For the first time in several seasons, the Los Angeles Kings are fighting for a playoff spot. After going through a significant rebuild, the team has gone from sellers to buyers, and they are looking to make important moves at the trade deadline.
The Kings have faced multiple injuries on defense this season — the most significant of which took Sean Walker out for the campaign — and it has been well known that they are looking to bring in some reinforcement on the blue line. They have been one of the teams rumored to be in on the Jakob Chychrun trade talks, but with an ask like that of what the Buffalo Sabres looked for in the Jack Eichel trade, it may not be feasible or the right move for the Kings to pursue him.
If the team ultimately decides against going for Chychrun or is unsuccessful in making a deal, they have some alternatives. These alternatives, though, are short-term solutions; if they want to add an elite defenseman for the future, they would still have to do so either through a trade or at the draft.
It has been rumored that the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to move things around on the blue line prior to the trade deadline, and Travis Dermott might be the one to go. The 25-year-old shoots left, which is preferable for the Kings, and he has put up some pretty good numbers this season.
Dermott’s Corsi for percentage (CF%) sits at 52.46 percent, and his expected goals for percentage (xGF%) is a very respectable 56.65 percent — seventh on the Maple Leafs and sixth for those playing more than 18 games. This means that the Leafs have possessed the puck more than their opponent and been expected to outscore their opponent with him on the ice.
As far as overall contribution goes, Dermott has contributed 0.7 wins above replacement (WAR) this season. This positive impact comes at a very reasonable $1.5 million average annual value (AAV) until the 2023-24 season, when he becomes a restricted free agent (RFA).
The Kings and Maple Leafs have been trade partners in the past, making big deals that sent Jack Campbell, Kyle Clifford, and Jake Muzzin to Toronto. If LA doesn’t want to spend too much money on a short-term solution on defense and they want to have the option to re-sign the player, Dermott could be the way to go.
Justin Holl is another Maple Leaf that could be an option for the Kings. If the Leafs don’t deal Dermott, Holl would likely be heading out of Toronto. He’s an older player at 30 years old, and he shoots right rather than left. Additionally, his play hasn’t been great, so the Kings could pursue him with the hope of getting him at a discount (from ‘SIMMONS: What do the Maple Leafs do about Justin Holl?,’ Toronto Sun, Feb. 15, 2022).
Despite his declining play, his numbers are decent; he’s recorded a 51.48 CF%, a 54.39 xGF%, and his numbers for scoring chances against and high danger chances against are middle of the pack. However, the game just hasn’t gone his way, as his 2.74 goals against per 60 rate (GA/60) is sixth-worst on the Maple Leafs and fifth-worst for those playing more than 10 games.
Holl has recorded 0.9 WAR so far this season, and he comes at a slightly higher price than Dermott. Holl’s salary comes in at $2 million until he is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in 2023-24. If the Kings were to trade for him, it is more than likely that they would let him go after next season, as he is on the tail end of his career.
Josh Manson is unique to the other players on this list in that he may not even be an option for the Kings; his contract has had a modified-no trade clause since the 2019-20 season, allowing him to submit a 12-team no-trade list. If LA isn’t on that list, he could be a good option.
Manson, like Holl, is a 30-year-old, right-shot defenseman. Despite having a CF% and xGF% over 50, he actually has a negative WAR this season — albeit a negligible total at -0.1. Manson also has the highest salary of the players on this list; his AAV sits at $4.1 million, but he will be a UFA next season.
Manson is currently out of the lineup with an injury, but he is expected to return soon. Even though he might not be the ideal option at first glance, the veteran could be helpful as the playoff race continues.
Who Could the Kings Offer in Return?
Two players the Kings might be looking to trade at the deadline this season are Dustin Brown — he has a modified-no trade clause that allows him to submit a 7-team no-trade list — and Andreas Athanasiou. Both players will be UFAs next season, so the team might be willing to part ways with them to get a defenseman in return. Moving these forwards would also open up room to give forward prospects more NHL time.
Another player who might be on his way out is Gabriel Vilardi. The Kings’ first-round pick from 2017 has had a rough season, given what he was expected to do. After battling through injury to get to the NHL, he put up seven points in his first 10 NHL games in the 2019-20 season. He followed that up with 10 goals and 13 assists through 54 games in 2020-21. This season, though, he has played just seven games with LA — all in October — with just one assist to show for. He has had a good campaign with the Ontario Reign, for what it’s worth, recording 29 points in 28 games.
If the Kings do end up dealing Brown, Athanasiou, or Vilardi in a deal for a defenseman, it wouldn’t necessarily be in a one-for-one trade. The best-case scenario for LA is to make one blockbuster trade for a potential franchise defenseman — a deal that could certainly involve one or more of the aforementioned players — but if the right deal doesn’t present itself, they shouldn’t rush. Rather, the team should entertain a short-term option for this season’s playoff push, such as Dermott, Holl, or Manson, and make the right blockbuster trade when it’s time.
Advanced Stats per Evolving-Hockey
Zackary Weiner is a high school student from New York City who covers the Los Angeles Kings here at The Hockey Writers. He is a lifelong hockey fan and player, and his previous experience includes writing articles about the NHL for various online publications. His articles cover a wide variety of topics that concern the Kings and he takes into account a range of viewpoints, making his articles a perfect read for anyone who wants to stay up to date on the team. Zackary is more than happy to get into a conversation with fellow Kings fans, so feel free to leave a comment below any of his articles like this one to let him know your opinion and what you want to see next. You can also listen to him talk about the team on Fantasy Hockey Life, The Hockey Writers Live, and Blackhawks Banter.