Unfortunately, the goaltending didn't come back around for them, the replacement for Jonathan Quick, Peter Budaj, did an admirable job holding the fort down, but he couldn't string together a great number of wins, as the core group of players also struggled through the season as well. Management tried to add some pieces at the trade deadline to help give this team a boost, but with the cap situation the way it was for the better part of this season, they were fairly limited in their options at the deadline as well.
The losses started to stack up at crunch time and the last few weeks of the season were merely just last gasps and their playoff hopes went up in smoke. All things considering, you would think there would have been some kind of consideration to injuries, when looking back at the season, but the ownership group said no, and they ousted both management, Dean Lombardi, and coach, Darryl Sutter, leaving the Kings in a bit of disarray to start the off-season and it makes for more questions than answers, heading into the Summer.
There's a good chance that the hockey pool had a good idea that the Los Angeles Kings were not going to be very productive this season, because only nine of them were taken at the draft in October. Quick was, to no one's surprise, a 1st round pick, but it was few and far between after the 5th overall selection. One drop and a couple key pick-ups happened at the first Waiver Draft, including Budaj, who was taking over for Quick in his injury absence. The second Waiver Draft was much of the same, one drop and a couple PIM pick-ups and then, when the trade deadline came around and concluded, there were 11 Kings on hockey pool teams by the time the season had ended.
The Kings did get a 30+ goal season out of Jeff Carter, who was their best pool performer in the 2017 season. Carter finished 41st overall in pool scoring with 32 goals and 66 points in 82 games, a far cry from last year's top performer for the team, Quick, who had 93 points last year and pushed them into the playoffs. Yes, it does mean good things, when you have a goalie as your top performer each season.
Carter was among only five forwards to be deemed pool worthy by the end of the season, as Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson, Dustin Brown and Tyler Toffoli all finished in the top 200 among forward scoring ranks. The team's blueline boasted four players pool worthy in Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and newbie, Derek Forbort. Thanks to deal at the deadline, which sent Budaj to Tampa Bay, the Kings acquired their only pool worthy goalie in a deal and he didn't see much time for them in Ben Bishop. Quick finished 52nd among all goalies, which wasn't enough for the nod.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
No matter what happens with the Kings in this off-season, their core group of players will still match up well against their division rivals, especially those from North of the border. The Kings could really do with a bit of the negative portion of the cycle, allowing themselves to fall into some of the better picks, but the process will likely continue, as they continue to prop the window of opportunity open for another few years. The Kings will probably play well enough in 2017 to be in the playoff discussion, move some assets to bolster their lineup, but from there, it's anyone's guess. If there are some really good pieces made available at the deadline next year, they could go really far.
I think the core group still does match up well with most of the teams in the Pacific Division, but the unforeseen injury to Quick, really hurt this team and all of the assets that they were able to acquire, were not enough to boost them into the playoffs. Now, they have a lottery pick, which does improve their standing from where they normally select.
2018 Pool Outlook
|Anze Kopitar||10.000||Drew Doughty||7.000||Jonathan Quick||5.800|
|Dustin Brown||5.875||Alec Martinez||4.000|
|Jeff Carter||5.273||Jake Muzzin||4.000|
|Tanner Pearson||3.750||Derek Forbort||0.650|
|Marian Gaborik||4.875||Matt Greene||2.500||Jeff Zatkoff||0.900|
|Trevor Lewis||2.000||Brayden McNabb||1.700||Jack Campbell||0.613|
|Kyle Clifford||1.600||Oscar Fantenberg||0.925|
|Jordan Nolan||0.950||Chaz Reddekopp||0.925|
|Alex Iafallo||0.925||Kyle Clague||0.793|
|Adrian Kempe||0.894||Alex Lintuniemi||0.729|
|Matt Roy||0.834||Jacob Moverare||0.692|
|Austin Wagner||0.759||Damir Sharipzyanov||0.617|
Yesterday, we saw a team with a limited amount of players signed on for a big budget number, the Kings are in the same boat as the Panthers and they could struggle to find that offense this year, if they only have seven skaters in the pool worthy conversation right now. It's hard to look past Kopitar, Doughty and Quick in the hockey pool, but their impact could be lessened by the lack of depth this team actually has.
Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft
I can see the Kings being one of those teams protecting a total of eight skaters and a goalie, just to protect that extra defenseman in Brayden McNabb. Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik and Ben Bishop would be among those available, Brown the more likely of the three to get picked up, but there's even a kid like Derek Forbort on the blueline who could slip through as well.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
There are some ugly cap hits on this roster right now and I have them with 27 players on their current list, plus a termination/recapture penalty to Mike Richards still on the books for 2018 and the Kings only have $2.9 million in cap space left. The Kings, like the Red Wings, may not get a lot of help from other teams around league, without it costing them further, so it might be a year where the new management team grins and bears it.
There is only one major restricted free agent to deal with this summer, forward Tyler Toffoli and with their current cap situation, it could be difficult to swing a long-term, big money deal in, so there will need to be some clever management to make sure he fits at the end of the day.
Unrestricted free agents potentially heading to market from Los Angeles include Ben Bishop, Jarome Iginla, Teddy Purcell and Rob Scuderi, all likely to be somewhere else next season.
The Kings are widely regarded as a team that doesn't have a lot in the cupboards for their youth movement and between that and the salary cap troubles above, this is why management was let go this off-season. We have seen some of what this team still has to offer in forwards Adrian Kempe and Jonny Brodzinski, but they were far from exciting, so far. Both players will carry their rookie status into next season and the only thing that could really push them into the conversation will be ice-time.
Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft
What don't they need? The Kings need to start drafting well right away and it all starts with their 1st round pick, the 11th overall selection. They need to find the best player that they think is still available and go after them hard. Adding a top end entry-level deal wouldn't hurt this team next season, so being close to NHL-ready would be ideal for this club. Owen Tippett of the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL is scouted as a natural goal scorer, but has been known to take some games off from time to time. If his game can come around, he could be what the Kings need, especially given his size at 18 years old, but he could also find his way down the long road of development.
How far could Kopitar, Doughty and Quick carry this team, you ask? Probably a little bit further than you would expect three players to carry one team, but they are certainly good enough. Where the Kings will desperately fall short is in the depth department and with the way the summer is projecting so poorly for them, this would likely mean that there is going to be somewhat of a rebuild, more than a retool. The Kings have no assets to really build with, unlike the Avalanche, Coyotes or Canucks in the Western Conference, so they could find themselves around the bottom before too long.