The Los Angeles Kings acquired Brendan Lemieux in a trade with the New York Rangers in March 2021. Many hockey fans will be familiar with Lemieux’s dad, Claude, after his long NHL career which included four Stanley Cup rings. He was known for being an agitator, driving opponents crazy and often playing on the edge of clean and dirty. His son does the same thing, but has not been able to match the offensive production to this point in his career. Claude had 41 goals in the 1991-92 season alone, while Brendan has just 31 goals in 242 career games. The question is, is the younger Lemieux worth having in the lineup with his lack of offense and high amount of penalties?
Lemieux’s On-Ice Impact
While Lemieux certainly isn’t as prolific offensively as his dad was, he isn’t a total black hole when it comes to scoring. He scored 1.49 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five in 2021-22, a better rate than Adrian Kempe and Alex Iaffolo, who tend to play with more talented linemates. Lemieux also was a positive play-driver, as his relative Corsi for was plus-3.49 percent. In other words, his team had 3.49 percent more shot attempts when he was on the ice than when he was off of it.
Early in the new season, it’s been more of the same. His relative CF% is plus-6.39, which ranks second on the team. This is only the second season in which Lemieux has been on the right side of the shot-share battle. This could be a credit to how the Kings and coach Todd McLellan have been utilizing him. Lemieux has mostly played with Blake Lizotte since joining the club, and they are over 50 percent in goals for, expected goals, and Corsi in over 500 minutes of five-on-five ice time together.
Lemieux certainly does not come without controversy, which could be an explanation as to why three different organizations have traded since he was drafted in 2014. He sometimes loses control and has a tendency to take bad penalties. His play has crossed the line a few times in his career to the point where it led to supplemental discipline from the league.
The Ugly Side of Lemieux’s Game
With the style of player that Lemieux is, sometimes you can live with a bad penalty or two. However, with the frequency that Lemieux takes penalties, you have to wonder if that is costing the team. Since the start of the 2020-21 season, no one has taken more minor penalties per 60 minutes than the Kings’ agitator (minimum 1000 minutes played). He’s also no stranger to receiving a five-minute penalty either, ranking third in major-penalty rate in that time span. The Kings’ penalty kill has ranked in the bottom half of the league for the last two seasons, so taking unnecessary penalties has potential to hurt the team.
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The Department of Player Safety has suspended Lemieux three times in just 242 games. The most infamous incident occurred last season on Nov. 27, when he was suspended five games for biting Brady Tkachuk in a game against the Ottawa Senators. This prompted a memorable rant from Tkachuk about Lemieux.
His two other suspensions were for illegal checks to the head. Obviously, biting a player does not help the team or help endear Lemieux around the league or to the fans. This is why some question whether or not the Kings should keep him in the lineup on a regular basis. This type of player can be difficult for people to root for, especially ones who want to see violence out of today’s game. It’s one thing if the fans don’t like him, but if Tkachuk’s assertion that his teammates don’t like him is correct, he may have issues sticking around with one team for an extended period of time.
Effective but Flawed
If Lemieux can limit the penalties, he can provide energy to the Kings as a fourth liner. Some successful teams in the modern NHL have shied away from using this type of player even in a limited role. Instead, they will just load up their team with as much skill as possible. Usually, when one of these skill players comes into the lineup, they are replacing someone whose underlying metrics aren’t as strong as Lemieux’s.
Some of the more old-school hockey people, whether they be fans, media, coaches or executives, value the toughness and physicality that Lemieux brings; he is 11th in the NHL in hits per 60 minutes in the last three seasons. There are also people that still want a player like Lemieux in the lineup in case they are needed for a fight, even if those are increasingly rarer these days. Lemieux isn’t a heavyweight, but there aren’t many of those active on a nightly basis anymore.
If he can cut down the needless penalties, the Kings can trust him more. Right now, it is hard to send him over the boards in the third period in a close game because it may result in the team being shorthanded. Other than that, Lemieux is worth having in the lineup despite flaws in his game. He signed a one-year contract this past summer, with a salary cap hit of $1.35 million, and will become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Even though he’s been playing well, it’s important for the Kings and any other team who may sign him to not overpay for bottom-six players. We’ve seen teams do this in the past, and it can lead to salary cap hell. A small raise should be the offer from LA if they want to bring him back.
It’s easy to see why fans can get frustrated by Lemieux, but he is actually performing in the role the Kings want him to play. For the time being, it’s hard to see the team removing from the lineup on a regular basis.
Nick Vazquez covers the LA Kings for The Hockey Writers. He has been a hockey fan for his entire life, and playing the game since age 6. He loves watching and analyzing the game in different ways, and exploring the great stories from different players, teams and fans.