As the Kings head down the tubes and cling desperately to anything that they can grab hold of, it seems like a strange thing to want to trade for someone that is currently playing on a team residing in the sewer. Such is the odd state that the Kings are in. A dominant possession team has hit a shooting dry spell, and this has sent the masses (and apparently Dean Lombardi) back to the laboratory to try and find some answers.
It's easy to identify trade targets (good players on bad teams), but who should the Kings be looking to give up? Based on the information we have - fancystats, standard stats, chances, entries, gut feels, intuition, eyeball tests, whatever - who should the Kings be looking to DEAL when it comes to a trade? And more importantly, what are those players worth?
The Kings' needs are not extravagant. They need another scoring forward and they seem to be looking for a reliable defender (for reasons that escape me). They certainly have the pieces in-house, whether they be draft picks or prospects or even roster players, to make a deal.
Tyler Toffoli (RW/LW)
After being selected in the second round by the Kings in the 2010 draft, Toffoli has not stopped scoring. He has scored at a respectable rate at every level (OHL, AHL, NHL) that he has played at. Yes, even the NHL level. His first 48 regular season games have seen him score exactly a half a point per game. He has posted the exact same rate in 12 postseason games. His game is based on instincts and positioning, and he plays it well. As he gets more comfortable with his opponents, I expect his numbers to jump a bit, though I'm probably not as optimistic about him as others. Still, a young forward already capable of shouldering top-6 minutes is a valuable asset. The players you could likely get at this juncture of the year are not significant upgrades over Toffoli, and he could (perhaps very soon, perhaps before the season is over) be better than those players going forward.
VERDICT: Untouchable always comes with the caveat that you don't pass up a great deal, so if the Islanders say they wanna part with John Tavares or something equally stupid, go for it. For what's actually on the market? Toffoli better not be leaving Los Angeles.
Linden Vey (C)
Linden has enjoyed a very steady rise through the ranks of the Kings' organization. He made a significant leap in production from his 2011/12 campaign to the next and has seen another jump so far this season. He's already proven himself to be a reliable two-way player even at the NHL-level, and may already be ready for a full-time depth role in this league. He has shown flashes of being a solid defensive center and also appears to move the puck up ice pretty well. His controlled zone entry totals are not rivaled by many other players on the team. That said, he isn't a world-beater yet. He's struggled to get involved at times and certainly needs to make himself more visible if he wants to stay in the NHL for good.
VERDICT: Probably wouldn't include him in a deal for Vanek or Gagner. While I'm more open to trading Vey than I am to trading Toffoli, I'm not actually very keen on either idea. Linden's steady progression coupled with whatever Jarret Stoll calls his current skillset means that Vey may be an asset to the NHL roster sooner rather than later. I would be a bit surprised if Dean Lombardi doesn't view it the same way. Stoll has never been an offensive sensation, but whatever skills he had in that regard have evaporated almost entirely so far this season. Colin Fraser is a 23rd man (at best) at this point as well, which really makes you wonder why Vey is not with the big club.
Tanner Pearson (LW/RW)
It is hard to be critical of a player that went to the AHL in his draft year and played in the NHL the very next season, but dammit if I don't try. Tanner was selected by the Kings in a bit of a surprising late-first round choice following their Cup victory. He notched 47 points in 68 games during his first professional season, a very respectable total. So far this year, he has experienced a slight bump in his production while also receiving some NHL time. However, he has certainly been the least impressive of the three rookie skaters that the Kings have thrown out there, as is evidenced both by his standard numbers and the fact that he played in half the games that Linden Vey did over roughly the same amount of time on the NHL club.
VERDICT: Willing to deal him. Not for Gagner, but certainly in a package for Vanek or Ehrhoff or something along those lines. I wouldn't deal him for a slight upgrade, but a significant player. Basically, everything would have to break right for him to have as much impact on a NHL roster as Vanek or Ehrhoff and he almost certainly isn't going to produce at that level soon, which puts him a significant distance behind Toffoli.
Alec Martinez (LD/RD)
Alec's career can best be described as volatile. While he's always been a fancystat super star and quite a handsome fellow, he's struggled to find a steady role in the NHL. The Kings have boasted some solid defensive depth for several years, which is certainly not to Alec's benefit. Basically, the Kings like to roll with three stay-at-home types and three puck-movers. The emergence of Jake Muzzin has made Martinez seem redundant. On top of that, Darryl Sutter has given much more leeway to Muzzin over the years. One of the reasons that may be true is that Martinez has about zero physical edge to his game, and is far more often on the receiving end of a devastating blow than he is on the giving end. While I surmise that some day it will make him an injury risk, it hasn't really affected his game to any great lengths thus far in his career. He's a very good depth puck-mover that has probably gotten a bit of a raw deal in Los Angeles.
VERDICT: Would be willing to trade him in most deals for worthwhile players. The Kings have very legitimate depth at the defensive position, and it is certainly the area they should be looking to deal from to improve the rest of the roster.
Jake Muzzin (LD)
On the flip-side of Alec Martinez, you have Jake Muzzin. Jake has been a pleasant surprise on the back-end most nights, though he has been a complete bonehead on many other nights. Jake is another solid puck-mover that has shown general improvement in that area from year one to year two. Though his zone entry numbers have certainly tailed since being paired with Drew Doughty, I suspect that is just because Doughty is who he is, and has very little to do with who Jake Muzzin is. I think he is capable of carrying the load on a second pairing right now and has very rarely been significantly detrimental to the top pairing. I don't like to guess at this kind of thing, because I don't know what's in Jake Muzzin's head, but it has been said (mostly by Jim Fox) that he has some issues with confidence, and I suspect that if a weak mental game was ever a detriment, then Jake Muzzin may be example number one. He has all of the tools to play in this league, but makes extremely boneheaded plays now and again. Lately, they have consistently wound up in his own net.
VERDICT: I am definitely more wont to trade Muzzin than I am Martinez, but that's just because Jake appears to have more value and I'm not sure that his game is actually even better than Alec's. However, my suspicion is that the Kings would rather keep Muzzin considering that he fits their particular size profile. Either way, same thing as Martinez. I am open to trading him because the Kings have a glut of worthwhile defenders. If you can use him to help you get a solid scoring option, you go for it.
Kyle Clifford (LW)
Kyle is an interesting case at this point. He's now got a significant NHL sample to work with and... well... he seems to be almost exactly what he is. He has made very little real improvement in his game over the years. While his production spiked last year, it appears to have been the result of some puck luck as opposed to a real step forward in skill. His SH% settled at a career high 12.5 figure, which is nowhere near the 8.5% figure he's logged over his career. His on-ice SH% was also a career high at 8.76%, compared to 6.8% for his career. Earlier in the season I noted that he seemed to be showing real skill at driving play into the offensive zone. His entry numbers were very good. Though they haven't really dipped, I suspect that there is a reason that he is able to generate so many shots: he shoots the puck right when he skates into the zone. This is based on conversation and anecdotal evidence, but he does it a lot. He fires harmless shots from the extreme perimeter. In fact, one of his three goals came on such a play thanks to a hilariously poor effort from Dan Ellis.
VERDICT: Clifford is a useful role player, but the second rounder's skillset has not really evolved over the years. He hasn't yet shown himself to be capable of holding a large role. His lines routinely generate zero offense and he is a big part of that. While it is not good for his production to be saddled with Colin Fraser, he hasn't done a whole lot apart from those teammates. In limited opportunities with skilled players, he's generally dragged down their ability to control play. If a team is willing to target him as a centerpiece of a deal, jump all over it. I'm not very convinced that Clifford is ever going to be more than exactly what he is: a decent role player.
The Kings have other trade pieces, but these are clearly their most valuable and likely to be moved. Players like Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene, Matt Frattin and Jordan Nolan may possibly surface in a deal as a supporting piece or as salary relief for the Kings, but none of them will be a considerable factor in a deal. They also have prospects like Derek Forbort (who is certainly the most notable piece that I didn't mention), Kevin Gravel and Andy Andreoff that could be slotted into a deal, but I think the Kings have more intriguing (and NHL-ready) players on the market.
The Kings appear to be heavily pursuing several different types of players. It's rumored that they want another real scoring threat, a solid depth forward and a top-4 defenseman. Those are lofty needs, but they certainly have the pieces to address a few of those needs. I'm not thoroughly convinced that they NEED to trade for anyone to right the ship, but I'm also pretty sure that they are in a position to improve their deficiencies without sincerely sacrificing their strengths. That is a good position to be in, and it is not a bad idea at all to explore the market.
If the Kings' have a problem in their exploration of the trade market, it's that it's likely going to cost them 2 or 3 of these pieces to make a real move. They do have draft picks, but they are also at the point where it may be in their best interest to conserve their highest draft picks in order to restock an increasingly bare prospect cupboard. Should they trade someone like Vey or Pearson or Forbort, those cupboards become even more empty and their own draft picks carry greater weight to them. While they have interesting pieces like Hudson Fasching, Valentin Zykov and Nikolai Prokhorkin, those guys are a long way from being even remotely relevant to the NHL roster. A lot of things can happen between being drafted and being relevant to the big club.
My opinion is that the Kings need to display extreme patience and conservation. This roster is every bit as good as the one that won the Cup in a fashion that could best be described as "smooth." Dustin Penner has been replaced by Tyler Toffoli, who can actually score from time to time in this system. The rest of the roster is not extremely different, and the difference between Scuderi then and Regehr now is not big enough to sink the ship. It may be in their best interest to simply give some of their talented prospects a real shot to succeed in this league before they move on a deal, but they are certainly running out of time to make that happen.
What have you Kings fans? What would you do?