk is a good fit for the Kings (see NJD playoff performance), if I felt about him as you do, I would go for a $70MM/ten year deal, as I have said in the past. Start the salary at $11MM, and taper to $1MM. Something like: 11, 11, 10, 10, 8, 7, 6, 4, 2, 1. Cap hit $7MM.

He gets to be the highest paid player in the league for a couple of seasons. Then he can go to Russia after five years and we'll be free of him. That's if it's a good idea to sign him at all. Which I'm not sure about. He sucked in Jersey. He did not play defense the way people thought oh maybe he will when the chips are down. Yes, goals are a good thing. But I'm not sure about the rest of the package.

RudyKelly: You people are out of your minds.

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Anyway, signing someone like Kovalchuk (or Patrick Marleau) would probably lead to the loss of my other great love, Alexander Frolov. I'm not emotionally prepared to talk about Fro leaving, but what do you guys think? If he were willing to sign for ~$3.5, would you do it? Is he as good as gone oh please God no?

Connie Kim: Frolov? ~$3.5? I'd make it: $3mil/Year 1 $2.5/Year 2 At max $3mil for min two...

Quisp: Frolov at $3.9MM for 3yrs is doable, and, I think, desirable. Especially if Lombardi pulls off my new pet trade idea: Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll for Jarome Iginla.

RudyKelly:  Williams and Stoll for Iginla? That's...interesting. I don't think Calgary would go for it but it's an interesting idea.

Quisp: I think he's supposed to be "unhappy". And they need a center. Williams and Stoll seem like Sutter types. I don't think its out of the question.

Connie Kim: Unhappy with management or just a sad panda?

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Quisp
: What I'm referring to (and I'm reading between the lines) is this article: Iginla Willing to Waive No Trade Clause. Maybe unhappy is the wrong word. But he's being very careful with his words, in issuing the statement about how he would waive his NTC if they don't want him there anymore, although he would want to stay, if they're committed to winning a championship. Between the lines, I filled in, "but if you're not going to go for the cup, get me the hell out of here."

RudyKelly: There's a consensus that the Kings need to get someone on offense that can put the puck in the net; what about defense? The Kings have two slots open, one on the right side next to Jack Johnson and one on the left next to Matt Greene. The Kings have a plethora of good young defensemen in the system that could potentially fill those spots, but do you think the Kings need to fill at least one spot with a veteran to serve as a stopgap? Someone like Dan Hamhuis or Pavel Kubina or Sheldon Souray or Tomas Kaberle?

 

Connie Kim: I'm a no on Souray. If we sign someone, I'd like him to be playing instead of sitting in the press box. No on Kaberle unless we don't re-sign OD and the price isn't too high. Kubina wouldn't be the first person I'd think of. Hamhuis? How much?

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Quisp: I have to think one of the kids will get promoted next year. No idea which one. It would be nice if Colten Teubert went to see the wizard and came back with a brain. Jacob Muzzin? Jumped right in, in Manchester. Thomas Hickey or Viatcheslav Voynov? I keep thinking the Kings need a UFA defenseman more than a UFA forward. But that assumes Schenn, Moller, and one of the d prospects are ready to fill spots we would otherwise have to spend big money on. And I don't know if that's realistic.

Connie, I wonder if O'Donnell will retire.

Connie Kim: Yeah, [O'Donnell's] whole thing was taking it year by year. But, honestly, do you think the guy wants to retire now?

Quisp: Maybe he wants to play another year. But what would the Kings be willing to do?

RudyKelly:  I see Sean O'Donnell coming back but only as a 7th guy, someone to sit in the room and look like an old goat.

Quisp: I can see the 7th D scenario. I guess I'm okay with that. But we would still need another vet UFA (or trade) defenseman, wouldn't we?

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RudyKelly: The Kings need a defenseman that can skate 19-20 minutes a night for the next few years until we can get a handle on where Hickey, Teubert, Voynov and Muzzin land. I like Pavel Kubina because he can man the power play, he's right-handed, and he's kind of old.

Quisp: Don't know if another power-play QB is a high-priority. I can imagine a lot more of Johnson/Doughty next year. Yes, there has to be a second pair, but I guess I would double-shift one or both of JJ/DD in tandem with Hickey or Voynov. If one of those guys isn't going to make it, I'm not bothered by Stoll back there. Just not Williams. Anyway, I have already dealt both of them to Calgary, as you know.

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RudyKelly: Quisp, going back to your point about Schenn: do you think he's ready to go? If so, what do we do about our center situation? I don't see how the Kings keep Kopitar, Stoll, Handzus AND Schenn up at the same time. (Combined total for those four: $17.5.) If we were to sign Kovalchuk, we could pair him with Schenn and Brown. Just saying.

Quisp: Schenn's salary is mostly bonus, and I have no idea what he has to do to earn it. Point is, it may be that Lombardi can spend the Schenn part of the bonus cushion without worry.

I don't know if Schenn's ready-ready, but he's not eligible for AHL duty, and I can't really see him playing another year of juniors. He could, I guess, but hasn't he basically done all he can there? I think he'll end up with the big club, playing wing and a little center. You could put him between your friend Kovalchuk or your other friend Frolov, and Brown.

As far as centers, yeah, it's going to get interesting, with Kopitar, Stoll, Handzus, Richardson, Schenn, Andrei Loktionov and Moller -- seven guys -- two of which (Loktionov and Moller) are top-six players, two are hybrids (Richardson, Schenn), two are basically 3rd line centers (Stoll and Handzus) and one who is a natural top line center (that Kopitar guy). Complicating matters, Stoll, Handzus and Kopitar can't really play wing. The others can. But you're not going to have Loktionov on the team unless he's playing top six and power play, so he's likely to start the season in Manchester. Moller is more or less in the same boat, but with more experience and more sandpaper. Schenn and Richardson, I think, will make it and be utility knives.

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(Parse/Loktionov/Moller was the best line in the AHL -- and it's easy to see why -- before the call-ups and injuries split them up. That's a great line. I love all three of those guys. They're using Trevor Lewis in the LW spot now.)

RudyKelly: Good points. Towards the 2nd half of the season the Kings did start playing either Johnson or Doughty the full 2 minutes on the power play so they could definitely continue that; the only thing I'm worried about is if one of those guys get hurt.  Pretty sure Kovalchuk can play the point, though...

I'm not quite sure how our center situation works out.  I'm sure Lombardi knows, at this point, if Schenn is ready to go or not, and I think if he is then we trade either Stoll or Zeus. Kopitar and Stoll/Zeus can play the tough minutes, leaving the easier stuff for Schenn.  We have plenty of 4th line center prospects (Cliche!) and if anyone gets hurt we have Loktionov/Moller and can move Richardson from wing.  I see a center core of Kopitar-Schenn-Handzus-Cliche/Elkins/whoever next season, with my boy Loki and Quisp's boy Moller making things unfair in Manchester.
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Quisp: Loktionov is as much "my boy" as Moller is. Not that we have to divide them up into whose boy is whose. I also have "feelings" for Clifford, Parse, Geordie Wudrick, Voynov and Muzzin, not to mention the more high-profile Schenn, Hickey, Teubert. Or, you know, Bernier.

I can see an interim phase where Schenn plays wing before he's ready to be the second line center, and both Stoll and Handzus are retained. As far as which of Stoll or Handzus gets dealt first, I prefer the future in which Handzus becomes a forward version of SOD and re-signs for peanuts, leaving Stoll to be dealt. The thing is, in order for Stoll to be shopped sooner rather than later, the Kings need someone who can win more than 55% of his face-offs, and I have no idea if Schenn will be able to do that immediately (or ever).

RudyKelly: I see the Kings signing Kovalchuk and trying to get another defenseman, squeaking the cap this season, then letting Zeus and Smyth go next year to pay for the young guys.  Basically, I see the team getting about 2 years younger than they already are.

Connie Kim: Ummm... letting go of Handzus and Smyth and bringing in Kovalchuk? Not necessarily to replace one-for-two in this case, but I'm not feeling it.

Quisp: Handzus expires after this year, but Smyth has two more years on his contract.

RudyKelly: News: Smyth has two more years on his deal. Views: f**k!

Connie Kim: Oooo, I'd like to keep Handzus around. You think he'll sign for less than $4mil per year moving forward?
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Quisp: Like I might have said, he could be our forward O'Donnell. Wise old crusty guy. He will be 34 when his contract expires next summer, so I think the ideal would be to sign him for one year at $2MM (or so) and then if he wants to continue, in 2012 (if the world doesn't end), Lombardi could give him a contract with incentives (since you can do that for 35+ geriatrics).

Connie Kim: I like the sound of that: "old crusty." But $2mil would be awesome if he's still maintaining the same output. I'd be more than content with that.

RudyKelly: I love Zeus and would happy to have him back for as long as he wants, assuming it's a reasonable cap hit.  I like the idea of him as shutdown center and then slowly taking less minutes as Schenn gets more and more responsible defensively.

Quisp: So, if I understand you correctly, you're thinking:

Smyth - Kopitar - Williams
LW2 - Stoll - Brown
LW3 - Handzus - Simmonds
LW4 - Richardson - RW4
F13, F14
Scuderi - Doughty
Johnson - D4
D5 - Greene
D7
Quick - Bernier

LW2 - Kovalchuk, Marleau or Frolov
LW3, LW4, C4, RW4 - Richardson plus Cliche/Elkins (maybe) and two others TBD
D4 - UFA or trade (Kubina, Kaberle, Hamhuis, Souray, etc.)
D5 - prospect (Voynov, maybe Hickey or Teubert)
D7 - O'Donnell

My concern is (having looked at the numbers), if you sign Kovalchuk or Marleau, you don't have room to bring in another $3MM worth of UFA defenseman (D4). You might be able to squeeze it in for next year only, but with Doughty, Johnson, Moller, Simmonds and Bernier up for new contracts the following summer (2011), it would be suicidal.

RudyKelly: Yeah, your outline is pretty good representation of what I'd like. Your point about Kovalchuk/Marleau is well-taken but that's easily solved by my plan to throw Ryan Smyth off the back of a train, thus ridding us of his cap hit*. But seriously, we can trade Stoll or Smyth if we need the money. 
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I'm worrying about getting set for next season since it's the last one we have without Doughty's new cap hit; then we strip down and build back up to take another shot before Schenn gets a new deal.  In a cap era you don't so much have a 5-year window to win a cup as you have a 2-year shot, a few years of plateau, then another quick shot.  If that means we have to trade Jack Johnson or lose Brad Richardson... well, that's what happens to good teams.  We just have to trust that the prospects coming up can fill those gaps.

*I assume there's some sort of double indemnity clause, hence the train.

Quisp: I guess the train explains Smyth's nickname. ("Mama.") I don't see how anyone is going to trade for him. "Here's six million dollars of cap hit for you. Enjoy." Stoll, yes, because he wins face-offs, has a hard shot, went to the finals once and he's a center, which we have forty of. (Of course, he's going to Calgary with Williams.)

RudyKelly: I think we could trade Smyth to some team like Nashville for little in return, especially when you consider that he's only getting paid $4.5 in cash that season.  The thing I'm worrying about is getting a core of 3 players to build around while letting everyone else drift in and out.  We have 2 of those 3 in Doughty and Kopitar and I think Kovalchuk would give us the best core of 3 players in the NHL outside of Pittsburgh and Washington. If we have to give away Smyth, Williams and Stoll to get Kovalchuk, so be it.

Quisp: My thinking has been more along the lines of, we need Scuderi, Jr. (defenseman to play with Johnson who is faster than Greene), that means no Kovalchuk, and no Kovalchuk means yes Frolov or player of similar pay and skill. If Schenn is going to graduate, as you point out, we have to deal one of Stoll or Handzus. In your scheme, who fills the other forward openings? 

RudyKelly: I really, really, really want Dustin Brown to convert to left wing this season.  He whined about it two years ago but it makes a ton of sense.  First, he likes to make his little toe kick move and that only works on the left side.  He can cut in on the rush to take a shot on the left side without missing wide and creating a break for the other team.  He'd be coming out of the corners with the puck on his forehand side.  It's a tougher position defensively but he can handle it. Plus, it'd allow us to create a Brown-Handzus-Meat Train stopper line. Just imagine that, how awesome would that be?  A top-six right winger is the easiest thing in the world to find because we can shift a center (Schenn?) over to that spot or let Moller have it. I want this to happen.
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Quisp: Okay, so let's take all that -- the Rudy plan -- and try to work through the 2011-12 cap problem. I think Doughty is going to get a deal in the $6-7MM range, Johnson could get around $4MM if he decides to play like he did in the playoffs, Simmonds around $2.5-3MM, Moller (depending on next season, obviously) I would expect in the $1.5MM range. Who else? Oh, Bernier. Yeah, I have to believe he will be getting a raise (if he doesn't deserve one I will be sad). And Richardson this summer. So that's around $10-11MM extra cap hit. Next summer, Williams and Handzus come off the books. Which to me means Williams is traded before next summer. Handzus, we all seem to want to come back for less $$. If you tally that up, you get 11 forwards, 6 defensemen and 2 goalies. If you're going to plug in Kovalchuk, you end up with:

Smyth/Kopitar/Loktionov
Kovalchuk/Stoll/Brown
Schenn/Handzus/Simmonds
Clifford/Richardson/Moller
Scuderi/Doughty
Johnson/Muzzin
Hickey/Greene
Quick/Bernier

And we're about $8MM over the cap. $10MM when you fill out the roster (press box) with minimum wage employees. So you have to get rid of some folks. Okay, we'll do it your way and lose Smyth, Williams and Stoll. An asset or two would obviously have to come back to fill the holes we're creating. You're creating. But losing Smyth and Stoll (Williams would already be off the books by then), you would end up with:

Kovalchuk/Kopitar/Simmonds
Loktionov/Schenn/Moller
Brown/Handzus/Simmonds
Clifford/Richardson/Modin
Scuderi/Doughty
Johnson/Muzzin
Hickey/Greene
Quick/Bernier

Yeah, okay, that would work.

RudyKelly: All I'm saying is that if Ryan Smyth is the reason I don't get Ilya Kovalchuk, I'll murder someone.  Probably you.  I'm just letting you know.

Connie Kim: Why is there such haste to get Smyth off the roster? I REALLY like what he does and how he affects Kopitar. Is it just the hate, Rudy?

RudyKelly: Pretty much.

Connie Kim: Man, you have some issues to work out. First Lubo, then Fro, now Smyth.

RudyKelly: I'm a passionate man. Too passionate, some might say. What do I think? I think I don't know another way to live.

[Rides off on motorcycle.]

Connie Kim: I'm all for passion. But there comes a time when you have to move on. Let go, Rudy. Just let go.

Quisp: Eh. I don't see the point in letting it go. Which is why I'm re-annoyed by this Qu --

RudyKelly: What? Sorry, I can't hear you over the roar of my motorcycle!

Quisp: Terry Murray told Rich Hammond yesterday that, among other injuries (Peter Harrold, broken hand -- which explains the Randy Jones thing a bit, I guess), Doughty had a sprained wrist among "quite a few injuries," and Quick, Murray says, "he got fell on there [sic] — I don’t remember exactly what game it was — in his crease and had a slight issue with his shoulder."

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Now, I know that Murray isn't really saying anything other than "hey we're banged up, it's playoff hockey." But I'm having a complicated reaction to the news that Quick was playing hurt -- which was of course the scenario I had been discussing all along (since November) -- and still it was apparently important to stick with him. In principle, I supported the decision to stick with Quick in game five and six, after he was so not good in four and especially five. But I'm finding it hard not to think TM and DL miscalculated here.

In retrospect, there really is no way Bernier would have done worse than Quick in the last two games, and it's very likely he would have won one or both. And the argument that Quick would lose face and be forever humiliated doesn't hold any water at all now, since he was ****ing injured.

Or am I over-reacting?

RudyKelly: Quick was starting every game of that series.  There's no point in getting bent out of shape about it.  And shoulder injuries aren't that bad to play through, I've done it before.

Quisp: I'm not bent, really. Just thinking out loud. Playing out all these little scenarios. What else am I supposed to do now? Is it a fact that the Kings were, as many people keep saying, 'never going to win the cup this year'?

RudyKelly: I don't think that's true, simply because there is a lot of randomness built in to the playoffs; I mean, we were 5 minutes away from winning in the 1st round. It's more that it was unlikely and most people are too lazy to build in caveats with their statements.

Quisp: I think it also has to do with peoples' own psychologies. First, you're afraid to believe it's possible, then you start to allow yourself to believe it, then your hopes are dashed and you decide you were wrong to believe it. Like last year's cup. The Penguins win and it's all "destiny" and the fall of the old guard, etc., but it was one Scuderi kick save from OT in game 7. Now, a year later, what if the Wings win? They'll have throw out the whole narrative. Or Philly could win. A team that made the playoffs on the last day of the season. Anything can happen.

RudyKelly: Yeah. Like you said, people don't account for the high degree of randomness in the playoffs. It's why I don't stress about it, if someone plays bad it's not like they choked, they just had a bad series. No point in getting all worked up.

Quisp: Knowing that there's randomness built in doesn't make me calmer, but it stops me (maybe) from delusional thinking or assigning a little narrative of blame.

RudyKelly: Well yeah, I still freak out but I don't get virulently angry. It'd be like me getting mad at a coin for landing on heads.

Quisp: What's tricky about it is that, although there are random events, it is frequently possible to prepare better or worse for those events, thus the "second mistake" addage.

RudyKelly: By playing the right goaltender, perhaps?

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Quisp
: It's not that I don't understand Murray/Lombardi's point of view, and it's also true that I am capable of jumping the gun. But, on the other hand...I wonder if Montreal worried about traumatizing poor Rogie Vachon when they chose to start the kid who just played his first NHL game two weeks before the playoffs. I mean, Rogie "earned it." Dryden didn't earn ****, except by winning.

RudyKelly: It'd be fun to somehow read a blog by a Montreal fan back then. I can only imagine the cursing. It'd probably be in 2 languages.

Quisp: Anything we forgot to address? [sound of crickets] Okay, so, say something witty or mean for your sign-off. I don't have anything that fits either category, so I'll just say that I think the Kings should select Scott Bjugstad's nephew in the first round.

RudyKelly: In conclusion, sign Kovalchuk, sign Fro*, bring up Loktionov, bring up Voynov.  I'll invite them all over to my house and we'll eat borscht and do kazatskis and at one point Kovalchuk will appear in a red speedo and give me a piledriver.  It'll be awesome.


*Not realistic but I don't want him to leave.

Connie Kim: "Piledriver." Is what you're calling it these days? Whatever happens, I have full confidence in Lombardi to get the job done.

Quisp: This roundtable is more of a banquet table.

RudyKelly: We got excited, things got carried away.

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