Saturday, May 21, 2016

Pool Outlook for Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Kings were off to a rocket of a start in the 2016 season, surely making up for missing the playoffs the year before.  That big start was met with a bit of sputtering through the year and there were a few inconsistencies that popped up in their game and what looked to be a slam dunk for the Pacific Division title, they let it slip to their state rivals in Anaheim.  Once they hit the playoffs, the Kings were pitted against their other California rival and they were no match for the San Jose Sharks, dropping out of the first round in five games.

The firm belief for the Kings' lack of success this season, despite finishing second in the division, was their depth on the blueline, where after Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin, it wasn't the most reliable on paper, nor on ice.

The core of this Kings team still has a number of years left to go in their cycle, which is good news for their fan base and us poolies, and with their head coach officially coming back for another kick at the can, we can certainly expect some more of the same Kings hockey for at least another season or so.

In order for these Kings to really thrive again, they will have to address some of their depth issues, which may not be the easiest for a playoff team to do, especially one that has mortgaged their future to win right away and one with lots of salary cap constraints.

There were 13 Kings players taken at the draft in September, which worked out to be about the average across the board.  Not too many, yet not too few either.  Jonathan Quick was the only 1st round pick from Los Angeles, taken 12th overall.  The Week Nine Waiver Draft was a bit of a laugh, as the two Kings that were dropped, were immediately scooped and it was even again in the Week Eighteen Waiver Draft as well, one for one.  The Kings acquired Kris Versteeg for their playoff run and they finished with 14 active players on pool rosters for the end of the year.

Quick had a very good year, leading the Kings in pool scoring yet again, finishing 3rd overall and 2nd among all goalies, with 40 wins, 5 shutouts and 3 assists for 93 points, being one of the best 1st round picks of the year, coming in as a pretty good bargain.

Including Quick, the Kings had 12 pool worthy players at the end of the year, which may suggest that the pool may have overvalued this team, as a whole, but this is a team that you can easily get excited about, when they are playing their best.

Up front, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Milan Lucic, Kris Versteeg, Tanner Pearson and Dustin Brown were all considered to be worthy, with a wide range of scoring numbers.  On the blueline, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and deadline pick-up Luke Schenn were all worthy as well, rounding out the notable players out of Los Angeles.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The Kings have an interesting Summer ahead of them, which makes for an even more interesting bout of consideration for my prediction for next season.  The core group of Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, Carter, Muzzin and Brown should all stick around for the 2016 season, which should immediately keep them in the playoff conversation and given that a lot of these guys will be rested, it makes it even better.   The team will likely be looking to off-load Mike Richards and his whale of a contract, which could be tough, but will weigh on their cap hit if they don't.  I like the Kings to move back into a wild card (or slightly better) playoff spot again next season, but with their constraints, they may suffer along the way again.  The only way I can see the Kings jetting out of the gates next season will be through a blockbuster deal, maybe something at the Entry Draft, to help give the core a lift.

The Kings were not able to pull off that significant deal in the off-season, but they were able to eventually buyout Mike Richards and his ugly deal, thanks to some legal issues, but they were able to get enough rest, by not playing in the playoffs last year, to gain that extra ground in the standings, moving into the playoff spots in the division.  Nevertheless, the Kings made it back to the playoffs, but their lack of depth, possibly due to a lack of a blockbuster deal, was their eventual undoing.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Anze Kopitar 10.000 Drew Doughty 7.000 Jonathan Quick 5.800
Dustin Brown 5.875 Jake Muzzin 4.000
Jeff Carter 5.273 Alec Martinez 4.000
Tyler Toffoli 3.250
Tanner Pearson 1.400
Marian Gaborik 4.875 Rob Scuderi 3.375 Peter Budaj 0.600
Vincent Lecavalier 2.250 Matt Greene 2.500
Dwight King 1.950 Paul Ladue 0.925
Kyle Clifford 1.600 Erik Cernak 0.733
Jordan Nolan 0.950 Alex Lintuniemi 0.729
Adrian Kempe 0.925 Nick Ebert 0.692
Jonny Brodzinski 0.809 Kevin Gravel 0.668
Michael Mersch 0.787 Damir Sharipzyanov 0.625
Michael Amadio 0.718 Zachary Leslie 0.617
Spencer Watson 0.706 Kurtis MacDermid 0.577
Joel Lowry 0.675 Vincent LoVerde 0.575
Justin Auger 0.617
Nick Shore 0.600
Andy Andreoff 0.588

First and foremost, there is the full expectation that Vincent Lecavalier will retire, likely when the playoffs have ended, as per the agreement he made with the team, when he was acquired from the Flyers.  We'll try not to dwell on him too much.  The Kings are running with this core group of pool worthy players, but are hopeful that a guy like Marian Gaborik can find his touch again, as his big cap hit would look much better among those players that were picking up points in the season, rather than atop the list of players that are up-and-coming or depth guys.  If the Kings are going to lose players to free agency, Gaborik will have to be better.

That core group of pool worthy players, however, will certainly be picked apart next season, as there are a good number of players with good upsides and there is still potential for a little bit more out of them.

As it was pointed out last season, pool worthy rookies are few and far between and they were.  There was some rookie talent sprinkled in for flavour, but they were not key pieces to their season.  The team is still pretty high on their 2014 1st round pick, Adrian Kempe, who spent time in the AHL last season, but it's hard to say whether or not he'll make the jump up.  The roster may have some holes to fill, come September, so there's always a chance.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

The Kings could really use some top end draft picks to help fill their coffers again, but they don't have much for picks in this draft, period.  Los Angeles dealt their 1st round pick to Carolina, their 3rd round pick to Philadelphia and their 6th round pick also belongs to the Flyers.  Their win now attitude has forced the hand of their management to move these picks for playable assets, but it hasn't quite paid off in the last few years.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

There are already some big numbers weighing down the Kings' cap space for the coming season, which doesn't exactly allow for much flexibility.  The nine pool worthy players signed on for next season are already taking up $46.6 million and there are some depth players signed on, which you can assume will be on their opening night roster, which weigh it down even further.

It's that lack of flexibility that makes many believe that unrestricted free agents like Milan Lucic, Kris Versteeg and Luke Schenn are on their way out and looking for a new place to hang their hats.  The team's philosophy on young players means that their restricted free agents are not going to be of the most importance, especially for us hockey poolies.

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.
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