Wednesday night the Los Angeles Kings AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, beat the Hartford Wolfpack 3-1 to sweep the AHL Eastern Conference Final. Regular season AHL MVP Brian O’Neill, and playoff scoring leader Jordan Weal continue to push the team forward and proving that they deserve a shot at cracking the Kings lineup next season.
Williams and Stoll Likely Out
At the end of the regular season, Kings fans were hoping Kings’ GM, Dean Lombardi, would be focused on re-signing restricted free agents Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. Lombardi quickly locked up Pearson to a cap friendly two year deal. Once Toffoli and a sixth defenseman are signed, the Kings won’t have a lot of salary cap room and, unfortunately, that means the team will likely lose two or three members of their Stanley Cup core.
Justin Williams is most likely going to leave the Kings unless the team can somehow trade Mike Richards and his huge contract. The only reason he would likely stay is loyalty and the desire to be on a potential cup winning team again. However, it would be for less than money than he could get on another team. The lack of serious offensive weapons in this year’s free agent pool means Williams’ value will be inflated and someone will offer him more than he’s worth.
With Jarret Stoll’s recent arrest and legal situation, plus his impending unrestricted free agency, there is a real possibility that he won’t be back with the Kings next season. While he would be cheaper than Williams to keep, his lack of production this season, coupled with decline in defensive zone play, have made Stoll a less attractive player. The Kings were once considered to have the best center depth in the league thanks to Stoll. Now he’s a fourth line player, playing a third line role, and only regressing.
Assuming that Williams and Stoll aren’t with the team next season, the Kings will need to replace a RW and C. However, the free agent class this offseason is weak. As mentioned above, Williams will probably be overpaid, and given the Kings’ recent success it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team do the same with Stoll in hopes that a change of scenery revives his game. This also means that the Kings won’t have many decent options in filling these roles through free agency. NHL teams are going to be fighting over scraps and the Kings don’t need to get into that dog fight.
O’Neill and Weal Continue Regular Season Dominance In Playoffs
The Manchester Monarchs finished the AHL regular season with a league best 109 points and won the Atlantic Division title. Brian O’Neill led the team, and the league with 80 points in 71 games. The 5’9” RW is a bit of a late bloomer. At 26, he’s rarely listed when people talk about the Kings and their best prospects. Perhaps part of that has to do with his lack of size, however O’Neill dominated the AHL this season thanks to his speed and good hands. In the playoffs his success has continued, as he’s fourth in the league in postseason scoring.
With the success of smaller players like Johnny Gaudreau, and fellow late bloomer Tyler Johnson, this season it wouldn’t be shocking to see O’Neill get a shot filling Justin Williams’ spot on the Kings’ roster. The Kings have plenty of grinders and size, but they could use more speed in their lineup.
Tanner Pearson was perhaps the fastest player on the Kings’ roster last season and when he went down with an injury the whole team suffered. Not only were lines shuffled, but the team lost that edge it had in a winger with speed on multiple lines. After that injury Marian Gaborik was the only speed threat the Kings had. O’Neill could be another similar threat.
Down the middle, it’s pretty much a given that center Jordan Weal will get a shot to make the Kings roster next year. Like O’Neill, Weal is a bit undersized. However, his production in the AHL this year lends us to believe that his vision and creativity will translate to the NHL well. Weal was the AHL’s third leading scorer during the regular season and is the leading scorer in the playoffs right now.
Obviously Weal can’t replace Stoll’s veteran leadership, nor could anyone expect him to come in and dominate the faceoff dot like Stoll. However, Weal should be able to provide more offense and a new dynamic to the team by providing a third offensively gifted center to the team. The Kings have struggled on offense in recent years and banked on their defense. However, their defense isn’t what it once was, and the goaltending was questionable at best last season. The best defense is a good offense, and perhaps the Kings need more offense right now. Weal can help there.