Last Saturday, the Los Angeles Kings were dealt a heavy blow when veteran defensemen Alex Edler left the game early in the first period and did not return. He could not put weight on his left leg, and it seemed like the injury was serious. This was confirmed after the game by coach Todd McLellan who said the injury was “going to be long-term” in his post-game interview. Losing Edler is devastating for a Kings blueline who is already without Sean Walker for the season and spent an extended period of time without Drew Doughty. The question on everybody’s mind became, who replaces Edler? It’s not an easy question to answer and general manager Rob Blake has several options to consider when making that decision. Blake’s options are what we’re going to look at today.
What the Kings Lost
Before looking at the options to replace Edler, it’s important to understand what exactly the team is looking for. He was brought in to provide a veteran presence and play a reduced role. But it was clear early on that there was still plenty left in the tank for Edler, who has gotten off to a great start. He’s currently second on the team in points amongst defensemen, with 11, second in blocked shots, second in hits, and fourth in average time on ice (ATOI) amongst defensemen. He’s also the team’s biggest defenseman, at 6-foot-4, 212-pounds. While size shouldn’t be the main selling point, it’s something to keep in mind on this young Kings blueline.
So, the Kings are looking for a top-four defenseman who can bring offensive impact, somewhere just under .5 points per game (ppg), who also blocks shots and plays physically. In an ideal world, this player is also big and brings a veteran presence they lost in the 35-year-old Edler. When looking at it this way, it becomes clear that the team has plenty of work cut out for them in finding his replacement.
Kings Look to the Trade Market
The most popular method of finding Edler’s replacement amongst fans seems to be via the trade market. Calls for Blake to hit the phones and bring someone in have been all over social media. While this is a viable option, he also needs to be very cautious if he takes this route. Teams know the Kings are desperate for help and will look to take advantage of their misfortune. There’s also the issue of availability, who’s on the market right now that can replace Edler, and is a genuine improvement over what they have in the organization? When looking at who is reportedly available, the answer is likely no one. The names currently floating around are players like Nick Leddy, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Ben Chariot, all of whom aren’t great options for one reason or another.
I’m not convinced Leddy is a big enough upgrade over what you currently have. Gostisbehere would replace Edler’s offense and then some but would be a significant downgrade defensively, and Chariot will likely cost too much. Of course, the trade market can change quickly, but for now, I don’t see a trade working out well in the Kings’ favor. A trade now only has two outcomes, in my opinion. The Kings either get a mediocre player who doesn’t actually improve on what they have, or they overpay for someone who doesn’t have a future in the organization. Everyone wants to see the team make a playoff return this season, but now is not the time to trade future assets for short-term gains.
Related: Kings’ Blue Line Thriving Despite Injuries to Doughty & Walker
Unless a true game-changer like Jakob Chychrun becomes available, I think the trade market isn’t a great option right now. The team has been looking for a true, number one left defensemen for a while, but that feels like more of an offseason deal, not one to be made in December.
Replacing Edler Within
When Doughty went down at the end of October, Blake said they wouldn’t be dipping into the trade market and would replace Doughty from within the organization. They have that option with Edler as well. Christian Wolanin was called up from the Ontario Reign to replace Edler on the roster, but I’d expect Olli Maatta to replace Edler in the lineup for now. I imagine they’ll give Wolanin a bit more time with the team before throwing him into a game. It’s unlikely that Maatta is seen as the long-term replacement and I’d expect Wolanin to draw in before long.
There’s something there with Wolanin too, he’s produced well in the American Hockey League (AHL) and impressed at the World Championships earlier this year. He’s a good skater who moves the puck up ice well and can help the team in transition, but there are still question marks surrounding his defensive game. The team brought him back a few weeks ago to serve as an injury safety blanket, and they’re getting their money’s worth right now.
While Wolanin and Maatta are decent options for the Kings, neither player is who I want to replace Edler. I’d rather Edler’s compatriot Jacob Moverare get a chance in the NHL. The 2016 fourth-round pick has taken his time to develop, playing two and a half seasons in Europe before joining the Ontario Reign last season. He was impressive in his rookie season and has continued his solid play into this season, playing on the team’s first pairing. He was even given high praise from coach John Wroblewski after last season, who called him the team’s biggest surprise. He also plays a similar game to Edler. Before the season started, The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman answered a question regarding Moverare and quoted a coach about his play; the coach said,
He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes for a young guy and his skating doesn’t hinder him. He’s very smart in his positioning and the way he plays off the rush and down low. He doesn’t blow anybody up but he just breaks up playsFrom “Kings breakout candidates, Byfield or Turcotte in the top six, and Petersen’s next contract: Mailbag, part 1” The Athletic, 8/6/21
If you removed “for a young guy,” that would read very similar to a scouting report on Edler right now. A steady defenseman who makes up for skating deficiencies with smart positioning, gets the puck moving up ice quickly, and plays physical without throwing highlight reel hits. He’s also a big player at 6-foot-3, with reports suggesting that he has put on significant muscle since coming to Ontario. There’s some offensive upside with him, too, with 23 points in 45 career AHL games, a .51 ppg pace.
Of course, he’s never played in the NHL, and it’s a huge step up for any player. But we’ve already seen a player in Sean Durzi, who’s the same age as Moverare, get called up sooner than expected and excel with the opportunity. Despite his zero NHL games, he is not a stranger to professional hockey, with nearly four seasons in three different leagues under his belt. The biggest issue with calling him up comes with him not being waiver eligible. So, if Edler comes back this season and you want to send him down, he would need to clear waivers. I think it’s worth the risk, as Edler should be out for a while, and you’d have plenty of time to figure your roster situation out before he returns. Possibly sending Maatta down or trading him.
Kings Should Look Within
Doughty and Walker’s injury proved that it’s possible to replace a key defenseman from within the organization and even allowed Durzi to take a step up in his development. The team should stick with this method for Edler’s injury, giving Moverare the chance to play in the NHL. Unless something changes, looking to the trade market seems too risky, and you have options within the organization. Maatta and Wolanin will provide cover for this road trip, but I question if they are long-term solutions. The extent of Edler’s injury will change plans as well, but Moverare seems like the best option regardless.