GLENDALE – With the trade of Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the great selloff has begun for the Los Angeles Kings. There’s every reason to expect this is only the beginning for the Kings and that certainly Tyler Toffoli and likely Alec Martinez will be among those finding different homes before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
The Toffoli trade, when it happens, will come as a shock to nobody. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent and a player of his pedigree and Stanley Cup experience is seen as the kind of commodity that could put a team over the top. Martinez is a little more of a surprise given that he still has term, a very reasonable $4 million cap hit for one more season, remaining on his contract. A lot of teams have called the Kings, with the Florida Panthers and, perhaps a little surprisingly, the Carolina Hurricanes keeping the closest tabs.
It is clear now, and will become clearer in the next 18 days, that the Kings have dispensed with any idea that they’ll rebuild on the fly and are in full rebuild mode. That much has been evident for a while now, but was confirmed with the trade of Clifford, a heart-and-soul player who was a part of the Kings’ two Stanley Cup championships and is one of the most active players in the community. Do not be surprised if the Kings re-sign him as a UFA after this season.
In the final year of a contract that carries a $4.6 million cap hit, Toffoli is all but gone. There has been significant interest in him, much of it coming from the Colorado Avalanche. “Honestly, there’s been a lot of noise the past couple of years here,” Toffoli said last week after the Kings beat the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 in overtime in a game in which he had nine shots. “I’m here and I’m trying to play the best I can to show that I want to be part of the future, but if they don’t feel that I’m part of that, that’s the business and I’ll move on and do my best for whatever team wants me in their lineup.”
The Kings occupy 30th place overall and while there is no way they’re going to “catch” the Detroit Red Wings for last overall and the best odds of winning the draft lottery, they’re on pace for just 65 points, which would be their worst finish in 34 years. (Ironically, they finished second-last in 1985-86 and the Red Wings finished last. The Red Wings took Joe Murphy first overall and the Kings took Jimmy Carson second.) Even with all the losing, those close to the Kings say the attitude and outlook around the team is more positive this season than it has been in the past couple of years. The Kings have done a terrific job of restocking their pool of prospects. It is one of the best in the NHL at the moment, but the Kings need to accrue more young assets.
“(The uncertainty around the trade deadline) is not a surprise to anybody,” said Kings coach Todd McLellan after the Arizona game. “The fact that this team is in transition, has been in transition for a year-and-a-half now. Most of the players whose names are coming up in conversations, we like what they do. We’re happy they’re part of our organization and if they continue to, we’ll be pleased. But the fact that it’s a business and we’re trying to transition, names are going to come up. It’s never comfortable, but I do think the players understand. They don’t have to accept it, nobody does, because you’re dealing with families, but I do think they understand it.”
Even though McLellan said he thinks Toffoli, “can be part of the solution,” for the Kings, there is also the reality that, even as a rental, he fetches the Kings more young assets. And while Toffoli is committed to the Kings, there’s a certain amount of juice to knowing that you may be going to a playoff contender. “I want to be somewhere where the team wants me to be in the lineup and where someone wants me to be part of their team,” Toffoli said. “If that’s going somewhere else, that’s what it is. You play the game to win, you don’t play the game to lose.”
From a Toronto perspective, the key piece of the deal is Campbell, who is one of the NHL’s all-time reclamation projects. The Kings signed Campbell in November to a two-year extension that kicks in next season and will carry a cap hit of just $1.65 million, but they also have Cal Peterson in the minors and he currently sits second in the American League in wins. Campbell should be the answer to the Leafs’ backup goaltender problems. This is not the first time Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has traded for Campbell, though there’s little doubt Dubas is hoping for better things this time around. As GM of the Soo Greyhounds, Dubas traded two players and six draft picks to get Campbell from the Windsor Spitfires, only to see Campbell go 15-12-5 with an .892 save percentage and miss the Ontario League playoffs with a goaltending tandem that included Campbell and Matt Murray. In Clifford, the Leafs will get a fourth-line player who will bring Stanley Cup experience and some grit to the lineup, even if a history of concussions has rendered him lesser in that department than he was in his heydays with the Kings.
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