The NHL trade deadline is fast approaching, as it is upon us on April 12, 2021. In the previous two seasons (2018-19 and 2019-20), the Los Angeles Kings were out of the playoff picture by the deadline, hence them selling players such as veteran blueliner Jake Muzzin and scoring-winger Tyler Toffoli. However, this season (2020-21), LA is firmly in the playoff picture, as they are fifth in the West Division and are only three points behind St. Louis (with a game at hand) for fourth.
Due to this and LA’s deep prospect pipeline, the Kings are looking to add players who will immediately improve their roster. LA isn’t looking for just any players, though, as they have a specific type of player they are seeking. On TSN Insider Trading, Darren Dreger had this to say about LA’s needs:
”Rob Blake of the Los Angeles Kings is another one looking for a defenceman in the category that Pierre just described, 25 and under. But he specifically wants a dynamic, left-shot defenceman. When you look at the Los Angeles Kings, they do have an abundance of forwards, particularly at centre ice. I’m reminded of the big trade that involved the Columbus Blue Jackets a few years back, and the Nashville Predators. Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones if something like that could be worked out by Rob Blake, then he’d do that in a heartbeat”.TSN Insider Trading, Darren Dreger
The Kings have a great prospect pipeline and many up-and-coming star young centers they could trade to acquire a defenceman. Should LA pursue a deal in the mold of the Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen trade, they will have to think big. Here are three blueliners who fit the criteria of Jones’ potential and ability when he was traded in 2016.
Rasmus Dahlin has struggled mightily this season on an abysmal Buffalo Sabres team. Despite this, it’s a pipe dream to consider Buffalo shipping off the 20-year-old blueliner who they selected first overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Dahlin started his career off with a bang with a historic rookie season. As a rookie, Dahlin produced 44 points, which ranks second all-time among 18-year-old defencemen behind Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley. In his sophomore season, Dahlin exploded offensively, gathering 40 points in only 59 games played. He has shown he can be a dynamic defender, though he’s struggled in 2020-21.
Dahlin has the worst plus/minus in the entire league in 2020-21. In 28 games played, he has a minus-27 rating and has a goals for (GF%) of 21.62 percent. His 0.39 points per game (P/G) this season is much lower than his prior two seasons, where he had 0.54 P/G and 0.69 P/G. Despite Buffalo’s struggles and getting stuck in their own zone, his hits per game (0.93) and blocks per game (0.82) are set to be career lows.
Buffalo Sabres’ superstar center Jack Eichel has been in the rumour mill as a trade candidate for a while now. (From ‘Jack Eichel trade talk, real or perceived, will only grow with every Sabres loss’, The Athletic, 2/18/21).
This makes the idea of Buffalo possibly trading Dahlin seem less preposterous. Although Buffalo isn’t likely to part ways with him, he would fit the Kings’ needs.
A trade would be tricky due to Dahlin’s potential and his successful first two seasons. A potential deal would have to include either Quinton Byfield or Alex Turcotte. If Turcotte was the centrepiece of the deal, a young roster player or prospect, along with a high-end pick (first or second round), would have to be part of the package.
A deal with Tampa Bay would have to occur after the 2021 Playoffs. The Lightning are arguably the best team in the league at this point, and the reigning Stanley Cup champions will not be sellers at the trade deadline. However, they will be in a cap crunch once Nikita Kucherov is healthy and no longer on long-term injury reserve (LTIR).
The Bolts currently have $0 in available salary cap space, and this is with the $9.5 million in salary-cap relief they have gained by placing Kucherov on the LTIR. Tampa will have to move some contracts, and 22-year-old Mikhail Sergachev could be a victim of the cap crunch.
Out of all of Tampa’s left-handed defencemen, Sergachev gets the least playing time. Victor Hedman plays 25:34 minutes per game, while Ryan McDonagh has an average time on ice of 22:31.
Meanwhile, Sergachev’s average time on ice is 21:49. Both Hedman and McDonagh have trade protection. Hedman has a no-movement clause, while McDonagh boasts a no-trade clause. Sergachev has no no-trade protection in his contract.
Sergachev is blossoming into one of the NHL’s premier offensive defencemen, as between 2017-18 to 2019-20, he always had between 32-40 points seasons. In 2020-21, his offensive ability has gotten even better, as he has 19 points in 29 games played, tied for 16th among blueliners.
Sergachev also provides great defensive ability. In 256 career games played, he has thrown 343 hits (1.33 hits per game) and blocked 299 shots (1.2 blocks per game). Should LA attempt to acquire him, they would need to utilize a similar package to the Turcotte option I proposed for a Dahlin trade.
The 17th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Ty Smith will inevitably garner some Calder Trophy votes at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. The 20-year-old blueliner has played in 26 games and posted 13 points, tied for third on the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are an offensively starved team, and the Kings have plenty of young forwards they could exchange with New Jersey.
The Kings’ 21-year-old rookie forward Gabriel Vilardi, who they drafted 11th overall in 2017, was expected to be a Calder Trophy contender heading into the 2020-21 season and has lived up to expectations. The Kings have an abundance of young centers, including Quinton Byfield, Turcotte, Tyler Madden and Jaret Anderson-Dolan (a gritty and highly skilled rookie). The Kings don’t necessarily need Vilardi, especially if a deal to acquire Smith could be hashed out.
Could swapping the two Calder Trophy contenders to help fill each teams needs be possible?
Smith isn’t just good offensively, as he provides value inside his own zone. With him on the ice (at even strength), New Jersey generates 55.75 percent of the scoring chances (SCF%). For perspective, the Devils SCF% this season is 51.17 percent, meaning a rookie blueliner is outperforming his team’s SCF%. His 24 hits (0.92 per game) are impressive for a 5-foot-10 rookie; additionally, he has blocked 18 shots.
According to Dreger, Rob Blake would want to make a deal similar to the Johansen for Jones blockbuster. However, not many left-shot defencemen fit this criterion.
If LA does attempt to acquire a dynamic young defenceman, they will probably have to give up at least one of their young centers. However, LA has a deep prospect pipeline and numerous young centers. Should any of these defencemen (or one of their caliber) become available, LA should jump at the chance to snatch them up.