Are the Kings Done Dealing?

The Los Angeles Kings have, for the most part, had a steady yet unspectacular season to date. The team’s baseline throughout the majority of its 2017-18 campaign is being on the precipice of leapfrogging the likes of the St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks for a highly sought-after playoff spot.

Knowing that his squad has been mired in stagnancy, Kings general manager, Rob Blake, has exhibited that complacency with his team’s current place in the NHL standings is not an option. The question is, are there more deals to be made in advance of Monday’s trade deadline?

Confirmed Additions

Unlike the 2017 rendition of the trade deadline, the Kings have been very much on the offensive with respect to augmenting their squad this season.  This includes a quasi-blockbuster deal, an under-the-radar move and the looming return of a Kings star.

Dion Looks Hungry

On Feb. 14., Dion Phaneuf was acquired from the Ottawa Senators for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore. The Kings also received journeyman forward Nate Thompson. The trade was a product of LA gravely needing to add more physicality and leadership on the back end, coupled with Ottawa proceeding with its inevitable fire sale of movable, big-ticket contracts. Since joining the Kings, the polarizing defenseman has seemingly been galvanized by playing in the “City of Angels.”

Dion Phaneuf #2, Ottawa Senators
Dion Phaneuf has already made a material difference on the Kings’ blue line.  Feb. 3, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Through five games with his new team, Phaneuf has contributed a goal and two assists while logging an impressive 19 minutes of ice time per contest. As a result, the team has responded well to the 32-year-old’s addition, winning three of the five games he’s played.

The downside of adding Phaneuf is his $5.25-million AAV contract until the end of the 2020-21 season — the Senators are retaining 25 percent of Phaneuf’s contract which originally carried a $7 million cap. The elephant in the room is that superstar defenseman Drew Doughty will become a UFA next summer and will command a king’s ransom to remain with the silver & black. Should Doughty re-sign, the shedding of an expensive contracti.e., Alec Martinez or Jake Muzzinwould likely become a necessity.

Plucking an Enticing Coyote

On Feb. 21, Blake remained active by swinging a trade with divisional rival, the Arizona Coyotes. Leaving La La Land was backup goalie Darcy Kuemper in exchange for forward Tobias Rieder, and back-up goalie, Scott Wedgewood.  Hockey’s Future had the following scouting report on the 25-year-old Rieder:

Rieder combines above-average skill with a high compete level and is an exciting player to watch as a result. He brings both offensive ability and a willingness to get his nose dirty to the table, and is a fan favorite as a result. Rieder is deployed in all types of situations from power plays to penalty kills or any type of even strength situation. He has a slight build and lacks ideal height however, and this leads to him being worn down from time to time.

The German winger had tallied 8 goals and 11 assists in 58 games for the Coyotes. His pedestrian stats may be largely attributed to the lack of quality around him in Arizona. It will be interesting to see what Rieder will do with proven talent in LA. He would likely have to supplant one of the team’s incumbent wingers, such as Torrey Mitchell or Jonny Brodzinski, in order to see regular ice time.

Wedgewood’s tenure with the Kings was brief, to say the least:

Imminent Return of No. 77

Naturally, Kings fans are becoming giddy with the prospects of star center Jeff Carter nearing a return to the team.  Carter has been sidelined since Oct. 18 after suffering a lacerated ankle tendon in a game against the Montreal Canadiens. General manager Rob Blake recently confirmed that Carter was officially cleared to practice with the team.

“He’ll hopefully join the team when we get back from this road-trip practice-wise and once he’s integrated into practice it’s a matter of time, but as far as progressing, everything is on track,” Blake told LA Kings insider in a Feb. 21 media scrum.

The towering center should seamlessly slot into one of the top two lines and, based on historical data, continue on with his productive ways. Although Carter is on the wrong side of 30, his return may just be the elixir that the Kings have sorely been looking for to propel their team into a deep playoff run.

Potential Deadline Targets

Given Blake’s recent trigger-happy ways, it is definitely not out of the realm of possibility that an additional move(s) is executed in advance of the Feb 28. deadline. One such target has long been viewed as a potential fit, while the other is an intriguing wild card.

Evander Kane

One of the worst kept secrets in professional sports is that Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane will be dealt in advance of the trade deadline. The question is, should the Kings be interested? The narrative of the Kings adding the polarizing Kane stems all the way back to this past summer and doesn’t appear to be going away.

Evander Kane Sabres
Evander Kane could still end up in LA prior to Monday’s trade deadline. Dec. 14, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Rationale:

Kane has arguably been the best player on the Sabres’ roster this year. He has managed to notch 20 goals despite being surrounded by inferior talent. On paper, the 26-year-old is a unicorn with skates. His blazing speed, scoring ability and six-foot-two, 212 pound frame, simply do not grow on trees. Some have argued that current Kings winger Tanner Pearson is not a top-six forward and, consequently, does not substantiate the lucrative, long-term contract that he signed back in May. Trading for Kane would give the Kings as potent a top half as there is in the league.

The Price:

According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill has set the minimum return for Kane to be a first-round pick, a prospect and a young, current NHLer. Given Kane’s current $6million AAV, the Kings would likely have to part ways with a younger player who carries a fairly big contract (i.e., Muzzin or Pearson). The latter seems more likely given there would be an overage of wingers on the team.

The Verdict:

Trade Probability:  Low

In order for the Kings to make a move of this magnitude, they would all but require a guarantee from Kane that he would re-sign long-term with the club. Although Kane would be an upgrade over Pearson, the inevitable headache associated with the former would simply not be worth the investment. Furthermore, first round picks cannot simply be disseminated at will.

Josh Leivo

The Toronto Maples Leafs and winger, Josh Leivo, are stuck in the dubious “friend zone”.  They are both fond of one another, yet the former does not like the latter enough to make a commitment.  Leivo has slid down the pecking order of  talented Maple Leaf wingers, which has rendered a meager 12 games of duty with the big club this year.  As a result, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported that Leivo has recently demanded a trade.

Josh Leivo Toronto Maple Leafs
Josh Leivo has failed to secure a full-time roster spot with the Leafs.  Feb. 7, 2018 (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Rationale:

Leivo is young (24) and possesses an ideal 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame. He has been a prolific scorer everywhere he’s played and has shown an admirable level of compete without the puck. Much like the recently moved Nikita Soshnikov, Leivo is a victim of the Leafs’ superior depth at wing and could flourish in a new environment. In addition, the Kings are not the youngest team in the league and could always use another talented player in their mid-20s to the fold.

The Price:

The likely asking price for Leivo would be a mid-round pick. Alternatively, given the Leafs’ need for another high quality defenseman, the 24-year-old would have to be included in a package that would result in one of Martinez or Muzzin going back to Toronto.

The Verdict:

Trade Probability:  Low

Although Leivo would be an intriguing addition to a steadily aging Kings roster, Blake has already brought in a young winger with talent who needed a change of scenery (Rieder). Acquiring another such player would likely be deemed as redundant.