The 2016-17 Los Angeles Kings have profiled similarly with other recent incarnations of the team: Stoic, smothering defense. Possession monsters. And yes, hopelessly inept offensively. Jarome Iginla, now 39 years old, will not make the impact of Stanley Cup-winning trade acquisitions Jeff Carter or Marian Gaborik. But if deployed correctly, he could chip in a few extra goals down this crucial stretch as the Kings fight for their playoff lives.
A quick glance at the now former Kings-killer’s numbers this year hardly inspire much confidence. In fact, he has just as many goals this season (8) as Dwight King, the man he is replacing in the line-up. As we pointed out while breaking news of the trade, Iginla’s shooting percentage has completely fallen apart this year, a point we should not readily dismiss as luck, considering his advanced age.
Conveniently, Jarome Iginla has already dropped his shooting percentage well below his career levels in preparation for a trade to LA. pic.twitter.com/X3k2UUN70v— Jewels frm the Crown (@JFTC_Kings) March 1, 2017
Still, he shot 12.1% just last season, right in line with his career norms. So what gives?
Part of the explanation could be tied to his line-mates. During the 2015-16 season with the Colorado Avalanche, Iginla found himself regularly seeing time next to Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Alex Tanguay, helping him pot 22 goals at age 38. This year, he has seen most of his time with veteran grinders John Mitchell, Blake Comeau and sometimes Carl Soderberg. His line with Mitchell and Comeau performed admirably enough with a 52.7 CF%, there just was not enough skill there to generate any offense.
The Kings are not known as a speedy squad and Iginla definitely does nothing to remedy that situation. Some believe that might actually make him a better fit in Los Angeles than other destinations, as he can still use his large frame and ferociousness to win board battles. His 50.1 CF% on the worst team in hockey is darn impressive. The Kings, of course, have plenty of players that fit that profile already. Like Vincent Lecavalier last season, the one area where Iginla really can make his impact felt will be with the man advantage.
Even at his advanced age, Jarome continues to see substantial power play time (2.4 minutes per game this season). After scoring 13 PP goals last season, he is currently sitting at only 4 thus far in 2016-17, seeing most of his time on the second power play unit with Duchene and Mikhail Grigorenko. He does not seem likely to crack the Kings’ top unit alongside Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, but could potentially be an upgrade over Dustin Brown when Darryl Sutter rolls out the B-squad.
Which brings us to perhaps the most interesting aspect of this trade: Where does he fit in the Kings’ line-up? Most analysts are projecting him to play on Kopitar’s wing, the area where the Kings have long been rumored to be looking for an upgrade. In truth, it likely does not matter, as Darryl Sutter likes to shuffle his lines, often mid-game. Despite his familiarity with the player from their time together in Calgary, I have a hard time believing Sutter will look towards the veteran to assume the defensive responsibilities that come with playing top-line minutes. It seems more likely that he will be opportunistic in his deployment of Iginla, giving him favorable zone starts and limiting his minutes to keep him as fresh as possible.
Will it work? Considering the price and the Kings’ place in the standings, it is a chance worth taking. Dean Lombardi is betting on Iginla being rejuvenated by a playoff push and the opportunity to play with better teammates. The worst that can happen is he is as bad as his current stats make him look and he gets scratched, leaving the Kings exactly in the same spot they were in before. He is not here to be a savior to their season; they need better performances from Kopitar and Marian Gaborik to allow for that. But if he can provide some depth scoring, it could be just enough to help the Kings scratch their way into the final playoff spot.