What will the Kings do with the NHL trade deadline a month away?
The NHL trade deadline lies one month away, and a cascade of arrivals and departures seem certain to follow ahead of the March 3 cutoff date for asset swaps.
Between the Kings’ sudden competitiveness and some unique quirks for a team vying for first place in its division, this could be their weightiest deadline since they acquired Marian Gaborik in 2014.
Getting over the top
The Kings have answered a lot of the pressing inquiries from the preseason. Their power play remains on track to produce its biggest improvement year-over-year in franchise history and its best percentage in decades. Key players who stepped forward abruptly last season, such as Phillip Danault and Adrian Kempe, have continued to be integral parts of the group. Second-year standouts Sean Durzi and Arthur Kaliyev have continued to improve. The Kings are also in the thick of a tight divisional race where four teams are separated by just three points.
But the Kings are still dealing with a number of lingering issues. They felt confident that Cal Petersen was going to round into form as the No. 1 goalie while former star Jonathan Quick eyed the sunset of his career. Yet last season, Quick reclaimed the cage and keyed a march to the playoffs along the razor’s edge.
This season, neither goalie has been adequate, let alone inspired confidence for a deep run. With Petersen in the minors, Quick on the bench and nearly $11 million in cap space tied up between them, Pheonix Copley, 30, came up from the minors and has performed well. The Kings will have to decide if they are willing to back the current carousel or add another option to the mix – and soon.
Dating to when they were shipping out veterans like Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez, there has been pressure to add a defenseman. Initially, there was a push for an offensive-minded blue-liner. With Drew Doughty on pace for his first 50-point season since 2017-18 and Durzi a point shy of his total from all of last season, the focus has now shifted to a player who can give the Kings a physical edge. They’ve taken the second-most hits of any team and a stalwart rearguard could ease some pressure on the Kings’ goalies.
Oh, and he’d better be left-handed: The Kings have been imbalanced on the back end, routinely playing four right-handed shots and, in rare instances, icing five righties.
Follow the money
Calculating cap space can sometimes feel like counting the legs on a millipede, but Cap Friendly projects the Kings to have around $4.75 million in deadline cap space.
Teams trading players can also retain up to 50% of their salary, and even involve additional teams who can also retain salary or add assets to facilitate deals. Still, the cost of such creativity is often high, and Blake has been very cautious when mobilizing assets.
Who might ship out?
Quick has been a franchise icon and would be in line for a significant pay reduction next season. Petersen has toiled in the minors with improved but still largely unremarkable numbers. It seems all but impossible that either would be in demand elsewhere in the league even if the Kings were motivated to move either goalie.
Up front, four wingers are currently injured, but their prognosis has them on track to return well before the postseason. Trade acquisition Kevin Fiala has been all the Kings hoped for overall, Gabe Vilardi has begun to show the star potential they coveted and Viliardi is one of several natural centers playing wing for the Kings. Given their existent depth and versatility, a deal for a forward seems fanciful.
On defense, the Kings’ top four of Doughty, Mikey Anderson, Durzi and Matt Roy seems fairly firm. Alex Edler, who played his 1,000th game this season, has had his load managed but still gives them a seasoned left shot. Right-shooting Sean Walker, who recovered from major injuries in each of the past two seasons, has played the fewest minutes of the Kings’ six regulars and his $2.6 million cap hit could afford them some breathing room, though the organization’s commitment to him has far outweighed his trade value thus far.
Most likely, the Kings would look to move futures for the right piece in return, with Blake potentially less reserved given the team’s improved position in the standings.
Welcome to LA?
One of the NHL’s top goal-scorers this season, center Bo Horvat, was already dealt to the New York Islanders this week, but even he has an outside chance of returning to the trading block if the Isles fail to sign him to an extension and slip off the postseason bubble.
Prolific San Jose winger Timo Meier could be available. He is a pending restricted free agent, meaning the Sharks have no immediate impetus to trade him, but his hefty qualifying offer of $10 million could shape the course of the Sharks and any potential suitors. It would essentially disqualify the Kings, who extended Trevor Moore and still need to dole out some dollars for pending RFAs Anderson and Vilardi, who won’t come cheap since they will both be eligible for salary arbitration.
That hardly means that the Kings cannot afford a new, shiny toy, at least not from a salary-threshold perspective. Defenseman Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes could, theoretically, make the Kings’ corps more mobile, more potent offensively and a bit more physical. His $4.6 million cap hit is manageable and at 24 he has some runway in his career.
But Chychrun has had more than his share of injuries and surgeries already in his young career, and while the fact that he’s under contract through 2025 may be attractive to the Kings, it also means the Coyotes can be selective in fielding offers. Horvat ran the Islanders a first-round pick, a top-flight prospect and a roster player, and Arizona has cause to ask even more for Chychrun.
In a field of longshots to land in Los Angeles, one of the better bets might be Vladislav Gavrikov, a left-shooting defender with imposing size who is a pending unrestricted free agent with Columbus. He’s chewed up minutes in another injury-marred season for the Blue Jackets, who hope to extend him, but if no agreement is reached soon he should be in play, albeit at an acquisition price that Blake has not yet paid for a player other than Fiala.
Philadelphia defenseman Ivan Provorov just turned 26 and his $6.75 million cap hit will carry through two more seasons, just like Chychrun. There’s no urgency to jettison him, but given the rebuild ahead in Philly, the Flyers remain inclined to answer each ring, vibrate and notification, even for their top defenseman. Failing the high-end acquisitions, the Kings could turn to a mid-level move like a trade for Montreal’s Joel Edmundson.
Goalies are often tough to snag at the deadline. Up-and-coming goalies, like Arizona’s Karel Vejmelka, are usually dealt in the offseason and given time to acclimate. The Kings can ill afford another unwieldy salary, so they’d likely limit cost if not term as well.
One player who may receive consideration is Cam Talbot. He’s in the final year of his contract with the Ottawa Senators. McLellan has rapport with and confidence in Talbot. When they were both with the Edmonton Oilers, McLellan started Talbot 140 times in two seasons, a staggering statistic for this era, including 73 starts and 13 more in the playoffs during the 2016-17 season.