The Los Angeles Kings Should Not Trade for a Defenseman
In spite of Christian Ehrhoff's recent demotion, acquiring another defenseman is the wrong move.
Yesterday, with two minutes to go, Kevin Gravel was really just trying his best, wasn't he? Jonathan Quick thought he had the puck under his control, but it was just out of his grasp after Justin Williams crashed the net and knocked him in the head, and Gravel lunged frantically to try and keep Williams from gaining further control. We all saw what happened next; Gravel didn't get to it, Evgeny Kuznetsov was left open behind him, and that was essentially the game.
With the Los Angeles Kings in the middle of a losing February, plays like this seem to be magnified in importance, and with each mistake by Gravel or Brayden McNabb or Luke Schenn, the Kings' desire to trade for another defenseman makes more and more sense. Which is why they should avoid that temptation and stick with what they've got.
Let's start with the bottom line. The Kings have approximately $2.45 million in cap space after burying Christian Ehrhoff in the minors, according to General Fanager. That provides room for either a pure player-for-pick swap to gain another lower-end defenseman, or a player-for-pick-plus-lesser-player swap to try and land one of the best defensemen available.
The defensemen for the Kings who are hitting unrestricted free agency next year are, appropriately, the trio of guys who were supposed to be holding down the third pairing for the rest of the season. That's Luke Schenn, Christian Ehrhoff, and Jamie McBain. So acquiring a new defenseman to fill out the blueline, with an eye towards re-signing, shouldn't cause a logjam. If the new guy impresses, he can easily swap in for one of those three. Again, though, the Kings are in a bind when it comes to the cap. The only forwards not yet under contract in 2016-17 are Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis, and you can bet LA wants both of them back. Anze Kopitar's cap hit jumps up to $10 million next season. And Brayden McNabb, who's an RFA, will be due for a raise from $650K. Simply put, there probably isn't going to be room for someone on the higher end.
Even if there was, though, the options are limited. Dustin Byfuglien re-signed. The Islanders want an equally valuable defenseman for Travis Hamonic. It pretty much boils down to Keith Yandle and Dan Hamhuis, neither of whom will make us forget Andrej Sekera. For starters, here are some things you might not have known about Dan Hamhuis:
- On November 9, 2013, Hamhuis scored the Canucks' lone goal in a 5-1 Kings victory. Since that game, he has scored two goals.
- He has a no-movement clause.
- Jim Benning, Canucks GM, bizarrely thinks his team can make the playoffs and is looking to add pieces.
- Hamhuis makes $4.5 million this season.
His possession statistics are decent compared to his teammates, and he'd be an upgrade for the Kings' defense. Due to the Canucks' stubbornness, though, LA might have to give up their 2017 1st rounder, or their 2016 2nd or 3rd rounder and a prospect, in order to land Hamhuis. It's hard to see this being a substantial enough upgrade for a player who might cost one of the Kings' top five remaining prospects.
As for Yandle, he makes more sense; his salary is lower ($2.625 million) and his possession stats are better. His reputation also precedes him a bit, which is good news (Lombardi's not going to judge him because he got healthy scratched this year) and bad news (he's not re-signing for $2.625 million again). As Blueshirt Banter noted, Ryan McDonagh being healthy also increases the likelihood Yandle could move. The Rangers actually are contending, though, and they're almost certainly going to look for a player that can help them in the playoffs in a trade. If that happens, the Kings might have Yandle, but they might still be left looking for another player when they give the Rangers a regular lineup presence.
So let's talk about the other rumored names. Roman Polak and Kris Russell have good attitudes, and Kris Russell might be Darryl Sutter reincarnate, but they'll cost a tangible asset to... barely improve the bottom pairing at all. At best, you're acquiring another Luke Schenn. What the Kings need is not another #6 defenseman; they've got plenty of those. Jamie McBain has actually been decent this season, give him a look. Kevin Gravel is already getting special teams minutes, and though he's been underwhelming so far, he and Derek Forbort are on the same level of passable every-other-game players. Neither of them are going to be looking for $5 million contracts or getting ejected for boarding our favorite players.
(Christian Ehrhoff's still around if someone gets injured, too.)
Anyway, I'm on the record (at least, I think I'm on the record) as still being a supporter of last season's Andrej Sekera trade. The difference between that deal and a potential trade for Dan Hamhuis or Keith Yandle is that there was a legitimate chance of re-signing Sekera. In past years, Dean Lombardi's rentals are always acquired with an eye toward the future. Marian Gaborik signed for seven years after leading LA to the 2014 Stanley Cup. Robyn Regehr re-upped after his brief post-trade stint in LA in 2013. Even Luke Schenn is probably going to get a long, long look this offseason, and if Matt Greene can't find his way back, LA would 100% give Schenn the same 3 year, $7.5 million deal, right? Hamhuis, though, seemingly wants to stay in Western Canada, and Yandle's upcoming contract will likely be too rich for the Kings.
So the question, overall, isn't necessarily whether the Kings could use another player on defense. It's whether making that move is worth the cost. Asking the Los Angeles Kings to give up their first round pick -- again -- or a young player when the team is headed for a rather uncertain couple of years simply isn't worth the potential upgrade. I'm not putting it past Dean Lombardi to find an absolute steal, but it looks like they're either going to (1) give up a first-rounder for a few months of a decent d-man or (2) acquire someone who's more of what they have now. And they shouldn't do either.