Over the last six to eight months, a big talking point around the Los Angeles Kings has been the organization’s desire for a dynamic, mobile, left-shot defenseman. Reports indicate that this type of player is high on the team’s wish list. After making some solid improvements this summer, including adding veteran defenseman Alex Edler, it seems like that idea is on the backburner. I believe the pursuit of that player should be kept on the backburner, and I’ll discuss the reasons why.
The Current Left Defenseman
The general feeling around LA has been that the team is lacking in talent on the left side of their defense. I think this is a false narrative worth forgetting about. Does the left-side have a future superstar like Brandt Clarke? No, it does not, but that doesn’t mean it lacks quality. In fact, they have a depth of quality on that side that doesn’t need any additions.
Last season’s top-pairing defenseman, Mikey Anderson, headlined a group of young blueliners in 2020-21. Despite some growing pains, particularly against Minnesota Wild star Kirill Kaprizov, Anderson proved capable of playing difficult minutes. Given that 2020-21 was his first full year in the NHL, there’s reason to believe he will only get better from here. If he improves upon being a capable top-pairing defenseman, then there’s no need to acquire someone to pair with Drew Doughty. Doughty would also agree with this statement. When asked about a possible new partner, he said,
No, I don’t (want a new partner) I like playing with Mikey Anderson, I love playing with Mikey Anderson, we’ve developed quite the partnership. From (2021 Exit Interview | Drew Doughty) LA Kings
Will Anderson ever be a player that can carry a top pairing on his own? Certainly not, but even in the King’s best seasons, they didn’t have that player. Doughty did not have an “elite” partner during either Cup run. Instead, he had two players, Rob Scuderi and Jake Muzzin, who played their roles exceptionally well and allowed Doughty the freedom to play a more expansive game. Anderson can and almost certainly will be a similar player.
Another player that makes the need for another left-shot defenseman unnecessary is Tobias Bjornfot. Like Anderson, 2020-21 was Bjornfot’s first NHL season, and like Anderson, he did more than enough to prove he belongs at the NHL level. Heading into next season just 20 years old, he will continue to improve as a player and will begin to show more skill with the puck as he grows into the league. Make no mistake, he is a defense-first player, but there’s more to him offensively than we have seen. A likely partnership with Matt Roy in 2021-22 should allow him the freedom to show off some of that talent.
Bjornfot should anchor the second pairing for many years — with the possibility that he overtakes Anderson to become a top-pairing defenseman in the future. He will continue to develop his two-way game over the next couple of seasons and should be a bonafide top-four defenseman. Once again, making the need for an “elite” left-shot blueliner unnecessary.
In my opinion, the final nail in the coffin for the King’s need of any addition to their blue line was drafting Kirill Kirsanov with the 84th pick in the 2021 Draft. Not only is he a quality prospect, but he should be ready for the NHL sooner rather than later. Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti views him as a player that’s, at most, two seasons away from being NHL ready. Yannetti covers Kirsanov’s NHL timetable in-depth during his post-draft interview.
Another defensively sound blueliner who moves the puck up ice quickly and effectively, Kirsanov will round off the left side fantastically. Which pairing he slots into is yet to be seen, but he will be with the team shortly. With three players ready to take the reins down the left side, the team is well covered with more in the system.
Best of the Rest
The three players I’ve just mentioned seem to be the most likely to fill out the King’s blue line in the future; however, there are more players that can fight for a spot. Kale Clague, Jacob Moverare, and Kim Nousiainen will all be fighting for a roster spot and will likely make good claims for it as well.
With three players pegged for spots and three more waiting in the wings, it seems like the narrative that the Kings need to add a left-shot defenseman is unwarranted. Are any of these players going to be elite superstars? Probably not, but they don’t need to be. A well-constructed blue line is more than enough to win a Stanley Cup, even if it lacks in “star power.”
Another massive reason I think LA should avoid targeting an elite left-shot defenseman is the cost of such a player. We saw this summer what the market value is for a puck-moving defenseman, and it’s massive. The Kings would need to add this player through a trade or free agency, so let’s look at what that might cost.
Let’s look at two of the more high-profile trades for defensemen this summer. The obvious example is the deal that saw the Columbus Blue Jackets move Seth Jones and a first-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Adam Boqvist, two first-round picks, and a second-round pick. Another notable trade was the one that sent Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers sent Robert Hagg, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for the Finnish defenseman. Based on these examples, the Kings would likely have to send a top prospect — think Alex Turcotte or Gabriel Vilardi — along with two draft picks to even start the conversation. At that cost, why spend the assets on something you don’t need?
The other option would be to acquire this player via free agency. So let’s look at what the market is for signing these players. Three big-name defensemen signed contracts this summer, granted only one of them was actually in free agency, so we’ll use those contracts as a basis for what it might cost. Zach Werenski re-signed in Columbus this summer — his contract carries a $9.583 million average annual value (AAV). The aforementioned Jones signed with Chicago directly after being traded there — he signed a deal that carries a $9.5 million AAV. Finally, Dougie Hamilton left the Carolina Hurricanes, joining the New Jersey Devils on a contract carrying a $9 million AAV.
So, it’s safe to assume that acquiring the player the Kings have been rumored to want would cost at least $9 million annually. With LA needing to carefully manage their cap over the next few seasons, signing a player for this kind of money seems downright irresponsible.
Trust the Process
Despite the enticing idea of adding a big-name defenseman in the next 18 months, the Kings should not do it. They have the players in their system to anchor the blue line down both sides, and the team shouldn’t waste assets for something they don’t need. Fans and management should sit back, trust the process, and watch this team slowly develop into a competitor.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.