With the start of training camp just around the corner, this is an appropriate time to analyze and evaluate the moves the Kings made this summer. As I have previously stated, expectations for this season are higher than they have been in some time. Is this roster and staff good enough to meet this heightened outlook? We shall see.
The Good: I always believed the key to success this offseason was to eliminate the anchor that Ryan Smyth’s cap hit represented. Smyth, while still a useful player, had clearly slowed down, and one could plainly see he was having trouble keeping up with the flow of the play. With a salary cap figure of $6.25 mm, essentially 10% of the permitted total, his presence on the roster posed a real restriction on what Dean Lombardi could accomplish. For instance, the Kings had to maintain a salary cushion to prevent another team from offering Drew Doughty an offer sheet. This left very little cap space to improve the roster elsewhere. Fortunately, events played out in the Kings’ favor enabling them to move Smyth’s contract, freeing up dollars to vastly improve the second line.
Moving the top prospect in Hockey represented a huge gamble, but the Kings have to win now as most of the core is starting to move into their prime years. Adding Mike Richards, a legitimate premier center only 26 years old, gives the team depth up the middle they haven’t had in a very long time. Remember when Stumpel and Smolinski were our top two centers? Richards arrived with some substantial and positive intangibles and a good contract to boot. The emergence of Kyle Clifford made Wayne Simmonds expendable, and we can hope the latter’s departure means that Doughty won’t get into trouble the next time he goes to Las Vegas. I loved the acquisition of Simon Gagne, a skilled player with a lot to prove. In fact, I think the team dodged a bullet as the Kings are on the hook for only two years with Gagne as opposed to Brad Richards who would have required a considerably longer commitment.
The Bad: The failure to resign Drew Doughty cast a pall over this entire offseason and threatens to drag on far beyond. I am going to agree with Matt Barry on this one. In sports, consistently winning teams pay for performance, not for potential. Sure, Doughty has shown glimpses of greatness, but, like all professionals, he still has to learn the best natural skills mean nothing without consistency. When one looks at the comparables, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith have already starred for six seasons in the NHL, and the latter has earned a Norris Trophy. Shea Weber is a captain who has carried an otherwise average talented team on his back into the playoffs two consecutive seasons, and the Predators even won a round which is one more than the Kings. The Kings need Doughty, no doubt about it, but there is no reason to break the bank, not unless he is willing to give up some UFA years on the back-end. My preferred solution is to offer a two-year contract, say at $5.5 mm and make him earn his raise.
From the team’s point of view, the departure of several players, particularly Bud Holloway, to Europe was disconcerting. A significant amount of depth is no longer available should the injury bug hit. On the other hand, it is tough to blame the players involved. When one sees veterans such as Willie Mitchell and Ethan Moreau consistently brought in to fill specific roles, it has to be disheartening when one is playing one’s ass off and riding the bus in Manchester. Yes, you have to earn your call up, but if it never comes, young players certainly have the right to pursue the bigger bucks overseas. As I pointed out in my article about our logjam on defense, this is an area that Lombardi will have to consider going forward.
The Ugly: Billy Beane, the protagonist of Moneyball and general manager of the Oakland Athletics, once remarked that his was the only job where his 29 counterparts were trying to screw him over every day. There is no doubt that part of being a general manager is to seek advantages for your team even if it means taking advantage of someone else’s incompetence. But, claiming that injured players are healthy crosses the line of legality. Now, before any of you Edmonton fans get your noses bent out of shape, I have been to a game at Rexall Place and gotten drunk with the great Oiler fans at the Coliseum Inn both before and after the game (what do you guys put in your beer?). As a friend of mine who went with me remarked, he never met so many nice and peaceful drunks in one place, eh. I don’t know if Steve Tambellini deliberately lied about the injury status of Gilbert Brule and Colin Fraser, but there is no way the Kings should have to absorb the latter’s salary if he can’t play. As to a prominent blogger who says the NHL is going to favor the Kings because they play in Los Angeles which is a bigger media market than Edmonton, my retort would be, show us examples of selective enforcement and favoritism by the NHL. All I know is Dean Lombardi’s wallet is $50,000 lighter for commenting on an obviously blown call by the officials. The solution to this minor spat is for the Oilers to take Fraser back. The Kings gain cap relief, Smyth gets to go home and the Oilers lose only nominal value.
Autumn is in the air, I just took my skis and skates out of the closet and the season opener is only five weeks away. Go Kings!