The Prototypical Shutdown Defenseman
After fifteen seasons, one thousand eighty-nine career games, and sixty-seven postseason appearances, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr has announced his plans to retire from the NHL.
One of two Brazilian-born players to ever suit-up for an NHL team, Robyn Regehr was a first round pick by the Colorado Avalanche in 1998. In February of 1999, Regehr’s rights were traded to Calgary in addition with René Corbet, Wade Belak, and a second-round pick for Chris Dingman and Theoren Fleury.
The Calgary Flames signed the big stay-at-home defenseman to an entry-level contract the following season and he played eleven seasons with the team. Regehr would come close to hoisting the Stanley Cup with the Flames and Darryl Sutter in 2004, but, would be defeated in game seven at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Regehr’s next career move would be in the form of a routine Jay Feaster trade, sending Regehr to the Buffalo Sabres along with a second round draft pick and forward, Ales Kotalik to Buffalo for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. The acquisition would not prove to be that fruitful as Buffalo would go into full rebuild mode shortly after. Sadly, the talents and skill-set that Regehr possessed were wasted for two seasons until he approved a trade to the Los Angeles Kings.
The Move to a Championship Team
The season before the Robyn Regehr trade, the Los Angeles Kings steamrolled through the playoffs en route to their first Stanley Cup championship in 2011-2012. The team was in need of a stay-at-home defenseman due to the yearlong absence of defensive staple, Willie Mitchell and an injury that would keep Matt Greene out for a great percentage of the regular season. The Kings needed help on the blue-line and Regehr would fill the void immediately.
The Kings would lose in the Western Conference Finals that year to the Chicago Blackhawks, but Regehr’s play was not unnoticed. General Manager signed him to a two-year extension to solidify the top-six as Rob Scuderi was inevitably leaving for free agency after winning his second Stanley Cup the year before.
Regehr had been criticized more than the Kings fan base appreciated him. He was critiqued for his overall slow skating speed and extremely low offensive production. Given his frame though, the man had great feet work and played his angles extremely well defensively. Known for separating the player from the puck in an infamous tunnel of death.
Even More Offseason Questions to be Answered Now
There are many questions surrounding the Kings offseason. Will Justin Williams resign at a discounted rate or make the money he rightfully deserves somewhere else? Will Jarret Stoll resign at a huge discount given his recent arrest or will Dean Lombardi cut ways? The enigma that is Mike Richards and what to do with his contract is another offseason question? How much will it cost to keep restricted free agents Tyler Toffoli and Martin Jones satisfied enough to want to stay?
Now with Robyn Regehr’s retirement announced, there are a couple more questions given the Kings cannot sign the veteran to an extension as a buffer: 1) Why is he retiring at a relatively early age of thirty-five and 2) Who will fill the void now that Regehr is gone?
The Toll Taken on a Warrior’s Body
Two things that were never in question were his professionalism and his will to compete. Whether Regehr was slower than players like Taylor Hall or Carl Hagelin, he was a player that could eat up a lot of minutes on the back-end; exhibit versatility being paired with Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez, or Andrej Sekera; and played a big part on the penalty kill. The Kings short-handed unit(s) had the sixth lowest on-ice scoring chances against per sixty minutes in the 2014-2015 season.
Another factor could be the horrific car accident Regehr was in prior to playing in the NHL. The accident left him with multiple fractures in one leg and a puncture wound in the other all at the age of nineteen. He was able to play for a long time and with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger and over one thousand games played, his career should be revered.
He left it out on the ice every shift, played a hard physical game, and played up until the point he thought his body can handle it. It is very understandable reasoning for a professional athlete.
Who Fills the Void?
The second question must be of some concern to the Kings organization and the fan base. Yes, Regehr was “slow and did not score a lot,” but, he was a solid shutdown defenseman. The Kings roster is now left with one player fitting the same mold in Matt Greene. Who comes next?
Brayden McNabb had improved a lot over the course of this season. He was exposed to top-pairing minutes early on and handled them as any rookie would: turnovers, bad penalties due to being caught out of position defensively, and the couple of missed hits trying to make a big check. McNabb did start to show signs of offensive production in his limited time right before and following Alec Martinez’s insertion back into the line up after sustaining a concussion. McNabb is known to have a physical side, but will that fill the void left by Regehr?
Another thing Dean Lombardi (and fans to a certain extent) must ponder is the overall future of the Kings defense as Slava Voynov may no longer be able to contribute as previously had. Furthermore, Andrej Sekera, whom was forced to sit out the last five games of the season due to a lower-body injury, is an unrestricted free agent come July 1, 2015. The Kings gave up a first-round draft pick and defensive prospect to acquire him.
The team was not necessarily lucky this year, but they also failed to meet expectations as a championship franchise. These questions will have to wait it out with the rest as Dean Lombardi and the management staff must assess the defensive depth the organization has. Decisions on whether or not that some of these players are ready for the next step, whether Sekera can fit under the salary cap, or if help is needed externally will all have to be addressed. The decision for Regehr to retire, along with other pending situations, have put the Kings in an even harder position this offseason.
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.