A recent Twitter response got me thinking: does defense truly win Stanley Cup championships?
Here’s what Kings general manager Dean Lombardi had to say about the play of defenseman Brayden McNabb, acquired Wednesday from the Buffalo Sabres:
“He fills a huge hole for us down the road. He’s already paid his dues in the minors and had a couple of cups of coffee in the NHL. He’s closer to being ready than if I had to do a deal with a junior kid. He’s got size, he can move the puck and he has a long reach. He’s over-aggressive, which I like, but we can tame the lion.”
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi had two concerns going into Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline. First, he knew he wanted to find a player to bolster the goal-starved team. Second, he had to do it within the constraints of the salary cap.
Lombardi targeted veteran Marian Gaborik quite some time ago, but with a hefty salary of $7.5 million for 2013-14, it figured to take a little extra work to make the deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets work to the Kings’ advantage.
In the end, the solution was to ask the Blue Jackets to agree to pay 50 percent of Gaborik’s salary, pro-rated for the final one-quarter of the season. The Kings also sent forward Matt Frattin, a second-round pick either this year or next and a conditional third-round pick to Columbus.
The Kings also had to re-assign forward Linden Vey to Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League to clear salary-cap space before acquiring Gaborik. Vey recorded five points, all assists, in 18 games with the Kings. He spent most of the season in the minors.
In return, the Kings acquired a crafty 32-year-old with 688 points, including 342 goals, in 791 games with the Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild. He is a former 42-goal scorer with the Rangers in 2009-10 and the Wild in 2007-08.
The Kings also gained a player who has been sidelined for all but 22 games this season because of a collarbone injury. He is expected to join the team for tonight’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg, the start of the a three-game trip.
“I inquired right after New Year’s,” Lombardi said during a conference call with reporters when asked about starting talks with the Blue Jackets for Gaborik. “That’s kind of when we started the process. It picked up about two weeks ago. It goes to 11 (Tuesday) night, then picks up again at 5.”
Lombardi said he believed Gaborik is the right man to aid the Kings’ offense.
“He brings an element we thought we’d like to add to the mix,” Lombardi said when asked why he targeted Gaborik. “There are very few players capable of doing what he does. We thought he was the only guy available who had those dimensions.”
The Kings signed impressive young goaltender Patrik Bartosak to a three-season enctry-level contract Wednesday. Bartosak, 20, played this season with Red Deer, Alberta, of the junior-level Western Hockey League. He is 29-24-5 with a 2.84 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage and seven shutouts. He was the KIngs’ fifth-round selection in the 2013 draft.
The Kings acquired defenseman Brayden McNabb and second-round picks in the next two drafts from the Buffalo Sabres for forward/defenseman NIcolas Deslauriers and right wing Hudson Fasching on Wednesday. McNabb, 23, is expected to be assigned to the KIngs’ American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, N.H. He was scoreless in 12 games this season with Buffalo and had 29 points, including seven goals, in 38 games with Rochester, N.Y., of the AHL.
Here’s what Kings coach Darryl Sutter said when asked about the trade deadline:
“Trade deadline is irrelevant to our hockey club. I don’t know what changes. You guys have been covering this team since, when did we start training camp? So, there is a salary cap and it effected us in training camp and we said we were going to play young guys and that’s what we’ll continue to do. Quite honest, for me, I don’t even think about it. I think about who we play tonight to beat Montreal and who we’re going to put in the lineup when we go to Winnipeg. It’s got no bearing on what we do. All that other stuff, it’s not hard to figure out. Just do the math. I don’t think our young players are in a position where they’re going to hurt us. They’re only in a position where they’re only going to get better. I’d rather play them for sure.”
Asked if he tuned in to watch the pre-deadline coverage, Sutter said:
“Most of it is (fertilizer). I wish I got paid to lie or make stuff up. That would be great. That would be unbelievable.”
Jonathan Quick made 24 saves in the Kings’ 3-1 victory Saturday afternoon over the Carolina Hurricanes at Staples Center, his second start since returning from his stint with Team USA in Sochi, Russia. Then he offered his views on the team’s play in three games since ending the Olympic break.
“We’ve played well,” Quick said of the Kings’ three-game winning streak since the end of the break. “We played a really good road game against Calgary. I know we would have liked to have played better against Colorado, but we found a way to get a win. We played a good game (against Carolina). We have only 20 games or so left (actually, there are exactly 20 regular-season games remaining for the Kings). It’s very tight. Every game is important right now.
“We’ve got to bring our best every night.”
Next for the Kings: the Montreal Canadiens on Monday at Staples Center.
When you look at the individual numbers, the facts are worse. The Kings’ leading scorer, Anze Kopitar, ranks only 34th in the NHL with 47 points (17 goals, 30 assists). Their leading goal-scorer, Jeff Carter, also ranks only 34th in the league with 20 goals. Kopitar is 56th with 17 goals. The Kings have only six players on their roster with 10 goals or more and only Carter and Kopitar have 15 or more.
Further, some of their best players have been mired in prolonged slumps. Mike Richards’ skid has received perhaps the most attention, but he’s not alone and he’s not the driest player on the roster. Richards’ last goal was Jan. 18 against Detroit. He has only two goals since Nov. 25. Overall, he has seven goals and 36 points.
Dustin Brown, the Kings’ team captain, hasn’t scored since Jan. 13. He has one point on the road this season, a goal against the Ducks on Dec. 13. Overall, he has 10 goals and 16 points. Justin Williams’ last goal was Jan. 9 against Boston. He has 14 goals and 29 points.
The facts are grim. The Kings are 6-13-1 in their last 20 games and have dropped to seventh place in the Western Conference standings with a 31-22-6 record. They have been outscored 50-30 in their last 20 games before the Olympic break. Further, they were 2-8-0 and were outscored 28-13 in their last 10 games.
Overall, the Kings rank 29th in the 30-team NHL with an average of 2.25 goals per game. Only the sad-sack Buffalo Sabres, last in the league’s overall standings, are worse offensively. The Kings’ power play also ranks 29th in the NHL with a 13.6 percent success rate. Only the Florida Panthers are worse.
As expected, with the Olympic break over, the Kings recalled rookie goaltender Martin Jones from their American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, N.H., and sent goalie J.F. Berube back to the minors. Jones, who is 8-4-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average, is expected to serve as Jonathan Quick’s backup for the rest of the season. The Kings return to the ice Wednesday to face the Colorado Avalanche. Berube has appeared in 34 games this season, all with Manchester.