Jim Fox: "Everybody wants Brayden Schenn, I would imagine you’re not tempted to give up on him."
Dean Lombardi: "No, it would have to be really something significant. The way his stock has risen here with the World Juniors and what he’s done. It would have to be really special and quite frankly I don’t think he’s going anywhere."
It made my heart glad to hear that yesterday. But the Schenn rumors are, of course, still humming along. Puck Daddy noted that Lombardi also proclaimed "Brayden Schenn is not going anywhere," and mulled over what he sees as mixed signals: ""Don't think" vs. "not going." Hmmmm ..."
In other words: So you're saying there's a chance!
To me, though, those remarks didn't signal any shift in Lombardi's thinking. We've heard things like this through the grapevine before.
Bob McKenzie's Blog, 2/22/11
Dallas centre Brad Richards is unquestionably a person of interest for the Kings, but his current medical status, that is to say concussed, is clouding the issue somewhat. Other targets for L.A. may include Edmonton's Ales Hemsky, and to a lesser extent Dustin Penner, and Florida's David Booth. Los Angeles has plenty of draft picks and young prospects in Manchester but if the Kings are to part with Brayden Schenn or, and this is a real long shot, Wayne Simmonds, it's going to take an astronomical contract player coming back. Personally, I would be leery of any Kings' trade rumor involving Simmonds or any other young, core player on the Kings' roster.
That bit of information didn't make waves five days ago. Why? Because it matched Kings fans' understanding of the situation and how much value the organization places on him. He is considered too valuable to give up for anything less than a special player.
That possibility isn't ruled out entirely, but it is portrayed as unlikely. When Lombardi talked to Sportsnet, he probably spoke from the belief that there weren't any suitable options on the table. If Hemsky fit his criteria, a trade would already have been made.
This news is no news. But why is Schenn so important to hang on to? Here are five reasons why retaining him is a good idea for the Kings organization -- and the reasons I believe Lombardi isn't just posturing where Schenn is concerned.
For one thing, to the Kings, Brayden Schenn is not "just a prospect." At 19, he acquitted himself well in his eight NHL games this year, even while playing out of his natural position. He showed he had areas to work on, but also made it difficult to send him back to juniors. In fact, Lombardi delayed that decision for as long as he possibly could. The desire to avoid burning up a year of his entry-level contract, combined with the preference to have him keep developing at center, was likely the tipping point.
But Lombardi firmly believes he will be a good player in the NHL, and soon. So do other GMs -- otherwise, they wouldn't be having those conversations. His MVP performance at the World Juniors only cemented this feeling. The fact that he's put up 44 points in 20 games with the Blades hasn't hurt, either.
Nothing is ever certain in this world, but Schenn holds more value than most prospects for a reason.
2. Future need
Another reason why Schenn holds more value for the Kings than he might to other clubs is because he addresses one of our biggest future needs: depth at center. Handzus becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, and Stoll only has one more season left on his contract. Instead of overspending for UFA centers, or potentially losing another valuable player in a trade, Schenn could hit the roster at just the right time -- and he'll be good, young, and cheap.
3. Question marks on possible trade return
Some think the Kings can't afford to worry about the future because they need help now. But what kind of immediate help is in the offing? How big of an impact could a trade make? Would anyone out there be too good to pass up?
According to LeBrun, the Kings have three targets, in this order: Brad Richards, Ales Hemsky, and David Booth. While all are talented, in my opinion only the 30-year-old Richards meets the description of a "very special" player -- and he's not long under contract. On top of that, he is currently out with a concussion. We know which player would be able to provide the most help, but we have no idea when he'd be able to provide it. And he'll be the prize of free agency this summer.
So even if Dallas is willing to move him -- which is far from clear at this point -- it could be a very expensive rental, even if he recovers quickly. With so many question marks about his health and willingness to re-sign, I don't think I would risk giving up many future years of Schenn. On the other hand, he'd be the only name worthy of a big trade. I still don't believe Dallas would give him up to a division rival, even so.
If Hemsky and Booth are next on the list, I expect Lombardi is offering other prospects or players.
4. The team is doing well
The Kings aren't yet a lock to make the playoffs, but they're not alone, either: ten other teams in the West are in a similar position. Only two are really safe, and very few are truly out of it. Is that reason enough to panic? Not with the way they've put it together lately. The current group has gone 11-1-3 against stiff competition, and are holding their own even though they're the youngest team in the bunch.
Pundits can wail that their lofty expectations for the Kings' development curve haven't been met yet, but in Lombardi's view, last year they broke out ahead of schedule. Considering that they have called upon several rookies this season (Clifford, Martinez, Lewis, Bernier, and Loktionov), the team's climb to fifth place is pretty impressive. But we have seen signs that they still need more experience.
The playoffs are a realistic goal -- they now only need a 9-8-3 record to make it to 95 points. That's a far better position than they were in just a month ago. Now is not the moment to feel desperate. The Kings are a team with the potential to do some damage in the post-season, and are still on the rise.
5. Our window is long
With Doughty, Kopitar, Quick, Johnson, Brown, Simmonds, and Bernier all still very young, this won't be our only shot at the dance. Lombardi believes in the worth of this young core, and doesn't want to break it up. He has managed the cap very carefully in order to do so. If Schenn could become another important part of that core, why mess with it for the sake of a temporary fix?
So far there is no evidence to indicate that AEG is currently unhappy with Lombardi, the job he is doing, or his plan to build from within. They gave him an extension last summer. They supported his decision to only go so far in his pursuit of Kovalchuk so that players like Doughty could be locked up long-term. All the supposed concerns I read about are pure speculation. This methodical approach, where trades and free agent signings are made only if they help the core, is actually nothing new. But if this supposed pressure is enough to finally make DL do something uncharacteristic, well -- I'll believe it when I see it.
Yes, we could use a top six player, but not at any cost. Lombardi should stick to his guns, and the fanbase supports him on this one. Unless an ideal situation presents itself, don't move him. There are too many good reasons to have Brayden Schenn remain a King for a very long time.