With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching, the Los Angeles Kings will be exploring their options on how to improve their roster. After a mediocre March that saw the team post five wins and nine losses, coupled with back-to-back losses against the San Jose Sharks to start April, the Kings’ playoff hopes are starting to fade. Sitting seven points behind the fourth-placed Arizona Coyotes with two games in hand, the Kings will likely be heading into the deadline expecting not to make the playoffs again this season. Having already made a couple of moves, including adding grit with the addition of Brendan Lemieux, the team has a few options.
Do Nothing and Trust the Process
By far the least exciting option moving into the deadline, doing nothing is, nevertheless, a realistic option for the Kings. With one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, the organization shouldn’t be desperate to make a move as they have plenty of talent. Most people see defense as an area that the Kings need to upgrade both in the short term and for the future — specifically a left-shot defenseman with offensive upside. While I agree with this, I don’t think it is an absolute necessity. The Kings can choose to be patient and wait for the right deal to come along. The need for a left-shot defenseman has become less necessary with the emergence of Mikey Anderson this season, with Drew Doughty identifying Anderson as a possible partner for, “the next five to six years” in an interview with LA Kings Insider.
Doughty made similar comments about young defenseman Tobias Bjornfot at the beginning of the 2019-20 season during an interview with NHL.com. Doughty stated:
“He’s amazing. I love playing with him. His poise out there — it’s nuts. He’s got the same mentality I have… having fun but competing as hard as we can. He just keeps getting better and better.”
With comments like those coming from Doughty, the “need” for a left-shot defenseman begins to look more like a want.
Just because the Kings don’t need to make a move, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t explore their options at the deadline. As I mentioned above, I agree with the sentiment that the team needs to add some help on the back end and there are certainly options available. I believe the King’s biggest need is size and physicality on defense. Doughty is currently leading team defensemen with 53 hits — while this is a solid return from Doughty it’s not a good look for the Kings’ defense core overall. Luckily, there is likely going to be a fire sale in Buffalo where the Kings can pick up some size and physicality for a reasonable price.
The first option for the Kings to look at currently with the Buffalo Sabres is a player who is slowly becoming “the other Rasmus” on his team, Rasmus Ristolainen. The big Finn — standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 218 pounds — is an absolute unit on the ice and uses his size well. Currently fifth in the league for hits by a defenseman with 112, he loves to throw his weight around. He has also finished the last three seasons with 200-plus hits, so the Kings would be able to rely on him for a high volume of hits consistently.
While Ristolainen’s career so far has been a mixed bag, I think being able to play second fiddle to Doughty would be a great thing for him. Having led the Sabres in average time on ice every season since 2015-16, a slightly more sheltered role on the Kings’ second pairing could bring out the best in Ristolainen. It’s also important to remember that he is not just a brute on the back end — he’s been consistently putting up 40-plus points in his eight-year NHL career. He also has the potential to score some highlight-reel goals, something Brent Burns learned the hard way.
Ristolainen’s $5.4 million cap hit may scare some Kings fans, but with Dion Phaneuf’s $3 million buyout coming off the books next season, Ristolainen’s cap hit shouldn’t be a massive worry. If the Kings can snag him by giving up B-plus prospects like Tyler Madden or Rasmus Kupari, along with a late-round draft pick, I think the team should look to get the deal done.
The Kings should think about bringing back their fifth-round pick from 2012. They traded Colin Miller in 2015, alongside Martin Jones, and a first-round pick in the 2015 Draft to acquire Milan Lucic in what is, in my opinion, one of the worst trades I’ve seen the Kings make in recent memory. Since heading to Boston, Miller has been claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft and traded to Buffalo.
Miller has developed into a fantastic two-way-defenseman since leaving the Kings and would add some physicality to the team’s top four. His 76 hits on the season would instantly put him in first for hits, not only amongst Kings defensemen, but for the team overall. Another positive to his game is his versatility, being able to play both left or right defense at any given time. Like Ristolainen, Miller is not just a bully on the back end, he can add some offense to his game when needed, mainly through his absolute rocket of a slap shot. His shot could provide some much-needed help to the second power-play unit, and the overall need for points from the back end.
Coming in with a cap hit of $3.875 million, he’d be a cheaper option to add compared to Ristolainen. Not only would Miller’s cap hit be less significant than Ristolainen’s, but the assets the organization would have to give up to attain Miller would also be less. A middle-round pick and a prospect on the level of Sean Durzi could likely see Miller return to the Kings.
The third option for the Kings is to try and offload some of their players that aren’t in their plans for the future. Jeff Carter is a player that the team would likely want to move on from, but with a cap hit just above $5.2 million and only 16 points so far this season, the Kings might have a tough time moving the 36-year-old. There are still a few players the team could likely get a solid return on.
From Day 1, the Andreas Athanasiou signing screamed, “deadline deal” — a mutually beneficial relationship where he gets to show off his skills in a top-six role and the Kings get to cash in at the deadline for more assets. With Athanasiou’s seven goals and seven assists in 28 games, both parties would have likely wanted a greater return. Still, he has looked very good at times for the Kings and there will likely be buyers for the speedy winger.
Teams looking to add secondary scoring will be enticed by the once 30-goal scorer. With a cap hit of only $1.2 million, he can be a low-risk, high-reward acquisition for a team hoping to make a Cup run. The Boston Bruins seem a good fit for Athanasiou, but do they have the assets to make the trade?
Dustin Brown has been ingrained in trade rumors since the Kings’ rebuild started, and this could finally be the deadline that a deal gets done. A bounce-back season for Brown, seeing him score 15 goals so far this season, could be enough to see teams make a run at him. Like Athanasiou, teams looking for secondary scoring might take a hard look at Brown. With a cap hit of $5.875 million, the Kings will likely need to retain some salary if they want a deal to get done. A deal for Brown would see the Kings further remove the core of their Cup-winning teams from 2012 and 2014, but could help usher in a new era.
Every year at the deadline it seems like there are multiple Cup hopefuls rumored to be shopping for goaltending depth and Jonathan Quick could add exactly that. He is far from the elite goalie he once was, but there’s still some game left in the American yet. Not only would he be a solid backup for most teams in the NHL, but he would also bring in invaluable experience to a locker room. As a two-time Stanley Cup winner and one-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Quick knows what it takes to win it all. Like Brown, his large cap hit of $5.8 million means the Kings would likely have to eat some of his salary if a deal were to be done.
The Kings are in a great position for the coming deadline. There are moves available for them to make, but they’re not desperate to make any moves. They should have leverage in most of the moves they make, which allows the organization greater freedom in the trade market. With multiple options available, this should be a fun deadline for fans to follow.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.