Kings GM Dean Lombardi made his first splash of the trade deadline on Sunday, but the move was one few expected, with Los Angeles becoming the new, temporary home for free agent-to-be Ben Bishop. The towering netminder gives the Kings security in goal, which isn’t exactly something most would have assumed Los Angeles needed, but something Lombardi was seeking, nevertheless.
But now that Lombardi has addressed what he saw as one of his team’s greatest needs, his attention has to turn to the glaring issue that has haunted the team from almost the outset of the season. Despite a smothering attack and a stingy defense, the Kings haven’t been able to light the lamp with any consistency, so using the deadline to add a hand or two who can provide some goal scoring could be the difference between making the playoffs or a narrow miss.
It may seem a difficult topic to broach on the day following an outing in which the Kings produced four goals from four different scorers, but that hasn’t been the norm this season. Rather, nights like Monday have been all too few and far between for Los Angeles. The Kings have only four players with more than 10 goals and one who has cracked the 40-point mark. Only nine teams in the entire league have scored fewer goals than the Kings’ 153 and, on a goals-per-game basis, Los Angeles’ 2.47 rate ranks 24th in the league. It should come as no surprise that no team with worse average offensive output is currently holding down a post-season spot.
This isn’t an altogether new problem, to be sure. The most goals the Kings have scored in any full season under coach Darryl Sutter is 223 and their best goals for per game mark was 2.72 during the 2015-16 campaign. They have had a year worse than this, though, as they produced a mere 2.41 goals per game in 2013-14. Difference is that season ended with a Stanley Cup, and a big part of it was the team having offensive weapons who could make the most of their opportunities. Anze Kopitar, he of six goals this season, had 29 during the 2013-14 campaign. Justin Williams, now with the Washington Capitals, nearly cracked the 20-goal plateau. Even Dustin Brown notched 15. And come the playoffs, the acquisition of Marian Gaborik paid off in a big way as he scored 14 goals in 26 games.
It’s not even as if Los Angeles has to make a giant splash. They just need to do something to provide a boost. Matt Duchene in a Kings jersey would be fun, absolutely, but giving up the pieces to land an offensive weapon like Duchene doesn’t necessarily make sense for Los Angeles. Duchene is the obvious long-term answer, sure, but there’s little to suggest that’s something the Kings need to look into right now. What they need is short-term scoring, someone who can come in and be a flash in the pan. That would be enough.
The reason for that is the other staples of the Kings’ game remain, which is to say they’re still one of the foremost possession teams in the league, possess the second-best scoring chances for percentage and have the second-highest expected goals for percentage at 5-on-5. Problem is they simply haven’t had the finish. There are options outside of Duchene available, though, and ones who could be had a bit cheaper and provide that lamp-lighting skill the Kings have been missing.
Thomas Vanek has been hot for much of the season on a low-scoring Red Wings team, netting 15 goals and 38 points. He’s not a long-term solution, but could provide some short-term spark. The same goes for Radim Vrbata, who is likely to be sold off as part of what has become an annual fire sale in Arizona. He has 15 goals and 46 points for the lowly Coyotes, and his paltry $1-million salary should be enticing. And what about P-A Parenteau? He’s earning just $1.25 million, has shown he can play a strong possession game and has 13 goals and 27 points. That could be a middle-six fit for the Kings. More expensive acquisitions, which would require some retained salary on the part of trade partners, could include Patrick Sharp, Jarome Iginla or Drew Stafford. However, of that trio, no one has had a season that would suggest they’re a must-have.
It’s important the Kings add someone, though, because right now Jeff Carter is their only fearsome shooter. In the past four full seasons, Carter has been the Kings’ most prolific goal scorer and there’s no one else even all that close. Tyler Toffoli trails Carter by 31 goals over that span, Kopitar by 33, Brown by more than 60 markers and Gaborik is 58 back, scoring at a rate of nearly one-tenth of a goal per game less than Carter.
The gap between Carter and others is even more pronounced this season. His 30 goals are 10 clear of Tanner Pearson and Carter’s 55 points are 17 more than any other Kings player. Of his 55 points, 48 have been primary points — either the goal or the first assist. That means he has a primary point on more than 30 percent of the goals the Kings have scored this season. And while that’s great for Carter, it’s bad news for Los Angeles because the 32-year-old can’t do this all on his own.
And that’s why a deal is necessary. Carter has been flying for much of the season, but he’s slowed of late. He has one goal in his past seven games and only four points over that span. His recent five-game goal drought, which he snapped on Saturday, was the longest of his season. With the way he’s played this season, he was bound to hit a slump at some point and without the other pieces of the roster clicking, the Kings’ offense stands to dry up almost entirely. The star players — Kopitar and Gaborik, specifically — haven’t provided near enough, and that they’ve gone this long without hitting their stride wouldn’t suggest they’re about to snap out of the near season-long funk they’ve been mired in.
No matter who they acquire, the Kings only need someone to come in and have a spark for a short period of time. Getting into the post-season, as we’ve seen in the past, can be enough for Los Angeles to reach another gear. But Carter can’t drive this bus by himself, and if the Kings want to avoid an early summer for the second time in three seasons, adding some scoring might be the only way to do so.
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