February 23, 2012
Struggling offence should force Kings' hand
By MICHAEL RUSHTON, SPORTS NETWORK
PHILADELPHIA - Imagine sitting at a poker table for a game of Texas Hold'em with what you thought was an excellent set of cards, having dumped a large handful of chips into the hand, only to watch fellow player after fellow player call your bet.
You're already pot-committed and are holding what you think is a solid core, something to which you can build a winning hand.
There are still some fresh cards to be dealt. Now is not the time to fold.
This is the situation that Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi is facing, and his version of the turn and river is Monday's trade deadline.
Lombardi began pushing his chips into the pot at last year's deadline for making trades, taking a chance on Edmonton forward Dustin Penner.
Following a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Sharks, Lombardi nearly went all-in this past summer, siphoning off even more of Los Angeles' youth in a trade for former Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards and, after an initial standoff, signing restricted free agent Drew Doughty to an eight-year, $56 million deal.
The initial return on Lombardi's investments haven't been overwhelming. After coming into the season as expected contenders for the Pacific Division crown, the Kings sit eighth overall in the West with five teams within six points of that final playoff spot.
Even more alarming, Los Angeles sits dead last in the NHL with 125 goals. Penner has five goals in 44 games this season, Richards has one tally in his past 26 games and another free agent signing, Simon Gagne, hasn't played since Dec. 26 due to a concussion.
The main reason the Kings remain in the race is because of All-Star goaltender Jonathan Quick. But with Lombardi having taking on about $17 million in salary this season for Penner, Richards and Doughty, he signaled his intention to see this hand through. Staying quiet at the trade deadline is not an option.
Lombardi has one huge bargaining chip in backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier. The 11th overall pick of the 2006 draft, Bernier has gotten into just 44 games in his career, thanks in part to the emergence of Quick.
Quick is among the league leaders this season in goals-against average (1.96), save percentage (.931) and shutouts (six), but ranks only 10th with 24 wins. Quick also is signed through next season and figures to be in the Kings' long- term plans, so dealing Bernier is a no-brainer. The 23-year-old is the perfect trade candidate for a team looking to rebuild with a young goaltender.
But with Bernier having a cap hit of $1.25 million and the Kings having less than $1 million in cap space, according to capgeek.com, Lombardi is going to have to get creative.
Lombardi should be handed the executive of the year award if he can get someone to take Penner, who has seven goals in 63 games since the Kings acquired him, though the forward does have an expiring contract.
It seems more likely the Kings general manager is going to have to part with one of his top-two defenceman in Doughty or Jack Johnson, who is signed through 2017-18 at an annual cap hit of $4.357 million, according to capgeek.com.
Given that Doughty is a former Norris Trophy winner, Lombardi will most likely be dangling Johnson. He shouldn't hang up the phone if a club asks about his other defenceman, especially if that team is Columbus. After all, would the Kings be thought any less of a contender if they add current Blue Jackets' forward Rick Nash? A package of Doughty and Bernier would certainly bring back a solid return which includes Nash.
It would probably cost a little less to get another Columbus forward, Jeff Carter, or a player like Buffalo's Derek Roy or Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn, but the bottom line is that Lombardi cannot let Monday's deadline pass without doing something.
Getting shut out eight times already this season, including five of those by 1-0 margins, has made that clear. So have another 14 defeats in which Los Angeles has been held to only one goal.
After his moves this offseason, Lombardi has to see his hand through. There's no folding now.