After missing the playoffs in 2017 for the second time in three seasons, the Los Angeles Kings are off to a promising start in 2017-18. With a 5-0-1 record entering Saturday's contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they're the only club unbeaten in regulation.
Under new coach John Stevens, the Kings improved their once-anemic offensive game. Forwards Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown regained their scoring touch, two-way right wing Tyler Toffoli is off to a strong start and off-season acquisition Mike Cammalleri enjoyed a four-point effort in their 5-1 victory Wednesday over the Montreal Canadiens.
Despite this improvement, TSN's Pierre LeBrun speculates Kings management could explore the trade market later this season if they feel they still need a scoring boost. LeBrun suggests they could draw upon their blueline depth, perhaps dangling Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez as trade bait. Both are under contract beyond this season, carrying annual salary-cap hits of $4 million and lacking no-trade protection. That could prove enticing for teams seeking skilled long-term defensive depth.
If the Kings play well throughout this season they won't have to give up a valuable roster player for additional scoring. They could simply scout the ranks of non-contending clubs that are trying to sell off pending free agents for draft picks and prospects by the Feb. 26 trade deadline. However, the recent loss of center Jeff Carter for several weeks to a leg injury could adversely affect the Kings' performance. If their scoring drops off during Carter's absence, management could be forced to consider shopping Muzzin or Martinez.
KANE, REINHART POTENTIAL TRADE BAIT
The Buffalo Sabres' slow start in their opening seven games (1-4-2) has sparked some recent media trade chatter.
Left winger Evander Kane remains a subject of interest. The 26-year-old is eligible in July for unrestricted free agency. With five goals and 10 points in seven games, he's off to one of the best starts in his career. TSN's Darren Dreger reports Kane's trade value is improving as teams wonder what the Sabres will do with him. Dreger doesn't believe they'll trade him at this point in the season unless they receive an irresistible offer.
Kane isn't the only Sabres forward to surface in the rumor mill. In his weekly “31 Thoughts” column, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports Sam Reinhart's name has come up of late. After checking into it, Friedman said the Sabres don't want to do anything rash. Still, he feels this could be worth following later in the season. The second overall pick in 2014, Reinhart is coming off consecutive 40-plus point seasons. Though the 21-year-old off had only two points in his first seven games, he still has considerable upside.
This is the Sabres first season under general manager Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley. Both will want time to evaluate their roster before shaking things up. The club's performance over the course of this season could factor into whatever decisions they make regarding Kane and Reinhart.
Free agency will also play a role. Kane is completing a six-year, $31-million contract and could seek a big pay increase, especially if he performs well in this contract season. Reinhart, meanwhile, is in the final year of his entry-level deal and lacks arbitration rights. He'll be much more affordable to retain.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS STILL LOOKING TO CLEAR BLUELINE
For weeks, the Vegas Golden Knights have carried 10 defensemen on one-way NHL contracts. There's anticipation GM George McPhee will attempt to trade one or two of them, especially after demoting the promising (and waiver exempt) Shea Theodore to the minors.
McPhee would love to recall Theodore but cannot do so unless he clears up his crowded blueline. Rather than risk losing one of his other defensemen via waivers for nothing, he'd prefer making a trade to get an asset (such as a draft pick or prospect) in return. So far, there's little going on in the trade market. However, a couple of teams could use some blue-line help.
The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson recently speculated the Oilers could seek some short-term defensive depth until sidelined blueliner Andrej Sekera returns from knee surgery. He suggested Jason Garrison or Jon Merrill as options. Garrison, 32, is a veteran puck-moving blueliner carrying a $4.6-million cap hit for this season. The 25-year-old Merrill is younger and has a more affordable $1.1 million AAV.
TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports the Washington Capitals were looking for defensemen long before veteran Matt Niskanen was sidelined by an upper-body injury. McPhee is the former GM of the Capitals, so perhaps there's a deal to be made with Washington.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.