Fresh off missing out on the postseason in 2015 one year after winning the Cup for the second time in three seasons and for the first time since 2009, the Kings entered the playoffs with home-ice advantage in the first round for the first time since 1991-92. Superficially, it looked like the Kings were primed to do some damage and maybe even claim Lord Stanley's chalice for the third time in the last five years.
Instead, only 9 days into the postseason, the Kings have been ousted by a bitter rival, winning only a single playoff game after their best regular season in terms of points since 1991 (their 102 points tied for the second most in franchise history behind the 1974-75 squad's 105; as a side note, that mid-70s Kings team also won only one playoff game). Beyond the opening three or four minutes of Game 1 when they came out flying, the Kings were outmatched by the Sharks throughout the five-game opening round defeat this past week. At forward, defense, and in the net, the Sharks were simply better.
How did a Kings team that we always hear is "built for the playoffs" and was at one point in the season first place in the Pacific by about 15 points get so overwhelmed once the postseason rolled around? I actually think the better question is how this team was ever first in the division because looking at it now, there are some very severe problems with the construction of this roster.
The Kings' defense for most of the playoffs was basically Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Rob Scuderi, Brayden McNabb, Jamie McBain, and Luke Schenn. Essentially, they had enough NHL defensemen to make one pairing.
Scuderi is way past his use-by date. I still don't really understand the decision to bring him back this year. I know that Ehrhoff was not good, but he only had a one-year deal so he was gone at the end of the season either way. Why tie yourself to another year of an aging d-man who the Hawks had seen fit to demote to the AHL?
Schenn may have potted a couple of lucky goals in Game 4 (well, he only scored one of them apparently, but I think you know what I mean), but he was victimized a lot more often! Put him in orange and I'd have a hard time telling him from a traffic cone. If Lombardi resigns this guy I will be very disappointed!
McNabb could be a 3rd pairing replacement for Matt Greene, but he simply can't hack it as Doughty's partner in either end of the ice. He can't shoot the puck on net. His passes get blocked and intercepted. Skilled players on the other team walk around him. You cannot regularly use him on the top pair and expect to win a lot of hockey games.
As for McBain, look, I'm not going to blame him too much because he stepped in for an injured Alec Martinez and did the best he could. He's not a great NHL defenseman, but in the lats two years he has been an ok replacement guy.
The real problem with the defense should be obvious. Slava Voynov is a piece of shit, but he was an essential member of both Cup-winning rosters. The Kings have no one to act as a puck-carrying defenseman on the second pairing since his departure. This was the problem with the team that missed the playoffs in 2015 and it continues to be the problem today. Lombardi attempted to remedy the Voynov situation by acquiring Sekera at the deadline last year, in a disastrous trade that saw the Kings lose their first round pick this year and a defensive prospect in Rolan McKeown who actually looks like he might become that kind of defenseman. Lombardi compounded his mistake in overpaying for Sekera when the Kings were not really in the hunt anymore anyway by failing to resign him. You simply cannot trade away that much in futures and not even keep the player!
Muzzin had a hell of a year with 40 points, which made up in part for what Voynov brought to the table, but he is a playing with a different skill set and even with him the team is still missing that extra piece. If you put Voynov back into this lineup, or another defenseman of comparable skill level, the Kings are a playoff team last year and much more competitive this year.
Brown and Gaborik both have to go. I have said it before and I will no doubt say it again. They are both massively overpaid and both underproduce.
Brown scored 11 goals this season with a cap hit of nearly $6 million. To put it another way, I scored 11 fewer goals than Dustin Brown in 82 fewer games.
Gaborik played all of 54 games and scored only 12 goals.
They both have stupid contracts that I questioned from Day 1. There was no way Brown was going to continue to produce for another 8 seasons when he signed his deal in 2013. He has 6 years remaining on it. By the end, we'll be lucky to see him score at all. I don't buy into the idea that he's still a good player because it's not as though he produced at the Olympics in 2014 playing with the best American players in the game today either. Sadly, in addition to a massive paycheck, Lombardi also gave him a no-trade clause. Is Brown going to waive that? I'm certain some team would be willing to trade for him even with that big salary but I can't see the Kings getting much in exchange, definitely not the 2nd pairing defenseman they need.
If the Kings have to go the buyout route with Brown this summer, it gives them a cap hit of only $680k next year, $1.18M the following season, $2.2M the next two, a scary $3.7M for two more years, and then $1.8M every year for the next 6 until he would finally come off the books in 2028.
I know there are also those people suggesting that the Kings keep him just one more year and then expose him in the Expansion Draft so Las Vegas can be stuck with him. This is probably what Lombardi will end up doing, but it's a risky proposition. For one thing, what if Brown's play continues to get even worse next year and Vegas decides they can do better with someone else? Then his trade value declines even more too. Another problem is that a lot of bad contracts are going to be left exposed in the expansion draft for the new team to get to the cap floor, so if they take on a bunch of those, they might decide they don't want to also be stuck with Brown's and take someone like Clifford instead. Personally, I wouldn't risk waiting another year. Brown is not going to find his game again. Ask him which teams he would want to go to and then get the best deal you can from one of those. If he refuses to waive the NTC, buy him out. Just make sure that when training camp opens in September that Dustin Brown is somewhere else!
Gaborik should be easier to trade. Someone will take him, believing he can add 20 goals to their roster. Might not get much in exchange for him, but escaping that cap hit is a good enough return as long as the Kings don't retain salary (which I don't think they can afford to do anyway).
As for Lecavalier returning, forget about it! He was OK this season with the Kings because he had something to prove to the doubters, but he isn't going to get any better and the Kings can find someone else to play third line center.
Kiss Trevor Lewis good-bye. Thanks for that pretty goal in Game 1, Lewie, now go disappoint fans of another team for a while.
I can take Lucic or not. If he wants more than $5 million a year for 3 years, no thanks! He was in a contract year and produced pretty well, but I don't trust him to remain productive for long. If the Kings can't hold onto him, they should trade his negotiating rights for a 2nd or 3rd round pick.
Next year I see the Kings forward contingent like this:
Lucic (?) - Kopitar- Toffoli
Kempe - Carter - Pearson
Mersch - ??? - ???
King - Shore - Clifford
There are a few holes to fill, but hopefully after ridding himself of the Brown and Gaborik contracts, Lombardi can find someone to fill them.
Or just go sign Stamkos!