Kevin Westgarth is a well regarded player on the Kings despite not having seen much playing time last year. He is by all accounts an excellent teammate, an articulate player representative for the NHLPA, a respected enforcer and a Princeton grad to boot.
That being said, is he worthy of a roster spot over a more skilled player like Andrei Loktionov?
Loktionov is in many ways the antithesis of Westgarth. Loktionov is a small, skilled Russian forward. He created a small stir when it was reported he requested a trade a few months ago. So far this season, Loktionov has been solid but unspectacular in the AHL (18 points in 26 games).
At face value, it would seem like the Kings are doing the right thing in getting Loktionov some seasoning in the minors, while not messing with team chemistry by letting go of Westgarth. The problem is that the Kings need some skilled forward depth for the time being in lieu of Kopitar's knee injury. Loktionov would provide just that and is a player that Kings coach Darryl Sutter seemingly felt comfortable sending out on the ice a season ago.
Last year under Darryl Sutter, Loktionov dressed in 49% of the games he coached. Westgarth only dressed 16% of the time (compared to 51% of the time pre-Sutter) and 0% of the time after the aquisition of Jeff Carter. Darryl Sutter obviously felt comfortable having Loktionov in the line-up, at least a lot more comfortable than he was with Westgarth. And for good reason, as Westgarth's underlying numbers have been troubling.
When a player steps on the ice, the two worst things that could happen would be taking a penalty or allowing a goal. Last year, when Westgarth was on the ice he took the 2nd most penalties (excluding coincidental penalties like fighting) and was on the ice for the 6th most goals against among forwards in the NHL. Only one player in the entire NHL combined for worse numbers (Brandon McMillon). In fact, Westgarth's propensity to take bad penalties has been an ongoing problem throughout his career and one that doesn't seem likely to change.
As far as goals allowed, over the last 3 years no King has been on the ice for more goals against than Westgarth. Conversely, over the last 3 years no King has been on ice for fewer goals against than Loktionov.
Goals are only part of the story as they can be driven by luck over smaller sample sizes. A better barometer is shot differentials. If a team gets more shots through than their opponents over time, then they are very likely to be a winning club. Over the last 3 years, Westgarth has been the 2nd worst in that regard on the Kings. Loktionov hasn't set the world on fire either but is ahead of players such as Dustin Penner and Mike Richards.
Going into the lockout shortened season, line-up choices are going to be all the more crucial. There isn't going to be time to make up ground if poor line-up selection results in a string of losses. Westgarth's reputation as a solid guy in the locker room isn't enough to stave off his very poor underlying stats. Loktionov is a better option for the Kings right now.