When Dean Lombardi had spoken about the need for additional offensive production to come “from within,” he was referring, in part, to the unearthed production that Anze Kopitar, amongst others, is capable of providing. While many of his underlying numbers depict a season mostly in line with recent seasons, the Kings’ top center and highest profile forward has six goals and 35 points in 56 games played.
Los Angeles remains a possession behemoth. They limit shots and shot attempts better than any other NHL team, and on Sunday they acquired a second top-flight goaltender in Ben Bishop that should be expected to lift a team save percentage tied for 20th in the league at .905.
“We don’t want to lose our defensive identity,” Lombardi said. “You’ve got two of the best goaltenders in the league now there. Now, when we get into other teams’ end, which, in fact, we still play, as usual, we spend [according to] all the stats guys and things, we’re still playing Kings hockey. But we’ve got to bear down, and again, we’ve got some darn good players there, and they know they’re capable of producing more.”
Whether that’s Kopitar (six goals), or Tyler Toffoli (12 goals), or Marian Gaborik (seven goals), or any of the other six active forwards who haven’t cracked double digits in goals, or even a defenseman, if the team is going to make the playoffs, it’s going to have to get more out of a group that to this point has averaged 2.47 goals per game.
On Monday, I asked Anze Kopitar whether he’d want a scoring winger to play alongside him. “Would I want it. For sure. Do we need it? I think it is [needed],” he answered before adding an addendum that spoke to the challenges of acquiring impactful pieces at the cost of team assets.
“At the same time, you can’t just throw something at a deal that doesn’t make any sense, so obviously at the end of the day we’ll just see if it happens or not,” he continued.
At this point, such a trade appears to be difficult to put together. In conversations with hockey operations, Tuesday has been mostly “quiet,” and while the team has been involved with a lot of phone calls, there has been “nothing of any substance,” according to one team executive. While some of the considerations heading into the trading deadline centered around a desire to place a scoring winger next to Anze Kopitar, the prices still appear to be too high to balance the need to make the playoffs with the need to retain its assets in prospects and draft picks. The team remains influenced by the sting of having traded away a first round draft pick and prospect Roland McKeown for 16 games out of Andrej Sekera in 2015, and won’t be parting with first round draft picks or any of the prospects it covets.
There is certainly space to be able to make a move, given the $3.2-million of current cap space, according to CapFriendly.com. Because a team’s cap space is pro-rated and increases each day towards the trading deadline, the Kings still have flexibility to make a move, should the tide ultimately turn and one falls into place.
One player to keep an eye on is forward prospect Jonny Brodzinski, who has 21 goals and 39 points in 50 games with AHL-Ontario. While the need for scoring to come “from within,” as Lombardi outlined, is a reference to the need for more offense from Kopitar, Toffoli and Gaborik, amongst a slew of others, based on correspondence with hockey operations and the reviews of Brodzinski’s play that I’ve been privy to, his recall at some point over the remaining 20 games is something that is being strongly considered. That’s not to say it’s a slam dunk, but is one of the several options the team appears to be weighing at the moment.
One option I’d have a hard time believing is that the Kings were at all interested in Thomas Vanek, a name I keep hearing pop up. Were Los Angeles to be in any sort of pursuit of the UFA-bound Detroit forward, it would represent a 180 degree turnaround from their focus at the 2014 trade deadline, when the team’s Stanley Cup aspirations were more concrete and in focus. At that time, based on multiple conversations, they were not interested in Vanek, who was among the hottest commodities at the deadline that year.
@FriedgeHNIC possible he wont be traded as a result. Jim Nill declined to discuss specifics, but word is he's been honest with other teams
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 28, 2017
So as it stands right now, the team’s acquisition of Ben Bishop, who is likely to start tonight against the Flames in a crucial late-season game in Calgary, is most likely the biggest move the team will make in advance of the deadline.
“It’s all very obvious on the other side that offensively we haven’t been anywhere near where I think we should be capable,” Lombardi said, as noted in a previous story. “The issue then, when we were looking at the best way to improve the team, you guys are all aware, the names out there and everything else, and that’s fine. But once the back end is shored up, I think the focus has to be on the players we have producing up to their capability, and then we can look at additions. It doesn’t matter who we bring in here. You’re not going to get a Panarin or a Kane or Ovechkin or anything else that’s going to completely revamp your offense right now. The number one focus has to be now that your back end is in order and your goaltending is in order, there are some players that we’ll freely admit right to you that they’re capable of producing more.”
“I think there were a couple times when we were on the clip and guys could’ve used things as an excuse, and I give ‘em a lot of credit for not throwing in the towel, so to speak, and looking for an excuse,” Lombardi said on Sunday. “So I thought that we’re going to take this all off the board in terms of going forward, and we’ve got some other things obviously we have to do better, but as far as where we are now, that [trading for Ben Bishop] we felt, was going to give us the best chance to get in.”