The NHL trade deadline is one of the most exciting times of the season. After this season’s April 12 cutoff, teams and their fanbases will know what their squad will look like for the rest of the campaign. The moves that are made by teams that are on the edge of the playoff race are the most interesting, as they could either become buyers to try to go on a last-minute playoff push, or they could sell, accepting that their season will come to an end in May.
The Los Angeles Kings are one of those teams. At the beginning of the season, the goal was clear: to make the playoffs. Though not much was expected of them by those on the outside of the organization, the team managed to get themselves into a solid position. Throughout the beginning and middle of March, LA hovered around the final playoff spot. With the team’s poor play as of late, though, they have dropped down the division, and playoff hopes have been fading with each and every loss.
For most of the season, given the Kings’ internal expectations and position in the standings, the plan was likely to be buyers at the deadline. There is definitely an argument to be made that they should still be buyers come Monday, but the direction of the team has become less and less clear during the beginning of April. The decisions that the Kings’ general manager Rob Blake makes will determine expectations for the rest of the season.
If the Kings Are Buyers
The Kings have already made a couple of deals this season. Though neither has been a blockbuster trade, they did acquire some grit in Brendan Lemieux and a depth defenseman in Christian Wolanin. If the team decides to go after a player, they would likely be interested primarily in another defenseman.
As I have talked about before, Blake made it very clear that he is looking for a young, left-shooting blueliner. Though Wolanin comes close to fitting the bill, I believe that Blake is looking for someone who can contribute more offensively. Some possible options that have been rumored range from more realistic possibilities such as Vince Dunn to larger deals involving a player such as Rasmus Dahlin.
The goal of making a significant trade for a defenseman is clear: the Kings would be making a last-ditch effort to try and save their dimming postseason aspirations. While this would be the primary goal, the best trade for the team would be one that is not only important for the rest of the 2020-21 season but one that also benefits the better LA teams of the future. If the team locks down a young defenseman, as desired, he would hopefully become part of the team and contribute long-term as the club evolves and begins to consistently make the playoffs again.
If the Kings do end up going this route, there are a few implications to be conscious of. If the team goes for it to try to capture the fourth spot in the division and don’t make it, they will see a lower position in the draft than in the previous few years; LA would likely see a pick somewhere in the range of the 10th to 15th overall pick. This is still a valuable asset, and given that it is so hard to scout players this season, the team may still be able to capture a player who they rank in the top 10.
Choosing to be buyers also marks a significant milestone for the team, signifying the end of the rebuilding phase that has taken place over the last few seasons. The Kings would no longer be focused on trying to build draft capital and their prospect pool but rather on creating a successful NHL roster. With the number of high-end prospects that the team already has in the system, starting to build might not be a bad idea.
If the Kings Are Sellers
In the deals the Kings have made this season already, they have not given up too much. They sent a fourth-round pick to the New York Rangers and Michael Amadio to the Ottawa Senators. The team still retains a fourth-round pick in the coming draft, as they possess Calgary’s selection. Sending away Amadio also isn’t a big deal, as he did not play every game for LA, and it allows young centers to get into the lineup more often moving forward.
There are a couple of players who would likely be the first to go if the team decides to be sellers at the deadline. One of these players is Dustin Brown. He does have a modified no-trade clause, but the Kings would still have 24 teams to work with.
Trading Brown would be a significant loss for the team, given that they already lack in winger depth. This season has also been his best in a while, as he has 22 points in 36 games thus far, leading the team in goals with 15 on the season. In addition to being a reason to keep him around, his stellar play could also be a reason to let him go. It is unrealistic to think that he would be much help to the team once they are ready to go on a serious playoff run, and the Kings would be able to get the most for him at this point. They would be able to trade him to a team that needs goal-scoring for the rest of the season, getting a solid return in the process.
Another player who we could see dealt at the deadline if the Kings are sellers is Jonathan Quick. Over the last few seasons, he has seen a notable drop-off continuing into the 2020-21 season. With the emergence of Calvin Petersen as the real deal, it may not be that hard of a pill to swallow.
This season, Quick has posted an .893 save percentage (SV%) and minus-4.44 goals saved above expected (GSAx). Just for a little reference, Petersen has posted a .925 SV% and a 10.67 GSAx, proving that the net should be his. Before the start of the season, it made sense to keep Quick around considering Petersen’s small sample size from 2019-20. Now that he has played a larger percentage of the games, keeping up his impressive stats, there isn’t as much of a role for Quick anymore.
If the Kings decide to approach the deadline as a seller, there should be no expectations for the team to make the playoffs. They would essentially be accepting that they are out of the race, which may sound painful at first, but there are some important aspects of the decision to take into account. It would first mean that the team would get a higher draft pick, likely somewhere in the top 10. This could be crucial, even though they already have one of the best prospect pools in the league. Rather than trading for a defenseman at the deadline, they would be able to draft a top defensive prospect, filling the hole in the organization. Being a seller yet again at the deadline would continue the theme from the last few seasons of taking their time and going all-in on the rebuild. But given what the future looks like so far, this might not be a bad idea.
I think it would be hard for the Kings to go wrong at the deadline. It will be an exciting last month of the season if they decide to go for it, and if they let some players go, fans should realize how it will benefit the already bright future of the team. After a couple of seasons of poor play, potentially seeing the team miss the cutoff yet again might be difficult, but there is a lot to look forward to. As I previously mentioned, the team has already surpassed their expectations for this season, so no matter what they decide this weekend, it should be considered a successful campaign.
Advanced Stats per Evolving-Hockey