Going into the 2015 NHL Draft there was plenty of speculation surrounding the Los Angeles Kings and their 13th overall pick. There were rumors circulating that the pick would be packaged with Mike Richards in order to sweeten the pot and move his $5.75 million cap hit. There were also whispers of using the pick as trade bait to bring a defenseman, and of course there were plenty of advocates who said the Kings should hold onto pick number 13 in a deep draft.
With the draft in the rear view mirror we can say Dean Lombardi threw a curve ball and didn’t go with any of the scenarios that had been circulating. Lombardi pulled the trigger on a deal that didn’t move Richards and free up cap space, he didn’t hold onto the pick and draft a future star and he didn’t bring in someone to help on the blue line. Instead, Lombardi made a mean Los Angeles team even meaner.
Before the Kings got to the podium they found a suitor in the Boston Bruins. The Kings packaged their first round pick, goalie Martin Jones and prospect Collin Miller to the Bruins in exchange for Milan Lucic. The Bruins went on to pick Jakub Zboril of the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the pick received in the trade.
At first glance the deal was a bit puzzling. When traded, Lucic had one year remaining on his contract with a $6 million cap hit. Coming to Los Angeles, a team that is already strapped for cash, seemed a bit crazy. But Lombardi was able to talk Boston into retaining $2.75 million of Lucic’s cap hit, dropping it down to $3.25 million picked up by the Kings.
When the trade was announced, it was received with mixed reviews. Most were confused as to why a forward was brought in when it’s been clear the Kings have been trying to address the blue line. Even more people questioned another player with a significant cap hit being brought in when the Kings are already up against the salary cap.
But when you take a step back, brining in Lucic was a good decision for a couple of reasons.
1. Offensive Purposes
The Kings offense has struggled with its identity. Not so much with the style of play, which Lucic fits into perfectly, but with who plays with whom and who gets top-six minutes and bottom-six minutes. Lucic’s arrival should solidify a first line of Lucic on left-wing, Anze Kopitar in the middle and Marian Gaborik on the right side. The Kings first line was a bit of a blender all last season with players like Dustin Brown and Justin Williams both getting top-line minutes at different points of the season. Lucic coming to town should cement a dangerous top line and allow Brown to fall back into a bottom six role, something his play and production has suggested for some time now.
From Lucic’s point of view he is moving into a better situation. Lucic was never the top dog in Boston, he was on the second line most of the time playing behind Brad Marchand. In Los Angeles Lucic will be in a spot where he can flourish and play not only with a top pairing, but also with one of the most dangerous duos in the NHL in Kopitar and Gaborik.
2. Immediate Impact
In the past I have supported the Kings trading away their first round pick. Yes, it was in hopes of getting Richards out of Los Angeles, but this result is just as good. The Kings are in an unfamiliar spot. In the past the Kings have been able to tread offseason waters without losing significant pieces of their roster. This summer is not the case.
The Kings are losing Sekera, and most hope Lombardi finds a way but Justin Williams is as good as gone. It was already going to be tough to bring Jarett Stoll back but his offseason antics all but punched his ticket out of Los Angeles. Those are all big impact guys and even bigger locker room guys. Filling the hole left by the departure of those names should be a top priority.
The Kings do have young talent like Jordan Weal and Brian O’Neill coming through the pipeline, but they will take time to mature and develop into influential NHL players. Lucic can step right into the starting line up and not just into a bottom-six spot but into top-six minutes for the Kings.
3. Plenty Of Time
A lot of people are freaking out because the Kings didn’t address their top priorities at the first possible moment. The salary issue and the blue line are obvious situations that need serious attention from Lombardi in the coming weeks but it’s too early to panic that they are not yet resolved.
There have been reports that a buyout of Richards is very likely and could be done in the near future. After signing Lucic it was announced that Andrej Sekera will not be brought back but there is still plenty of time to bring in someone to fill the hole left on the blue line.
The Draft is like opening day of the season. Just because your team lost the opening game, and acquiring Lucic should not be seen as a loss, you shouldn’t write off the season. There are plenty of d-men left on the market and Lombardi likely has a target in mind.