The NHL’s unprecedented decision to pause the 2019-20 season could possibly be one of the best things to happen to the Los Angeles Kings. Leading up to Thursday’s announcement, the Kings were the hottest team in the league, winning seven in a row and going 8-1-1 in the last 10 games.
The Kings already played themselves down the probability ratio to get the first overall draft pick in the 2020 draft. Sitting in the fourth-lowest position in the league means they have a 9.5 percent chance of drafting first, a 9.6 percent chance of selecting second, and a 9.7 percent chance to get the third overall pick.
The recent performance by the Kings would lead you to believe that they would likely win more in the final 12 games remaining on the schedule. They played some of their best hockey against top competitors like the Vegas Golden Knights, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.
In theory, there are still 24 points on the table, which means the Kings could finish with 88 points. Using that same theory, the Kings could make the playoffs, if they win every game and several Western Conference teams don’t win, or tie, or show up for the remainder of the season – isn’t math fun!
While it’s extremely unlikely the Kings will be in the playoffs, they were on pace to add to their 64 points and move up in the standings. The Anaheim Ducks (67 points), New Jersey Devils (68 points), and Buffalo Sabres (68 points) are easily within striking range. Three more teams, the Montreal Canadiens (71 points), Chicago Blackhawks (72 points), and Arizona Coyotes (74 points), could be caught by this red-hot Kings team. Arizona currently sits 22nd in the league, which gives them a three percent chance of getting the first-overall pick.
12 Picks in 2020 Draft
The importance of this draft cannot be overstated for the Kings, who are well into a full rebuild. Los Angeles has 12 picks in the 2020 draft, including three second-round picks, two third-round selections and two fourth-round picks.
Not only have the Kings played themselves to a lower first-round draft pick, but lower selections for LA-controlled picks in rounds two to seven as well.
While Alexis Lafreniere is destined to play in the Eastern Conference with the Detroit Red Wings or Ottawa Senators, LA could use some more talented youth to accelerate the rebuild. A forward like the 6-foot-4, 215-pound left-handed centre Quinton Byfield would make an excellent addition. Tim Stuetzle, who has shot up the prospect ranking after an impressive season in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany, will also be an early selection.
There is a fantastic defenseman in Jamie Drysdale with the coveted right-hand shot available in this draft. These players would be welcome additions to the franchise, but it was becoming more unlikely they will be there.
Well-Stocked Farm System
While every team would like to add one of those players, the winning streak wasn’t all bad for the future of the team. The Kings have shown that they don’t need a saviour to rescue the franchise. LA’s farm system is well stocked with skilled up-and-comers. The seven-game winning streak included several NHL debuts for the Kings, including Gabe Villardi and Mikey Anderson, as well as Cal Peterson and Martin Frk, who joined the team earlier in the season.
Kings fans were loving watching their team embrace the spoiler role and defeat teams fighting for a playoff berth. Veteran players were smiling on the bench again, and the new guys were embracing the opportunity to put their talent on display for the big club to make next year’s roster. Even head coach Todd McLellan was looking less angry and even cracked a rare smile in post-game interviews. All of this positive turnaround was unlikely to end – it perhaps would cool down, but there is little doubt the team was going to win more than they would lose in their final dozen games.
There is no telling what will happen with the NHL’s pause. Will the season resume and the final regular-season games will be played? Will the league go right into playoffs? Will it resume at all? The best outcome for the Kings is no more regular-season games. The Kings would finish the season on a high note with an impressive winning streak and still have about a 1-in-10 chance of adding an elite player in the upcoming draft.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.