Column: Time to trade? Kings must determine how best to become Cup contenders
The breathlessly overhyped NHL trade rumor market paused briefly this week as the Kings announced they’d found a cornerstone defender — but the player in question wasn’t Jakob Chychrun, who was left out of Arizona’s lineup for what the Coyotes called trade-related reasons became.
Signing 23-year-old Mikey Anderson to an eight-year, $33 million contract wasn’t a spectacular move by King’s general manager Rob Blake, but it made good business sense (a $4.125 million salary cap) and strategically. Anderson is a strong shutdown defender, pairs well with Drew Doughty in top pair, and is becoming physically assertive. He’s emerging as a potential leader as the Kings delve deeper into their post-Stanley Cup era and compete again.
The Kings, who begin the final third of the regular season Friday in Anaheim against the draft-lottery-tied Ducks, have a long way to go before they can be among the leaders of the cup. For one, there’s that pesky negative goal difference: They’re the only team currently holding a playoff berth and have given up more goals than they’ve scored, 185-184. That’s a galaxy away from the Ducks’ fully deserved minus-92 difference, but it bothers coach Todd McLellan.
“And it’s something that we’ve talked about and addressed,” McLellan said by phone Thursday. “At the point that we brought it up I think we were minus 11 and it’s very rare that a team, one, makes it to the playoffs and two, succeeds with that kind of difference. We were aware of that and talked about it and it’s only been two games since then, but we’ve brought that number down a bit. But it has to get better.”
The Kings’ goaltending remains a question, though bargain-hunter Pheonix Copley saved their season when Cal Petersen imploded and Jonathan Quick faltered. But Copley, who was recently awarded a $1.5 million one-year extension, has never played a Stanley Cup playoff game. Quick, in the final year of his contract, has one win in his last 12 appearances. Petersen is a regular in the American Hockey League, where Blake said he’s racked up wins and lowered his goals against average. Even if Copley (their only keeper signed for next season) continues to work his magic, Blake will need to dive into the trading waters for a veteran keeper in the short and long term.
Blake has refused to dive for Chychrun, 24, a hitter who will bring Arizona a combination of top-notch draft picks and prospects. Blake chose to wait while forward Arthur Kaliyev and Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore returned from injuries to better assess the team’s overall defensive efforts. If he doesn’t like what he’s seeing — or if the need for a physical presence on defense resurfaces — Blake has until March 3 noon Pacific time to reconfigure the mix via trade. He’s amassed enough fortune to close a deal that doesn’t spoil the depth of the top-tier list.
“I think we’re up against some of the top teams and they’ve shown that,” said Blake when asked if the current team was a cup contender. “Our defensive structure, I’d like to see our group with this offensive group for a while. We have 27 games left here just to get in, so that’s the fight we’re looking at.
It wouldn’t hurt to add a strong left-handed defender to make up for the excess right-handers, even if it’s not a player of Chychrun’s caliber. But McLellan said he sees no urgent need to shake things up.
“I think there are a lot of questions at the moment because the trade deadline is approaching. We’re comfortable with the team we have. We like the group. We like chemistry. We like a lot of things about our team,” he said. “Do we have to play better night after night? Yes, we’re doing that. But we think we have pieces.
“Well if we can improve the team – whether that’s a defender, a striker or a goalkeeper or whoever it may be – great. But if we don’t do that, that’s no excuse or reason for us not to move forward and try to be as successful as possible.”
Blake said he’s seen more consistency lately, a contrast to the Kings’ crazy incoherent performances earlier in the season. “They play well with structures and have overcome challenges,” he said.
In the final third of the season, McLellan also wants more consistency from the Kings, who beat the Buffalo Sabers and Pittsburgh Penguins 11-2 in their first two games after the All-Star break.
“I would wish that we played our identity a little more consistently. It was unpredictable early in the season. Very unpredictable, and I think we talked about that a lot,” McLellan said. “Then we started to settle in and we’re still looking for that consistency, a game that we can count on for 60 minutes night after night. And I think we’re close. I think we can do it. But we still have to push a little harder.”
They have about two weeks to decide whether they’ll just push harder to get deep into the playoffs or need Blake to make a move that will get the trade market buzzing again.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/hockey/story/2023-02-16/column-helene-elliott-kings-nhl-rob-blake-stanley-cup-playoffs Column: Time to trade? Kings must determine how best to become Cup contenders