It’s good to be back in the saddle here, and I hope to be able to post more frequently leading up to and during the 2011-2012 season.
When the 2010-2011 season ended, the Kings found themselves on the short end of a 6 game series with San Jose. Kings were minus their best player, and it still took the Sharks 3 overtime victories to vanquish a resilient Kings’ squad. I’ll not discuss this much, as I’m still bitter we lost, and every time I see anything teal I want to kick babies. OK, maybe not babies. Anyway…
The loss of one player made a significant dent in the Kings, particularly defensively. The Kings were thin up the middle without Kopitar, and it cost them. Fortunately. Dean Lombardi took notice of this and made it his priority to shore up center ice for the Kings. Just before the 2001 NHL Draft, Lombardi was able to engineer a deal with Philadelphia to acquire Flyers’ captain Mike Richards. The Kings had to part with fan favorite Wayne Simmonds, top prospect Brayden Schenn and a second round pick in 2012; but for a guy with Richards’ credentials, that’s more than a fair price to pay. The emergence of Kyle Clifford made Simmonds expendable, and Schenn is still probably a season away from full time NHL duty. In acquiring Richards, the Kings now have a 1-2 punch at center that matches up with any team in the West. If Kopitar were to be inured again, Richards is could not only fill in for Kopitar’s offense but also his defensive play. His addition makes the team exponentially better.
Winger Ryan Smyth in the meantime, requested that Lombardi send him home to Alberta if a trade could be worked out. The event created a bit of a shitstorm in the local hockey media, with Smyth denying his trade request initially. After what ended up being days worth of drama, Smyth was sent to Edmonton for Colin Fraser and a pick. Fraser was found to be injured, and Lombardi neglected to reverse the deal. The Oilers owe the Kings additional compensation over the mishap but don’t expect that to be much. Smyth will be missed, but the Kings do gain a TON of cap space from the deal and Fraser, if healthy, can be a serviceable bottom 6 player who has a Cup ring from his time in Chicago two seasons ago.
Smyth’s departure left a gaping hole in the Kings top 6 heading into the start of free agency on July 1st. Lombardi and company- an entourage including the Kings’ coaching staff and AEG CEO Tim Lieweke – made a hard pitch for Brad Richards that included testimony from Wayne Gretzky and Kobe Bryant about the joys of playing in LA on Friday. Richards chose the Rangers and former head coach John Tortorella on Saturday, and the Kings immediately took to plan 1A and signed LW Simon Gagne, the longtime Philadelphia Flyer most recently a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, to a two year deal. Gagne has scored 20 or more goals 7 times in his career, 30 or more goals 4 times, and 40+ goals twice. He comes with some risk as he’s had some unfortunate injuries later in his career, but Gagne is a gifted scorer who has spent several productive seasons alongside new Kings #2 Center Mike Richards in Philly. Provided Gagne can stay healthy, he can score 30 + on Richards’ flank, and he makes the Kings a much better team. Unlike last summer, when the Kings had no plan beyond their pursuit of Ilya Kovalchuk, Lombardi and co went out and got the necessary pieces to make the Kings a contender right now, without giving up their entire farm system to do so.
So, as of July 3rd, the Kings’ top 6 looks like Penner-Kopitar-Williams and Gagne-Richards-Brown. The best and most balanced top 6 the Kings have had in a decade or more. I expect the Kings to add perhaps another serviceable bottom 6 guy before camp, but that’s perhaps not even necessary as the Kings have Bud Holloway, Tyler Toffoli and Brandon Kozun on the cusp of cracking the lineup. We’ll see how it plays out, but Lombardi has options.
One interesting thing for those in the twitterverse: Dennis Bernstein of The Fouth Period has hinted over the past couple of days that he thinks the Kings have one more big move coming before camp, and has indicated it involves a forward. I’ll not speculate much here now, but one has to wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with Zack Parise – who’s arbitration award may be more than the Devils can swallow. NJ needs an heir for Martin Brodeur, which leads me to believe hypothetically at least that Bernier would be part of any such deal. Again, pure speculation on my part as Bernstein hasn’t divulged any info on the Kings’ possible dance partner, and for all we know it could be something off the board. It all remains to be seen.
The sum of all the moves that have been made up to now, and the potential of another big move on the horizon is this: The Kings are contenders, right now. Dean Lombardi has responded to critics who’ve hung the “Can’t make the big move” tag on him with two dynamite additions to the roster. Lomardi knows these Kings are ready to make a run at the Cup this season. It would be fair, and by all means accurate, to call them frontrunners for the Pacific Division title in 2011-12, and one of the teams to beat in the West. I’ll withhold my in depth analysis of that as there’s a lot of time between now and the opening of camp in September.
Needless to say, if you’re a Kings’ fan like I am, there hasn’t been this much excitement surrounding our team in a long time. I know it’s got me waking up daily asking “Is it October yet?”.
(Cross posted from my other blog, The Throne Room)