There was a lot of intrigue surrounding last Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Break a four-game losing streak? Could a fifth loss in a row be blamed on Jonathan Quick somehow even though he had a baseball cap on, watching from the bench? Could the Kings kill more than one penalty or at least score on the man advantage?
Yeah, all of that and at the same time, none of that.
Many of us in the cheap seats wondered aloud if Rob Blake would mix it up with Hawks’ GM Stan Bowman and swap out a few underperforming stars. Maybe a Tyler Toffoli bag of treats in exchange for Patrick Kane’s contract? I heard that a few times recently around the net. (I mean if you can’t trust an NHL Internet rumor, what can you trust?)
But then reality struck because the idea of a Los Angeles Kings fire sale pretty much rings hollow. Maybe because the sell-off of assets the rest of the league covets—Jake Muzzin—already kinda happened, and the team’s intentions to absorb short-term pain for potential long-term gain has been fairly obvious for quite some time now. There isn’t much left that other teams want. Oh sure, there will be the scouts in town to try and grab Trevor Lewis, Kyle Clifford or Alec Martinez for day two 2020 draft picks, but Rob Blake isn’t exactly “Trader Jack” Adams rolling the dice and taking chances.
Off the top of my head, the following blue chip trade bait have some sort of no movement clauses: Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Anze Kopitar. Then there are the other guys like Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick, Joakim Ryan, and Ben Hutton, but honestly no one is inquiring and they won’t fetch enough to satiate all of the rabid fans who think other teams will overpay. They aren’t trading Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe, Sean Walker, Austin Wagner, and Clifford. Sure, the rookie types like Matt Roy, Carl Grundstrom, Michael Amadio, Nikolai Prokhorkin, Kurtis MacDermid could fetch something in the fourth/fifth round kind of thing but really those are moves just to make moves. That leaves Toffoli, Lewis, and Martinez. I am sure by the time other teams start sending scouts two of those three will be injured and the other will still be snakebit in an effort to get his shooting percentage over ten per cent.
So what am I missing here?
Were there veteran players and agents out there who identified the Kings as a 2019-20 competitive team back when free agents were taking meetings and money was being spent on players in July? Weren’t being refused (initially) by Ben Hutton and Blake “we’re building from within” quotes in the face of stories leaking that the Kings would try to enter the Artemi Panarin Sweepstakes a fairly overt sign of organizational intent?
If there is to be a mutiny of sorts, and an uprising of Kings players looking to get out, I wonder who will lead it? After that 5-9-0 start, which has included multiple shutouts and 8-2/5-1/5-2 drubbings, there doesn’t seem to be many leading an on-ice charge. And while this rebuild is clearly and will take years, plural (because that’s how it goes in this sport when you take this tact without culture shifting trades and top free agent signings), it is also the only method, in my valuation, to get on the corridor of becoming a contending team once again.
The Kings have a core of young players they believe will be a part of the turnaround, and some veterans who are making significant salaries, and that’s about it. News flash: the guys on their first non-ELC deals whom the Kings believe can play aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Trust me, they would love to deal Quick and his $22M salary, but there haven’t been any takers, and they’d likely have to eat a bunch of that sum to move him. They’d also love to jettison Kovalchuk and his remaining $13M cap hit but there’s about as much of a chance of that happening as there is Bailey would be traded to Philadelphia for Gritty.
Although Kopitar and Doughty were caught off guard by the imminent need to rebuild, they remain committed to the organization. Doughty just told Pierre Lebrun of the Athletic, “Obviously when I was re-signing we didn’t ever think we’d do this rebuild. We’re not too happy we have to do it. But it’s the way things have come. We have full faith in Blakey, and full faith in all the players in this room. We’re going to get back to where we were one day, just we can’t rush it. We need to trust the process. We have to play with the cards we’ve been dealt here.”
Kopitar echoed that to Lebrun as well, “Yeah I certainly don’t want to go anywhere. I’ve been in L.A. 14 years now and I can call it my home. Unless somebody tells me I got to go anywhere, I certainly would like to stay here. In saying that we got to make sure we build a team that’s competitive. I think we’re trending in the right direction.”
So all of the fan noise aside—peruse the roster at your convenience—and tell me which of the players are in a position to demand a trade or fetch something of true value.
This is, by some accounts, one of the worst rosters in hockey, one that has already been scouted, picked through and weeded out. Shoot, they can’t even kill penalties anymore (16 allowed in 15 games). It’s sorta hard to send out next year’s second-round pick to play tackle for you right now.
The not-so-secret dirty little secret of their brutal 2018-19 Willie D. Sleepwalking Season is that the rest of the league doesn’t want their trade bait for anything of substantial value. Want to trade Carter or Toffoli for a fourth rounder? Sure, a handful of teams will do it if the Kings retain some salary. Maybe paying Matt Greene, Dion Phaneuf, and Mike Richards for not suiting up is enough for this team. One thing is for sure, rival general managers have been in communication with the Kings for weeks and months about this roster, looking for blood in the water. In previous seasons, Kings’ management proved to be a more-than-willing trade partner. Now it’s different. Maybe someone takes a shot on Carter, Toffoli, or Quick, but Blake isn’t going to give anyone away.
So, don’t get your hopes up about any blockbusters. The Kings’ teardown portion of their “Plan” seems nearly complete. The next step is converting all of this draft capital into impact players, and those players will surely understand the extent of the task at hand. No alarms. No surprises.
I am sure you, like Drew Doughty, aren’t too happy about the rebuilding, but you have to do it, and you have to endure it.