With or without Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings need to address their lineup. Obviously the position of 1st line left wing has taken precedent over the rest of the team, but there are still adjustments to be made and the summer is long. With some tweaks to the team they iced last season, the Kings can become true contenders and go deeper into the playoffs, but GM Dean Lombardi will need to be shrewd in order to fulfill all the teams off-season needs.
Below I’ve mapped out what the line up currently looks like. The “???” are simply placeholders for holes that need to be filled. Whether the Kings choose to address these issues by trade, UFA signing, or from someone already within the organization remains to be seen, but I’ll lay out a few options available to the club.
Smyth / Kopitar / Williams
??? / Stoll / Brown
Parse / Handzus / Simmonds
??? / ??? / ???
Scuderi / Doughty
Johnson / ???
Greene / ???
Quick / Bernier / Ersberg
As you can see, there are quite a few positions to be filled. However, I should note that many of those positions will be filled with players already signed or in the organization. We’ll start with…
2nd Line LW: Obviously this is the slot open for Kovalchuk and Smyth would be bumped down in order to make room for Ilya at the top. Barring the inability to sign him, the Kings will likely look to trade for a solid 1st or 2nd line LW. Rumors have Simon Gagne as a possible target of the Kings. I’m not saying it’s true or not, but that is likely the kind of player the Kings would target if they were in the market to trade for a LW. There are few top-flight options in the UFA market.
4th Line LW/C/RW: These positions will most likely be filled by players already in the system. With the departure of Kings heavyweight Raitis Ivanans, Kevin Westgarth will step into the fray. After seeing some time with the Kings during the playoffs, Rich Clune will be on the inside track to make the squad. If the Kings and Brad Richardson find an amicable arrangement out of arbitration, Richardson will either center the 4th line or handle the LW, despite indications that he desires a scoring role for the team. Richardson also provides the ability to jump onto a higher line if needed. Other possibilities include Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford.
#3/#4 Defenseman: The biggest need to address outside of a scoring left winger is a solid top-4 defenseman. The Kings arguably never really had one last season with Sean O’Donnell and Randy Jones often stretching to hold down a position beyond their abilities. The Kings will probably look for a trade to fill this spot. There are UFA options, but many are aging or have had recent concussion issues such as Willie Mitchell or Kim Johnsson. Rumors have much maligned Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle linked to the Kings, but whether those hold water is in question.
Bottom Pair Defenseman: I expect this slot to be filled by a kid already in the system. Manchester has a host of guys chomping at the bit to make the Kings roster next year. Davis Drewiske will get a look considering he’s already played in 42 games for the Kings. He’s mostly a positional defenseman and the Kings would like him to use his 6’2″, 215 pound frame more aggressively. Thomas Hickey lost some time to injury, but showed in the Calder Cup playoffs that he can lead a team and take over on the powerplay. Jacob Muzzin has also impressed and will get a look as well. Other names in the mix are Alec Martinez, Vyacheslav Voynov, and possibly Colten Teubert. Peter Harrold is always available as a 7th defenseman.
Goaltending: The writing is on the wall for Erik Ersberg. With Quick’s breakout last season and Jonathan Bernier’s dominance of the AHL, the Kings are likely to go with them as their goaltending duo. The Kings will enter the season with Quick at the helm, but don’t be surprised if Bernier takes over as starter at some point. Whatever happens, don’t expect the Kings to play either goaltender for 70+ games like they did with Quick last season.
Trade Options: I can’t speculate on who the Kings may target, but I can tell you who they’d like to move.
Despite his chemistry with Kopitar and Smyth, Justin Williams hasn’t been able to regain the form he had with Carolina during their Stanley Cup season in 2006. Since then he has been mired with injuries and although they aren’t necessarily his fault, it’s not desirable to have a top-6 winger missing half of the season every year. He still has value due to his age and relative affordability, so maybe a swap with a team looking for experience and a more affordable winger?
Jarret Stoll didn’t provide the type of scoring the Kings would like from a 2nd line center. Whether it was his chronic arthritis or the fallout from his split with former fiance Rachel Hunter, he was not playing at the top of his game. Jarret does bring experience and some versatility as he is capable at manning the point on the powerplay. He has 2 years remaining on his contract, but if the Kings can move Stoll and find a replacement for him then expect them to do so. Brayden Schenn could be breathing down his neck.
Erik Ersberg is the most likely candidate for a trade. The Kings will probably take anything they can get and ship him off to a team that needs an affordable backup with some experience. Ersberg’s price tag is quite low at $750k, and he’s shown he can step up and take a starter’s role for stretches if needed.
There are two camps when it comes to Jack Johnson. There is the camp that feels his relationship with the organization is strained after comments GM Dean Lombardi made about his college coach Red Berenson. There is also the camp that feels Jack and Dean mended that rift and Lombardi was impressed with Jack’s play after the Olympics. In any event, Johnson is a valuable young defender that has 1st pair talents. He is seen as part of the Kings strong young core of players, but the Kings might be smart to trade him before his contract is up if they think he’ll ask for too much money.
As for now, any potential adjustments are being held up by the Kovalchuk situation. Once that is resolved, the Kings can move on and start to address their other needs for the team.
Stay posted on all of the Kings moves this summer by following me on Twitter @EricCooney.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney