Kings’ Missed Golden Opportunities to Acquire Left-Handed Defencemen

The Los Angeles Kings’ are reportedly looking to acquire a dynamic left-handed defenceman. Recently, Darren Dreger said:

”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 defencemanI’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’ current left-shot blueliners are Mikey Anderson, Olli Maatta and Kurtis MacDermid. Overall, not a spectacular crew. Maatta was brought to LA with the intention of being Drew Doughty’s partner in crime, but that experiment didn’t last long. Nowadays, Doughty plays with Anderson, a skilled rookie who has loads of potential but cannot currently be classified as a ‘dynamic defenceman’ who impacts the game on both ends of the ice (he has eight points this season and takes very low-quality shots).

MacDermid is known for bringing a ‘tough as nails’ style to the game and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves, but his offensive contributions are minimal.

Related: Kings Have Blockbuster Trade Options to Fill Defensive Corps

Meanwhile, L.A. possesses Doughty, a dynamic right-handed defenceman, who is a former Norris Trophy winner and should be in the Norris race again this season. L.A. has had lots of salary cap space to play with for a while now and currently has just over $9 million in cap room.

The Kings possess ample space to add a blueliner, but in the last year, they have squandered two golden opportunities to do so, where they wouldn’t have had to lose any assets to make the acquisition. Although both of these defenders are older than 25, both are dynamic and left-handed.

Torey Krug (2020 Free Agency)

The earliest of these opportunities came in 2020, once Torey Krug became an unrestricted free agent (UFA) when Boston didn’t re-sign him. Although Doughty is having a better season offensively than Krug, signing him would’ve made him instantly project as the Kings’ top offensive defenceman.

Boston Bruins Torey Krug
Former Bruins defenseman Torey Krug (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

From 2016-17 to 2019-20, Krug finished among the NHL’s top 10 blueliners in points three times and finished just outside (12th) once. In that timeframe, he out-produced Doughty in three seasons and trailed him by one point in 2017-18. The players offensive totals during those four seasons were:

Krug: 282 Games Played (GP), 212 Points, 0.75 Points Per Game (P/G)

Doughty: 313 GP, 184 Points, 0.59 P/G

Overall, Krug could have immediately came to LA and formed an effective offensive duo with Doughty. The Kings would have had the choice to have a dynamic defenceman on both power-play units, or they could have played on a unit together. Although most teams only play one defenceman on a unit, Krug can play with two, such as in this clip where he and Justin Faulk help the St. Louis Blues maintain possession of the puck for an astounding 3:30 during a delayed penalty against LA. This also highlights Krug’s ability to drive offensive play, as he takes a 2:53 shift.

Krug is one of the league’s best transitional defencemen. Had he signed in L.A. and gotten to skate with the Norris Trophy winner, Doughty could’ve effectively shut down opponents and then let Krug do what he’s known for, which is clearing the puck and providing offence.

I advocated for the Kings to sign Krug in Free Agency, however, he went to their new divisional rival St. Louis. He has thus far been effective with the Blues, posting 23 points in 43 games. Under Craig Berube, the team plays a defensive style of hockey. Although Krug is known for his offensive talent, he has proven he can play solid defence, as he has blocked 1.12 shots per game and has thrown 1.05 hits per game. Similarly, the Kings plays a defensive style and is known for the team’s grit, meaning at a minimum, his hit totals would’ve been similar had he come to “The City of Angels.”

Torey Krug St. Louis Blues
Torey Krug (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Nowadays, Krug is helping the Blues make a playoff push at the Kings’ expense. St. Louis currently sits one point out of the playoffs, while L.A. is seven out.

Meanwhile, the Kings’ off-season acquisition of Maatta has not worked out. Instead of spending $3.33 million on Maatta, the Kings could have signed Krug, leaving them with lots of cap room and filling the need for a dynamic left-handed blueliner who would’ve helped them achieve their preseason vision of qualifying for the playoffs.

Shayne Gostisbehere (Placed on Waivers, 2021)

Shayne Gostisbehere is another player I’ve thought LA should’ve targeted as a trade candidate. In response to this, some Kings fans said they’d only want him if L.A. didn’t need to give up anything for him. This could have been made a reality when he was placed on waivers at the end of March, but he managed to clear the waiver wire.

Shayne Gostisbehere Philadelphia Flyers
Gostisbehere (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Gostisbehere is known for his ability to drive offence. In his rookie season, he produced 46 points in 64 games and finished 17th in Norris Trophy voting. His best season came when he was 24-years-old, and he produced 65 points, finishing 10th in Norris voting. The last season where he nearly played its entirety was 2018-19 (78 games played) when he had 37 points. Although this was considered a down year for him, it still is more points in a single season than any of the Kings’ current left-handers have generated. Furthermore, he is known for his excellent puck-moving ability.

Comparing Shayne Gostisbehere’s zone exits and entries at 5v5 from 2018-19 and 2016-19.

These charts highlight how well he can move the puck. Specifically, the part to the right does. The chart on the right tracked his zone exits and zone entries from 2016-2019. Although zone entries are considered a transitional statistic, they could be considered a defensive number, as clearing the zone prevents scoring chances against, which is the goal of defending. In that timeframe, Gostisbehere’s possession entry percentage was 94%, while his possession exit percentage was 97%. This means he entered the offensive zone more effectively than 94% of players and exited the defensive zone more successfully than 97% of NHL skaters. His possession exits per 60 of 95% and his possession entries per 60 of 96% mean that for every 60 minutes he skated, he performed more defensive zone exits than 95% of players and entered the offensive zone more than 96% of skaters.

This season, Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch and puzzlingly was placed on waivers (from ‘Flyers minus Gostisbehere for third consecutive game,’ The Philadelphia Inquirer20/03/21). Despite this, he has scored eight goals and posted 15 points in 35 games played. He leads all Flyers’ blueliners in goals and is second in points behind Ivan Provorov, who has 22 points in 45 games played. “Ghost” only has a plus/minus of minus-4 this season, which is impressive considering the Flyers minus-34 goal differential. He ranks fourth among the team’s defenders in this regard, which goes against the motion that he is too much of a liability defensively to consistently be playing.

Shayne Gostisbehere Philadelphia Flyers
Gostisbehere (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Gostisbehere is not an overtly physical defenceman. Throughout his 375-game career, he has thrown 196 hits (0.52 per game), however, he does block tons of shots, as he has 446 career blocks, which is equivalent to 1.2 blocks per game. He also doesn’t turn over the puck as often as other offensive-minded defensemen. In his career, he has 277 career giveaways (0.74 per game) and 107 takeaways (0.29 per game). For perspective, here’s how other defenders have performed in this regard throughout their careers:

Brent Burns: 0.53 takeaways per game; 0.93 giveaways per game

Doughty: 0.24 takeaways per game; 1.00 giveaways per game

John Carlson: 0.58 takeaways per game; 0.99 giveaways per game

Overall, Gostisbehere’s 0.73 giveaways per game aren’t too bad compared to these blueliners. Although Carlson and Burns are better at stealing the puck, he has a better takeaway per game ratio than Doughty. This means that relative to other defencemen who provide offensive output, “Ghost” is less risky with the puck than them and is better at stealing the puck than Doughty, who has the reputation among the aforementioned blueliners for being the best and most responsible defensively.

John Carlson Washington Capitals
John Carlson (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Lastly, Gostisbehere is a 27-year-old who excels offensively and transitionally. Excluding hitting, his defensive numbers are comparable to other defencemen who provide top-notch offensive value. His salary-cap hit of $4.5 million lasts through the 2022-23 season. This is affordable for LA today as they have tons of cap space and could have signed him off waivers. If they had targeted him instead of Maatta last offseason, they would have been able to put the $3.33 million they pay him towards paying Gostisbehere.

In Conclusion

Hindsight is 20/20; however, despite Gostisbehere and Krug not being under 25 years old, they fit all of the other criteria for what the Kings are looking for in a left-handed blueliner to complement Doughty. Both are great offensively and transitionally while chipping in some defence. The Kings will likely have to make a trade to acquire a dynamic 25-year-old or under defenceman, which would require them to give up a piece of their prospect pipeline.

Instead of this, L.A. had two opportunities to snap up two blueliners who fit this criteria without having to lose anything except cap space but chose not to.

Stats Per Hockey Reference & NHL

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