NUTHIN’ BUT A ‘G’ THANG. Another off-season, another call to reinforce the Kings’ goaltending pipeline. Conversations with hockey operations have indicated that the Kings will continue to be active in the goaltending market, whether via NHL free agents, NCAA free agents (note that they finished as runner up for the services of Yale’s Alex Lyon last spring), or the types of trades that brought Jack Campbell to the Kings for defensive prospect Nick Ebert last June. “There are too many holes in the train after Quick,” one hockey operations source told LA Kings Insider.
There are two processes in play here. First, there is the need to find a back-up to Jonathan Quick for the 2017-18 season, and the team is looking for additional options. This is a position that will not simply be handed over to Campbell with white gloves on; rather, expect to see significant competition at training camp. The 2010 first round draft pick had a breakthrough AHL season with Ontario, going 31-15-16 with a 2.52 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and five shutouts, and ranked second in the circuit with 3,072 minutes played. He also stopped all five Ducks shots he faced in a 4-0 Kings home loss in November, and in the AHL playoff series between the teams, stopped 131 of 121 shots through four games as he battled through a knee injury suffered in the first period to admirably post a standout game against San Diego in Game 4 and returned to face the Gulls midway through Game 5. (That injury, via Reign Insider Lindsay Czarnecki, is not expected to be a “long-term, significant damage” injury.)
But there’s simply not much of a pipeline at this point, with Campbell and Zatkoff the only goaltenders currently under contract for next season, and no other prospects slotted below. Zatkoff, who is well-liked by his teammates but won only one of his eight starts while spelling Jonathan Quick and Peter Budaj, posted an .879 save percentage in the NHL and ended the season in Ontario, and doesn’t exude any upward mobility on the depth chart. The team needs more options, so expect them to court NHL free agents, NCAA and junior hockey free agents and training camp invites, and be active on the trade market as they look to solidify their pipeline. Given Bill Ranford’s highly respected work and the success he has built with Dusty Imoo in Ontario – the most recent successful returns from Campbell and Peter Budaj support this case immensely – goalies who have options in deciding their playing future are expected to give Los Angeles a long look.
BISHOP: NOT A ROOK (pun credit: Dave Joseph). So, the Kings have an interesting asset whose rights appear to be poised to be exchanged as Ben Bishop is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Interestingly, Carolina set a market for UFA-bound goalies by sending a third round draft pick to Chicago for the negotiating rights to Scott Darling (who, based on conversations with Darryl Sutter and others in hockey operations, is extremely well thought of), and signing him to a four-year, $16.6-million contract.
I’ve been told that the team is “actively fielding discussions” on Bishop. While there was a 30 Thoughts report that under Lombardi the team “would take a shot” to keep Bishop as part of a goaltending superhydra, the team currently appears to be motivated to trade the goalie but patient to ensure they receive the proper return.
TANNER AND TYLER. There’s no firm negotiating update to share here, but the word from hockey operations is that they are “actively working diligently” to ensure restricted free agents Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are under contract with the Kings next season. “They want to be here and we want them to be here,” said one source who noted there never has been any discussion at any point of either of those players being anywhere but Los Angeles else in 2017-18.
That applies to the current staff; an email conversation nine months ago with Dean Lombardi indicated that locking down both with new contracts would be difficult, and that the possibility of a trade existed. But Lombardi is no longer helming the ship, so this recent correspondence should represent some positivity towards working towards a new contract with both. Hockey operations clearly sees both players as a huge part of the team’s core, and for a team that has clear offensive needs, these players represent a huge priority this off-season.
THAT’S OFFENSIVE. As for the team’s outlook towards player acquisition and free agency, the club’s style of play is key. More on that in a moment. A familiar question being asked is whether it is possible for the team to add more offense with the current personnel already in place. The team and many who cover it expect a bounce-back year from Anze Kopitar, while Toffoli returning to or nearing previously hit marks appears to be a solid bet, given that he’s expected to be healthy at training camp following a season in which he played through some discomfort in his left knee – an injury that required a minor surgical procedure early this off-season. That doesn’t mean the team won’t be active once July 1 rolls around, but will rather be asking itself during many free agency considerations, “does this target have the ability to produce offense?”