The conclusion of the 2014-2015 season ended on a sour note for Kings fans. Whether fatigue played into the season or it was a plethora of injuries and off-ice drama, it was not easy watching the defending Stanley Cup Champions miss the playoffs.
In addition to that, Kings fans would watch former Conn Smythe winner Justin Williams leave via free agency to sign a two-year deal with the Washington Capitals. Andrej Sekera, a player who expressed an interest in staying with Los Angeles, decided to test free agency as well and landed a six-year deal in Edmonton worth more money than the Kings were willing to pay.
Furthermore, the end of the season saw a top priority in signing restricted free agent Martin Jones slip away as the goalie was traded to Boston and then later traded to division rivals, the San Jose Sharks. Jones went on to sign a three-year contract with San Jose worth $9 million, which is worth more money than the Kings were willing to sign a backup goalie.
The loss of Williams hurts, but the addition of Milan Lucic before the draft eased the pain of losing the experienced right-winger as Lucic will bring a new look to the Kings top-six and has won a Stanley Cup. Not being able to re-sign Sekera and Jones put the Kings in the position of having to find help from outside and from within. Following free agency, the Kings were left with two glaring holes: a backup goalie and defensive depth.
Kings Sign Jhonas Enroth to Play Behind Quick
GM Dean Lombardi acted quickly in addressing the need for a backup goalie with the one-year signing of goalie Jhonas Enroth. Enroth, a former second-round draft pick by the Buffalo Sabres, should be able to handle the backup duties extremely well.
In seasons past, Enroth had bounced around as a 1A/1B option for a rebuilding Buffalo Sabres team and was traded to the Dallas Stars in February of this year for goalie Anders Linback. Enroth faced an average of 31.32 SA60 (shots against per 60 minutes) at 5v5 and only had troubles with shots taken from a high-danger zone in even strength scenarios. Enroth was only able to stop 81 percent of the shots taken below the hash marks and close to the net.
There are two reasons why this stat should not be considered a concern for the new Kings goalie. First, during 5v5 even strength play, the Buffalo Sabres were last in team defense allowing for an average of 34.6 shots on goal per game while the Kings team was first in the league only allowing 25.7 shots per 60 minutes. Unlike the Buffalo defense, the Kings minimize chances for other teams at 5v5 and can help support Enroth down low. Secondly, it is a one-year deal that gives the Kings the options to allow J.F. Berube (in the likelihood that he would clear waivers if assigned back to Ontario after being in the lineup) and Patrik Bartosak time to keep developing in Ontario or for one of those two goalies to play well enough that Enroth becomes expendable and can be moved.
Current State of the Kings Defense
The situation on defense has been a little less confident inducing, but is slowly stabilizing. Before the signing of Jamie McBain, the Kings had Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Matt Greene as their top-four defenseman. Assuming that Slava Voynov is not reinstated back into the NHL, the fifth, sixth, and seventh defensemen still need to be sorted out between the remaining defensemen in the Kings system like Brayden McNabb, Jeff Schultz, Derek Forbort, and the recently re-signed Jamie McBain.
McNabb had little NHL experience when traded to the Kings. He was thrown into the fire starting the season alongside Doughty last year and moved in-and-out of the lineup from there. McNabb did turn it around towards the end of the season seeing time with Sekera, but Sekera is now gone and McNabb will have to take the next step into a top-six defensive role.
Schultz and Forbort are two more defensemen that will be competing for a spot on the NHL roster as both won the Calder Cup with the Manchester Monarchs last season.
Schultz is signed for one more year and has experience in the NHL playing with the Washington Capitals. Schultz most notably stepped into the Kings roster in 2014 playing against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, but he also saw nine games with the Kings last season before being loaned back to Manchester.
Forbort seems to be next in line as far as taking the next step in his development and seeing time at the NHL level after a trade that sent defensive prospect Colin Miller to the Boston Bruins. He was drafted in the first round by the Kings in 2010 and has been called up to the Kings before. Forbort had 15 points and a plus-23 rating last season with the Monarchs during the AHL regular season.
McBain re-signed with the Kings on a two-way, one-year deal earlier this month. According to lakingsinsider.com, McBain will be paid $600,000 if he were to play in the NHL and $300,000 if playing in the AHL. McBain played as a serviceable defenseman last year. He is an offensively minded defenseman that saw limited ice-time, but was able to contribute offensively and play on the power play. McBain is also a right-handed shot that would give the Kings three right-handed defenseman in their top-six.
There are other potential candidates in the Kings system like Kevin Gravel, Nick Ebert, or Vincent LoVerde that could have a great training camp and make the team come October or be called up throughout the season, but it looks as though McNabb, McBain, Schultz, and Forbort may be the four defensemen fighting for the three remaining defensive roster spots.
The Signing of Six Restricted Free Agents
In addition to filling the two holes in goaltending and on defense, the Kings signed six restricted free agents to new contract extensions: Andy Andreoff, Andrew Crescenzi, Nic Dowd, Vincent LoVerde, Nick Shore, and Jordan Weal.
Of the five restricted free agents, Nick Shore has the best chance earning a full-time position on the Kings roster. Shore saw 34 games last season and out-played Mike Richards for a spot on the fourth line by winning one-on-one battles along the boards and driving possession with an improved faceoff percentage.
Andreoff and Weal will also have the chance to compete for a playoff spot in training camp. With the termination of Mike Richards’ contract and the future of Jarret Stoll in Los Angeles (or anywhere for that matter) looks murky following an arrest in Nevada; the Kings center position requires depth and those are two players that can add to it.
Andreoff just signed a two-year contract extension with the Kings and appeared in 18 games for the Kings last season. Weal was third in the AHL in scoring and assists and won the Jack A. Butterfield trophy awarded to most valuable player in the playoffs with 22 points in 19 games helping the Manchester Monarchs win their first ever Calder Cup trophy.
Training camp will begin September 18, 2015. This training camp will explain a lot in terms of how the roster will be constructed and which players will suit-up for opening night. From there, the Kings will most likely encounter injuries, suspensions, and other factors that could create roster movement and Dean Lombardi has done a great job giving himself and the coaching staff some options.
Cole R. Querry resides in Southern California. Having played hockey through college and a background in science and math, he promises to bring an objective analysis to the team and sport he loves.