"The lines aren't really changing, the goaltender's not changing. Darryl Sutter is making a stand right now. He's going with the guys that got them there."
~Jim Fox, 2/7/15
Well, that would be more reassuring if the Los Angeles Kings hadn't just gone 4-6-4 to fall three points out of a playoff spot.
Despite Fox's statement, I don't believe that Sutter will just go down with the ship. Like Dean Lombardi, he may own some misplaced loyalties. However, he has to rearrange the deck a little.
Here are some (realistic) suggestions to help the Kings sail into the postseason. You're welcome, Coach!
So far this year, Tyler Toffoli (2.65) has outscored Sidney Crosby (2.47), Evgeni Malkin (2.4), Patrick Kane (2.37), and Steven Stamkos (2.24) at 5v5 Points/60. He's 10th (500+ 5v5 mins) in the NHL!
The closest King to Toffoli? Jeff Carter's 2.15. Keep in mind our general cheat baseline for 5v5 Points/60 (2.0=1st liner, 1.75=2nd liner, 1.5=3rd liner, 1.00=4th liner).
In fact, Toffoli is LA's top 5v5 producer (forwards, 700+ 5v5 mins) from last year on:
He's also second in 5v5 Shots/60 and third in Corsi For % Relative to Team:
|Corsi For % Rel|
Does this mean that the kid is better than Crosby? Carter? Of course not.
But it's time the Kings recognize that Toffoli is an elite producer, in league with Carter, Marian Gaborik, and Anze Kopitar. That means no more late-game benchings because of a first period neutral zone turnover. That means double shifts and power play time. That means being on the ice more than Jarret freaking Stoll:
|Justin Williams||14||Anze Kopitar||19.1|
|Dustin Brown||13.5||Jeff Carter||18.4|
|Anze Kopitar||13||Dustin Brown||17.1|
|Jarret Stoll||12.9||Marian Gaborik||16.9|
|Marian Gaborik||12.8||Jarret Stoll||16.6|
|Jeff Carter||12.7||Justin Williams||16.3|
|Dwight King||12.5||Tyler Toffoli||14.4|
|Trevor Lewis||11.7||Dwight King||14.2|
|Tanner Pearson||11.4||Mike Richards||14.1|
|Mike Richards||11.4||Trevor Lewis||13.9|
|Tyler Toffoli||11.3||Tanner Pearson||13.7|
|Kyle Clifford||10.8||Kyle Clifford||11|
|Jordan Nolan||9.8||Jordan Nolan||9.9|
I know it's only Toffoli's second full season. I know the occasional seat may have taught the 22-year-old a useful lesson or two. I know he might slump. But LA's backs are against the wall and unleashing the young sniper will more likely bring good than bad.
Since Toffoli's triumphant return from mono, his 5v5 playing time has increased some (11.3 to 13.1). More encouragingly, he did not lose icetime after his defensive gaffe in Florida led to a game loser.
Through the many pointless penalties and nights, I've been JftC's most ardent Stoll supporter.
Over the summer, I even penned a spirited defense of his offensive decline. I placed a lot of blame for Stoll's lack of production on weak regular linemates (Dwight King, Trevor Lewis) from 2011-14. I discovered that the veteran center's 5v5 Points/60 scoring rate with Dustin Brown and Justin Williams (his most frequent linemates during a far more productive 2008-11) hadn't changed noticeably from 2008-11 to 2011-14.
That's not the case anymore:
|Stoll w/ Brown||1.78||0.69|
|Stoll w/ Williams||1.65||0.92|
Name a major offensive category, Jarret's dropped off:
Now what about Stoll's acknowledged skills? Well, before this season, his penalty killing abilities were a tad overrated:
|2008-14||SH Fenwick Against/60|
This year? Just a tad claw out your eyes:
For what it's worth, even his wizardry at the faceoff circle has diminished. After winning 56.1% of his draws from 2008-14, he's down to 52.6%.
So while I'd love to give a player who's done so much for the Kings a pass, the fact of the matter is, Stoll's 32. There was evidence of decline before, and right now, it looks like an out-and-out collapse.
Think Stoll's played better since October? Let's see how he's performed since LA's puck possession strength resurfaced in early December:
|TEAM CORSI||Points/60||Shots/60||Corsi Rel|
In the fall, Stoll was Zenon Konopka without the uppercut. Since then? Better, but he'd still be having the worst season of his career.
Los Angeles waived the wrong center. While Mike Richards's work has been nothing to brag about, he's still better than Stoll, especially shorthanded (4v5 FA60 as of 1/28/15):
Speaking of the PK, maybe the Kings waived the wrong centerman pic.twitter.com/jYqgSnNLax— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 29, 2015
In addition, the Kings would've gained more cap space if they had waived or traded Stoll—I believe they would've easily found a taker—1.387 mil on January 26th, when Richards was cut, as opposed to the $925K LA has when "Richie Rides the Bus." Even today, they'd open up 1.149 mil.
Richards is probably the best 3C readily available to Los Angeles, but I'd give Nick Shore a shot too. It's a hefty responsibility for a 22-year-old rookie, but perhaps Shore can make a Toffoli or Tanner Pearson-like impact.
I wouldn't count on it. But please, let's just keep Stoll from playing 16 minutes a game from hereon out.
Promote Martinez Move Alec Martinez up with Drew Doughty, slide Jake Muzzin with Matt Greene. This is ironic, considering that I've declared that Martinez is not a championship-caliber top-four defenseman. Now he's top-pairing?! While my opinion of Martinez hasn't changed much since his extension, here's why I'm promoting him. For starters, I believe Jake Muzzin, despite recent flubs, is the team's second-best defender. Next, it's ideal for Martinez to skate on his natural left side. Martinez-Doughty and Muzzin-Greene offers balance to LA's top-four. And while I don't believe that Greene belongs in an elite top-four either, like A-Mart, he's the best option available...for now.
There are signs that Jonathan Quick may be fighting himself out of the worst slump of his career. And I'm not suggesting that Los Angeles make Martin Jones starter. Given the organization's trust in Quick, that's never going to happen anyway.
But LA needs one of their netminders to heat up. And Quick's been struggling. So why not give Jones a game or two more than usual to see if he can go on another amazing run?
Of course, other Kings are suffering from subpar seasons—here's looking at you, Dustin and Dwight—and you can't reshuffle every single chair. I also believe Los Angeles will make the postseason "as is."
So Sutter can ignore JftC—as I'm sure he's been doing on the way to two Stanley Cups!—and keep benching Toffoli, trusting Stoll, overvaluing Robyn Regehr, and riding Quick.
However, the water is rising on the defending champs' reign. I'm not going down with the "guys that got them there" but with the best players.