Teddy Purcell's excellent performance in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs has gotten the chins of Kings fans wagging. I always was a vocal fan of Purcell and have posted updates on his progress in Tampa ever since he was dealt two trade deadlines ago in exchange for Jeff Halpern. It hasn't helped ease the frustration of Kings fans that Halpern was not useful in his handful of games for the Kings, not to mention the fact that Halpern rebounded nicely this year for the Canadiens. Halpern's production took a dip with the Kings in what is, unfortunately, a recognizable pattern for Kings fans. Purcell's production in the AHL did not translate to the big league until he left the Kings. Ditto Matt Moulson and Brian Boyle.
This feeds the assumption that doesn't need much food to thrive: that it's all Terry Murray's fault, or Dean Lombardi's, or both. I have, to some degree, not helped matters, as I am fond of pointing out the fact that Terry Murray's system by its very nature will suppress the offensive numbers of everyone (Anze Kopitar, for example), and young prospects even more so.
I think I have not been clear. Yes, Purcell's (Moulson's, Boyle's, Moller's) numbers are harder to earn under Murray's system. Yes, it is paradoxical to insist (as Murray did with Alexei Ponikarovsky) that a player play tougher defensive minutes with weaker linemates employing a rigorous defensive system and yet still score like you used to.
But that's not why Purcell did not stick with the Kings. He didn't stick because
there wasn't room.
Justin Williams, Dustin Brown and Wayne Simmonds were established as the one-two-three (in various orders) down the right side. Who exactly was Purcell going to replace? He would either have to out-Williams Williams, out-Brown Brown, or out-Simmonds Simmonds, and none of those things was going to happen. Ever. Even now, no Kings fan is going to say they would take Teddy Purcell on the right side over Justin Williams or Dustin Brown. Sure, some corners of Kings fandom cry for Simmonds to be shipped off every once in awhile, but there would have been riots had Lombardi shipped off Simmonds and kept Purcell.
Lombardi signed Purcell as an unrestricted free agent. He put him in the line-up and gave him opportunities to succeed. A large majority of commenters were fed up and disgusted with Purcell and wished him to be dealt away long before he was (usually in a package with Brian Boyle and the rights to Jan Marek for Evgeni Malkin, or something similarly realistic). When Lombardi finally traded him to Tampa, I don't remember anyone saying "oh no." And the same fans who railed against Purcell for being too soft, too slow, too old, etc., are the ones who are now railing against Lombardi for dealing him away.
My question for those people is: which of Justin Williams or Dustin Brown would you want to have gotten rid of, to make room for Teddy Purcell?
Remember that Murray tried to put Purcell on the left side, because that's where the opening was. It didn't work. With the potential of a playoff appearance for the first time since the Palffy era, Lombardi made what was a pretty obvious decision, to trade a player for whom -- despite his talent -- there was no opening in the roster.
Underline: it doesn't matter how good Teddy Purcell was or is; unless he was obviously a 40 goal scorer a year ago, he was not going to have a place on the Kings over Justin Williams or Dustin Brown. (I personally think that the Kings have an issue with the overlap between Dustin Brown and Wayne Simmonds -- both essentially hybrid top/bottom-six hybrids -- but that's not a problem most fans acknowledge; to most people, Dustin Brown is a definitive top-six talent, and if that's the case, then that alone dooms the idea of Teddy Purcell as a King).
And this is where Purcell's age came into play. Teddy is a classic late-bloomer. He grew late. He got to college late. He got to the pros late. He had his break-out NHL moment late. That's a big part of the stories you're reading all over the national press or blogdom. But one thing about late-bloomers, i.e. older prospects: they have less time protected from waivers.
If Purcell had been a Kings draft pick at 18, and had been at 20 what he was at 25, Lombardi would have had a few extra seasons to shuffle him back and forth to/from the AHL, without him being vulnerable to waivers. But he was older. So it was sink or swim last year, because there was no sending him down. And it didn't work, so he was shipped off.
The same is true for Moulson. Had Lombardi re-signed him, he would not have been waiver-exempt. Which means he would have had to make the team, and stick. Where exactly? He hadn't shown anything at the pro level. Anything. Lombardi had just brought in Ryan Smyth. So that's one LW that Matt Moulson was not going to beat out. And Lombardi had Alex Frolov on the left side, so the only way Lombardi could rationalize signing Moulson was if he was going to outplay Frolov (which would have been an insane opinion two summers ago) or if he was going to be able to outplay the other prospects in the bottom six and be able to work his way up into the top six, over and above those other prospects.
Like, for example, Teddy Purcell. Purcell won the battle with Moulson. And nobody missed Moulson either. I can remember defending him against-all-odds on the old Inside the Kings blog. Lombardi was being lambasted for expecting Moulson to be a top-six forward. When he was let go, nobody cried.
(Connie Kim might've cried. I didn't cry. But I called what happened.)
As with Purcell, it wasn't a case of Lombardi saying "wow that Moulson guy really sucks." It was a case of recognizing that Moulson was not going to be able to outperform Ryan Smyth or Alex Frolov, and that Moulson was too old, not waiver-exempt, and therefore he would lose him to the waiver wire if he signed him, so it would be a waste of money.
As with Purcell, Moulson was an undrafted UFA signing of Dean Lombardi. And he was ultimately signed by the Islanders. So there's a long list of GMs who couldn't fit Matt Moulson into their line-ups.
Bottom line: when I post updates to Purcell or Moulson's successes, it's not to twist the knife in Lombardi's back. It's because (a) I like those guys and like tracking their careers, and (b) a lot of fans (by which I mean commenters, who for better or worse represent all the fans who don't comment) hated these players and thought they were useless, and I'm compelled to point out when the "wisdom of the mob" turns out to be wrong. Especially when the mob just shifts its anger to a new target as though it never thought anything else.