Only a month into the NHL’s 2018-19 schedule, the Los Angeles Kings are in big trouble.
Entering their Nov. 6 matchup with the Anaheim Ducks, the Kings find themselves mired at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with just four wins and nine points in 13 games.
Their early-season woes prompted general manager Rob Blake on Sunday to replace head coach John Stevens with Willie Desjardins on an interim basis. Former NHL player and German National team bench boss Marco Sturm was also hired as an assistant coach. The pair faces the daunting challenge of righting the Kings’ sinking ship.
With just 28 goals and a woeful goals-for per game average of 2.15, they’re dead last in the overall standings in both categories. Ilya Kovalchuk and Drew Doughty are the only Kings with double-digit point totals. Their power-play percentage (16.7) is among the bottom third.
Those numbers stand in stark contrast to the Kings’ defensive stats. They’re given up the eighth-fewest shots-against per game (29.8) while their penalty-killing percentage (81.1) ranks among the top-15. However, they’re giving up too many high-quality scoring chances that are ending up in the back of their net.
Their goals-against per game (3.46) is the league’s ninth-worst. Starting goaltender Jonathan Quick went winless in four starts with a 4.55 goals-against average and .845 save percentage before undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Backups Jack Campbell and Peter Budaj have better stats, but it remains to be seen if they’re a long-term solution should Quick be sidelined longer than expected. Regardless, the number of scoring chances they’re facing would test even the league’s top goalies.
Prior to the coaching change, there was growing speculation over whether Blake might swing a trade to reverse his club’s sagging fortunes before the season spirals out of control.
Finding a replacement for Quick doesn’t appear to be in the cards. On Oct. 31, Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times reported they’ll stick with the Campbell-Budaj tandem for the time being.
Addressing the anemic offense appears the priority. There’s talk of veteran defenseman Alec Martinez becoming a trade chip to attract a scoring forward. But as TSN’s Darren Dreger observed on Oct. 31, the Kings aren’t yet prepared to make that move as they’re not dealing from a position of strength.
In other words, teams may have interest in Martinez but they’re unwilling to pony up a top-six forward.
Simmons proposed Leafs GM Kyle Dubas try to convince Doughty to waive his no-trade clause and come to Toronto in exchange for a package of Nylander and defenseman Jake Gardiner. However, he acknowledged that scenario probably won’t happen.
Assuming for a moment Blake was able to swing that type of deal, it won’t be enough to save the Kings’ season. There’s no blockbuster coming that can provide the roster overhaul needed to get this club back in Stanley Cup contention.
Kings fans won’t find that take reassuring but the truth hurts. The front office assumed last season’s 98-point performance was indicative of better things to come.
As Elliott aptly observed in her Oct. 20 column, “team executives overestimated the ability of an aging core to win another Stanley Cup championship in a league that has become younger and faster.” She also pointed out management “hasn’t been able to find and develop secondary players who can become major contributors and locker-room leaders.”
Given the number of high-salaried veterans on the roster – forwards Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, the recently-signed Kovalchuk, blueliners Doughty, and Dion Phaneuf, goaltender Quick – moving any of them will be difficult. The various no-trade/no-movement clauses most of them carry on their contracts compounds the problem.
Younger, affordable forwards such as Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Alex Iafallo could be easier to trade. But unless the Kings are getting back better-skilled youth, moving them simply for the sake of shaking things up isn’t a wise move.
With few decent trade options, Blake had little choice but to replace Stevens in hopes of helping the players regain their spark. It’s their second coaching change since swapping Darryl Sutter for Stevens in 2017.
If the Kings fail to arrest their current skid and the losses pile up, roster changes will likely be coming. Whether it’s a rebuild or a retool remains to be seen.