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Off-Season Game Plan: Kings

Scott Cullen
4/28/2009 3:29:04 AM
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After years of rebuilding the organization from within, the Los Angeles Kings have reached a point at which they are in position to make a splash this summer, perhaps enough of a splash to make the Kings a playoff team in 2009-2010.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at the Kings' roster and what they may be able to do to take the next step towards the postseason.

After finishing 27th in the league in goals scored, the Kings would figure to have a glaring need for a scoring upgrade, particularly a left winger if you listen to any of the Kings' players at season's end.

If the Kings are going to get a primetime scorer, they have both the cap room and the organizational depth to make a trade for one if the free agent market doesn't work out in their favour.

"The more important part is, the player has to fit," Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi told the LA Daily News. "This team has the capability of improving without one addition. That's still most important. Secondly, we have to be very careful about just getting a player who has a profile but isn't the right fit, in terms of the way he plays and his character. I am not just going out there to get a big name that looks sexy."

There aren't that many free agent scorers available, so the Kings can only be so picky when it comes time to pay for goals, but it doesn't necessarily sound like he's automatically going to back up the Brinks truck for the first 30-to-40 goal scorer he finds.

Lombardi is right, though, the Kings should be better next season. It's up to Lombardi's actions this summer to determine how quickly these young Kings are ready to take the throne.

GM/COACH
Dean Lombardi/Terry Murray

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Salary
Dustin Brown 81.69 $2.45M
Anze Kopitar 75.23 $6.0M
Alexander Frolov 74.32 $4.0M
Jarret Stoll 70.62 $3.5M
Michal Handzus 69.65 $4.0M
Oscar Moller 65.91 $663K
Justin Williams 64.13 $3.5M
Wayne Simmonds 63.22 $585K
Brad Richardson 57.85 $600K
John Zeiler 54.67 $550K
Raitis Ivanans 53.23 $600K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '08-'09 Salary
Teddy Purcell 63.97 RFA $850K
Kyle Calder 63.81 UFA $2.7M
Brian Boyle 58.16 RFA $750K
Derek Armstrong 56.73 UFA $1.6M

Top Prospects: Trevor Lewis (20-31-51 minus-12 in 75 GP; Manchester-AHL), Matt Moulson (21-26-47, plus-3 in 54 GP), Bryan Cameron (37-44-81, plus-32 in 64 GP; Belleville-OHL), Andrei Loktionov (24-42-66, plus-28 in 51 GP; Windsor-OHL).

Dustin Brown is a hard-driving durable winger, but a late-season slump (perhaps due in part to a lingering back injury) resulted in a production dip despite dramatically increasing his shots on goal. He has yet to be a plus player in the NHL, but that may be more of a reflection of the team around him.

While Brown is more meat and potatoes, Anze Kopitar brings and elite skill level that is exceptionally rare for his size. Like Brown, Kopitar's production went down a little in 2008-2009 and he hasn't been a plus player in his three NHL seasons, so it will take some improvement in that regard if the Kings are going to take the next step.

Underappreciated Alexander Frolov spent a lot of the season skating with players who didn't have the same offensive capabilities, yet Frolov still managed 32 goals and 59 points. Admittedly, it was the second straight season in which his point total declined, but given the right situation and linemates, Frolov could conceivably be a point-per-game player.

Though he only improved his point total from 36 to 41, Jarret Stoll was much better in his first season with the Kings, following a down year in Edmonton. He's a solid two-way pivot who hits, takes face-offs and can man the point on the power play.

Another player who resurrected his career was Michal Handzus, who struggled in 2007-2008 coming off of knee surgery. He may be well compensated for what he brings and he's lost a step, but Handzus is a reliable pro, good face-off man and skilled enough to work on the power play.

Trade deadline acquisition Justin Williams will be looking to salvage a career that has fallen on hard times in recent years. After back-to-back seasons of more than 30 goals, Williams has scored 13 while playing just 81 games in the ensuing two seasons.

Rookie winger Oscar Moller was impressive as a rookie, though he missed time for the World Junior Hockey Championship and then the broken collarbone he suffered there. In any case, it's nice to have a defensively-responsible teenager with offensive upside.

Fellow rookie Wayne Simmonds hustled every game of the season, improving as the year went along. He doesn't have a high ceiling in terms of scoring potential, but Simmonds can be an honest checking winger for years to come.

Injuries have helped to stall the development of Brad Richardson, but he didn't score in the 31 games he played for the Kings last season and he'll have to do better than that if he's going to secure his roster spot.

John Zeiler works hard, but doesn't have a lot to show for it, managing just one goal in 86 career NHL games. No matter how effective you are as a grinder, that kind of production means part-time duty, at best.

Enforcer Raitis Ivanans is a legitimate heavyweight, though he's not nearly effective enough as a player to have played 76 games (scoring two points) last season.

Lanky winger Teddy Purcell didn't break through as hoped after a big year in the AHL in 2007-2008, but had moments when he showed his offensive upside. Purcell's challenge will be landing a spot among the top six forwards because, if he doesn't, he won't make much impact.

Brian Boyle has tremendous size, yet hasn't been able to put it together in the NHL and he was mostly ineffective in the 28 games he was with the Kings last season. It's make or break time for him.

In an ideal world, the Kings need to take a shot to land another first-rate scoring winger like Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik or Martin Havlat, who will be free agents or, with a high draft pick and a deep stable of prospects and young players, they have the ammo to seek out a trade for premier scorer.

Failing that, the forward units could at least use more depth. If the Kings are ready to compete for the playoffs, some of those third and fourth-line jobs should be in the hands of experienced players who know how to get there.

Finally, the Kings also hold the fifth pick in the draft and, should they keep it, that would bring another quality forward into the organization. Whether it's a WHL scorer like Brayden Schenn or Evander Kane or Swedish winger Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, the Kings could use to replenish their prospect stock after several young forwards jumped into the lineup.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Salary
Kyle Quincey 73.55 $550K
Tom Preissing 68.16 $2.75M
Matt Greene 68.04 $2.95M
Drew Doughty 66.13 $875K
Sean O'Donnell 63.04 $1.25M
Peter Harrold 62.43 $550K

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '08-'09 Salary
Jack Johnson 63.64 RFA $850K
Denis Gauthier 61.76 UFA $2.2M

Top Prospects: Thomas Hickey (16-35-51, plus-37 in 57 GP; Seattle-WHL), Colten Teubert (12-25-37, plus-9 in 60 GP; Regina-WHL), Viatcheslav Voinov (8-15-23, minus-3 in 61 GP; Manchester-AHL), Davis Drewiske (1-13-14, plus-5 in 61 GP; Manchester-AHL).

A waiver pickup from Detroit, Kyle Quincey was a revelation as a puck-moving defenceman, scoring 27 of his 38 points with the man advantage. He's a certifiable bargain for another season.

Puck-moving defenceman Tom Preissing endured a miserable season suffering through a mystery illness that caused dizziness, struggled when he was healthy and was scratched frequently as well. With two years, at $2.75-million per season, left on his deal, Pressing may be hard-pressed to keep his spot on the roster.

Matt Greene was a nice addition from Edmonton. He's big, strong and physical and is really coming into his own as a reliable presence in his own end.

No King played as much as rookie Drew Doughty and the rookie earned raves for his poise and stellar skating and puck skills. At the same time, Doughty's minus-17 rating does indicate that he may have had too much responsibility thrust upon him. By no means does that imply that Doughty won't be a superb workhorse defenceman, only that he wasn't yet ready to carry a team to the playoffs.

Doughty's partner on many occasions was veteran warhorse Sean O'Donnell. There's no sizzle to O'Donnell's game, but he's durable, reliable and consistent; he's also been a plus player for each of the past seven seasons.

Peter Harrold landed a full-time spot on the roster and played some forward in a pinch. He's a serviceable, cost-effective depth player with some skills, though he's undersized on the blueline.

Though he's just 22, Jack Johnson is approaching a crossroads of his career already. It's understandable for a young defenceman to make some mistakes as he adjusts to the NHL, but Johnson's rolled up a minus-42 in 120 career games. If he's not going to show the kind of offensive flair he had at the University of Michigan, where he scored 71 points in 74 games, Johnson simply has to become more dependable.

While the Kings have no shortage of quality prospects on the way, more immediate help could come from the free agent market. A rock-solid defender like Mike Komisarek, for example, could provide the kind of stability that would help Doughty develop.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating Salary
Jonathan Quick 77.20 $570K
Erik Ersberg 62.60 $750K

Top Prospect: Jonathan Bernier (23-24-4, 2.40 GAA, .914 SVPCT, 5 SO in 54 GP; Manchester-AHL) Martin Jones (45-5-4, 2.08 GAA, .915 SVPCT, 7 SO in 55 GP)

Jon Quick emerged quickly as the Kings' number one goaltender and provided an upgrade over other options in recent seasons. If he can build on his strong rookie campaign, then Quick could be the goaltending solution they've been seeking.

Last year's flash rookie, Erik Ersberg, wasn't as impressive as he'd been in his 14-game audition in 2007-2008 and didn't win a game after mid-December, but he's certainly capable of handling a backup role.

Top prospect Jonathan Bernier had an outstanding finish to the season, posting a 1.95 goals against average and .930 save percentage in 18 games in March and April, putting him in the mix for next season, if needed.

DRAFT
5th - Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Magnus Paajaarvi-Svensson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

FREE AGENCY
The Kings have approximately $38.7-million committed to salaries for next season.

Needs: Two forwards, One top four defenceman

What I said the Kings needed last year: Two top four defencemen, one depth defenceman, starting goaltender

Who did they add? Jarret Stoll, Oscar Moller, Wayne Simmonds, Drew Doughty, Matt Greene.

TRADE MARKET
Alexander Frolov, Tom Preissing, Jack Johnson.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca 



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