The Kings Need a Forward, Not a Defenseman

Why Jake Muzzin is really, really good and should stay on the top pairing.

Rumor mongers have been claiming that the Kings are as interested in acquiring a defenseman as they are a top six forward. The defensemen the Kings have been coveting - Andrew MacDonald, Dan Girardi, Henrik Tallinder - suggest that, like last year, they are looking for a stay-at-home defenseman to pair with Drew Doughty. In this scenario Jake Muzzin would probably drop to the third pairing and Alec Martinez out of the lineup. This is regrettable, because the Kings do not need a defenseman, and they emphatically do not need to replace Jake Muzzin on the top pairing.

The Muzzin/Doughty has produced spectacular results. When they are on the ice, the Kings get 59.9% of the shot attempts, which is the best in the NHL - better than Keith/Seabrook (57.9%), better than Chara/Boychuk (57.3%), way better than Pietrangelo/Bouwmeester (54.0%). These results are not just the product of soft minutes. Among Kings defenseman, Doughty and Muzzin face the toughest competition and receive only slightly easier than average zone starts. Why would the Kings be in a hurry to replace what is quite possibly the most effective D pairing in the league?

A skeptic might argue that Doughty is the reason for that pair's success, and that the results would be even better if Doughty had a defensively responsible partner. But over the past two seasons, Doughty has had markedly more success with Muzzin than with Regehr or Mitchell; in fact, his results with Muzzin are the best of his career. The notion that he plays better with a stay-at-home partner seems to be a myth.  Doughty seems to agree with this himself, as he lobbied for a Doughty-Muzzin pair in the preseason, saying "I think that out of all the other D-men, I think I move the puck the best with him."

Turning the focus away from Muzzin/Doughty and towards the blue line as a whole, it's difficult to conclude that the Kings need defensive help. The Kings allow the fewest goals and the second-fewest shots 5v5. And unlike New Jersey (who allows the fewest shots), the Kings do not achieve this by completely stifling the game. The Kings attempt the seventh-most shots at even strength, so their players are finding some opportunities to play offense even while they shut down the opposition.

Of course, the Kings have had little success at turning those shots into goals. In all likelihood, this is mostly the result of bad luck and will improve naturally, but the Kings could help this regression along by acquiring a forward with the ability to shoot for a high percentage. This is where the Kings' deadline efforts should be focused.

Right now, the Kings are playing a number of forwards with little shooting talent in the top nine. The Kings have even attempted to turn Tanner Pearson and Jordan Nolan into second line left wings the past two games, and the results have been so bad that Kings will probably try their third second line left wing in as many games on Saturday.

Realistically, Dustin Brown is the only player available who has enough scoring talent to fit into that slot. Unfortunately, moving Brown off the third line cripples LA's scoring depth. Dwight King has had a surprisingly productive year, but pairing him with Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis, who have not, is a recipe for an offensively impotent third line.

Trading for a scoring left wing is an easy solution to this problem. A player like Ales Hemsky, Mike Cammalleri, or Thomas Vanek could provide scoring and balance to the Kings forwards without harming the team's ability to control the puck. Finding Doughty a new stay-at-home partner would hurt the Kings' puck possession game that is so dependent on the Doughty-Muzzin pairing, and probably do little to improve what is already the stingiest defensive unit in the NHL. Trading for a forward makes the Kings better; trading for a defenseman solves a problem that doesn't exist.