Deals, deals, deals

Well, that was interesting, wasn’t it?

At the end of the day, here’s how it shook out for the Kings:

IN: Jaroslav Modry, Jamie Heward, second-, third- and fifth-round picks in 2007 and a first-round pick in 2008.
OUT: Mattias Norstrom, Konstantin Pushkarev, Jason Ward, third- and fourth-round picks in 2007 and a fifth-round pick in 2008.

The loss of Norstrom is a blow to the team from an emotional standpoint, and the strain of it was evident in Dean Lombardi’s voice this afternoon. But this much is clear: with the exception of his wife, there’s nothing Lombardi loves more than draft picks. He’s not happy with the depth of the franchise and he’s trying to stockpile picks at every turn.

I’m most interested in the future of the defense. Forget about Modry and Heward. They are six-week rentals, warm bodies to fill up the roster. After April you can bid farewell to Aaron Miller as well. And Oleg Tverdovsky…well, there’s a better chance that Lombardi himself will suit up for the Kings next season. So that leaves exactly three NHL defensemen under contract: Rob Blake, Lubomir Visnovsky and Kevin Dallman.

Of course, the giant elephant in the room is Jack Johnson, who will fill a top four spot on defense unless the Kings can’t pry him away from Michigan, but it seems likely that Johnson will trade maize and blue for purple and white. That’s four defensemen. The Kings think Peter Harrold can fill a spot, but that leaves a big hole and a big need for a top-level defenseman. Did someone say Brad Stuart? He was drafted in San Jose by…hey, how about that, it was Dean Lombardi. Sheldon Souray would top the dream list of Kings fans.

Anyway, that’s stuff to be discussed in the summer. Kings fans will get a chance to say goodbye to Norstrom when Dallas visits Staples Center on March 21. It was a tough day for Lombardi, who compared the trade to the one he made in San Jose in 2003 when he sent franchise icon Owen Nolan to Toronto. Lombardi pointed out, though, that the Sharks got a first-round pick in that deal, and after another swap they ended up drafting Steve Bernier. Four years later, Bernier is one of the Sharks’ bright young players.

Lombardi also compared the Kings’ trade of Norstrom to Edmonton’s trade of Ryan Smyth and pointed out that despite the great attention given to the Smyth deal in the Canadian media, “What Matty represents to this franchise is every bit what Ryan Smyth represents in Edmonton.” Lombardi added, “I never want to have to make a trade like this again, and the way things are going, I won’t have to.” That was a reference to Norstrom’s tenure in Los Angeles (10 years) and the fact that players just don’t stay in one place for that long anymore.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Thornton back, Tukonen gone

Lauri Tukonen’s first stint in the NHL lasted for one game. The Kings sent him down to Manchester today as they activated Scott Thornton from the injured list. Thornton had missed the previous 23 games with a broken wrist.

For the record, and since I didn’t get to squeeze it into last night’s story, Tukonen played six minutes, 59 seconds. He started the game up top with Kopitar and Brown but in the third period was playing with Willsie and Lundmark/Armstrong. It’s impossible to analyze a guy after his first NHL game, so maybe we’ll see Tukonen back in L.A. sometime soon.

Going back a couple days, in the Kopitar feature I wrote for Wednesday’s paper, I mentioned a YouTube video of his first goal. The guy who hosts the video, Jon, sent me a nice email and I told him I’d plug his video. So for those who haven’t seen it, or might want to see it again, here it is. The link is here

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Tukonen recalled

The Kings recalled Lauri Tukonen from Manchester on Wednesday and placed enforcer Raitis Ivanans on the injured list with an arm injury. It will be interesting to see how Tukonen fares in the NHL. The Kings took him with the 11th overall pick in 2004, the same place they took Anze Kopitar the following year, but Tukonen’s development has been much slower. Last season he had 14 goals and 22 assists in 62 games and this season he had 10 goals and 13 assists in 43 games. Of course, I can’t speak to the minutes he’s been playing or who he’s been playing with, so numbers can sometimes be misleading. I’ll be interested to see how Marc Crawford uses Tukonen.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

What could have been?

In the 12 games since Sean Burke arrived, the Kings have a goals-against average of just more than 2.3 in regulation. That’s all games, not just games that Burke has started and/or completed. Now look at November, when the Kings lost eight of 13 games and really started to see things slip away. They lost games by scores of 4-3 (in overtime), 6-4, 7-3, 3-2 (shootout), 4-3, 6-3, 5-3 and 7-4. All of those games were winnable with good goaltending.

Of course, that’s just one month. In October, when the Kings lost 10 of 14, they scored a total of 13 goals in their 10 losses. So it would have been a bad start, regardless of the goalie, but decent play in net could have at least kept the Kings from sinking to the bottom of the conference.

Mattias Norstrom missed today’s game with the sprained knee he suffered on Saturday. I talked to Norstrom briefly as he walked out of the dressing room Saturday night and he had a bit of a limp but thought he’d be able to play today. For Norstrom to miss a game, that’s really something. He had been 60-for-60 this season and since 1999-2000 he’s missed 17 regular-season games out of a possible 553.

It’s the Marc Crawford Reunion Tour this week, with Vancouver and Colorado coming to town.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Armstrong extension

The Kings have signed 33-year-old center Derek Armstrong to a two-year, $3-million contract extension.

The signing speaks volumes about what the Kings — and GM Dean Lombardi in particular — think about Armstrong. They’ve been looking to trade guys with expiring contracts but in Armstrong’s case, they locked him up before he could become a free agent this summer. You’d have to think that a few playoff caliber teams out there would have loved to pick up a guy like Armstrong for the stretch run and the playoffs.

Armstrong isn’t a big name, and never will be, but he’s severely underrated. Put him out there with any two wingers and he will get the job done. He’s a very responsible two-way player who leads the Kings with a plus-16 rating, which is startling when you consider that only three Kings are in the plus category this season. Michael Cammalleri is second at plus-6 and Jamie Lundmark is plus-1. With one more goal, Armstrong will be in double digits for the fourth consecutive season and he’s two points from matching his career high of 41.

Maybe more importantly, as the Kings try to build with youth, Armstrong is an excellent teammate, an ego-free guy who toiled in the IHL and AHL for almost a decade but made himself into a NHL player.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Kings in London

Nothing official has been announced yet, but it’s almost certain that the Kings will open next season with two games in London against the Ducks. It’s a way for the NHL to expand internationally, and for AEG to have a high-profile event to fill the arena it is renovating and reopening in London this summer, but what does it mean from a hockey standpoint?

Trouble. Most likely.

Dean Lombardi surely remembers his third season as GM in San Jose, which started with two games in Tokyo against Calgary. After the second game, the Sharks had just eight days before they resumed their season, and things didn’t go well. The Sharks went 0-5-1 upon returning to America. The Sharks went on to finish seventh in the conference that year. Calgary wasn’t as lucky. The Flames went 1-5 upon their return to America and finished ninth in the West.

How about the year before? The Ducks and Vancouver split two games in Tokyo. Both teams went a respectable 2-3-2 in the first seven games in the U.S. but they finished as the two worst teams in the Western Conference.

It’s a tough thing, to come back from time overseas and resume a season. In 2004, the Yankees and Devil Rays played a four-game series in Tokyo. The Yankees then lost nine of their first 15 in America and the Devil Rays lost 13 of their first 18. Well, the Devil Rays stunk anyway, but you get the picture. Even the Clippers, who spent their training camp and exhibition season in Russia, seem to have been in a slumber this season.

So…good luck, Kings.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

More on Avery

Well, that was interesting, wasn’t it? After three years, the Sean Avery circus has moved on to New York, where the media there should have a blast getting to know Sean. The trade — for those who don’t know, Avery was traded to the Rangers for prospects Marc-Andre Cliche and Jan Marek and NHL winger Jason Ward — brings an end to a brief and odd era in Kings history and sends away one of the most polarizing players in team history.

Not many people have a middle ground when it comes to Sean Avery. You either love him for his willingness to speak freely and play hard or you hate him for shooting off his mouth and taking dumb penalties. Everything you’ve read or heard about Avery, good and bad, is pretty much true. You can decide for yourself what to make of him.

I’ll say this much: he was an interesting character to deal with. Some athletes accuse reporters of goading them into saying things and/or twisting their words, but Sean can’t ever make that claim. In previous years, all you had to do was approach him with a pen and notebook, and the stories practically wrote themselves. His act wore thin, first among coaches and then among teammates, but he quieted down tremendously this season.

During the conference call, I asked Dean Lombardi about Sean getting a fresh start, and Dean didn’t really buy into the concept but this is what I meant: Sean has, by most accounts, tamed his act this season, but I got the feeling that as long as he was in a Kings uniform, he was going to be viewed a certain way…by players, by refs, by fans, by media, etc. That won’t necessarily change in New York, but it might. We’ll see how Sean handles things.

As for what the Kings got in return…well, we’ll see. Cliche caught Lombardi’s eye because he plays on the same juniors team as goalie Jonathan Bernier, the Kings’ No. 1 pick last year, but Cliche is only 19 so it’s hard to predict what will happen there. Marek is 27 and he’s been toiling in Europe for nine seasons. It’s hard to see him becoming a NHL player but who knows? And Ward is there pretty much just to fill out the roster this season. Per rules, the Kings can’t sign Cliche until March 1 and can’t sign Marek until after his season is complete in Russia.

Avery will be a restricted free agent this summer. He makes $1.1 million this season. According to one report, the Kings tried to get a first-round pick in exchange for Avery, but they had to settle for less, it seems.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Garon activated

The Kings activated goalie Mathieu Garon from the injured list today and sent goalie Yutaka Fukufuji to Reading.

With the Kings in last place, it doesn’t matter a tremendous amount at this point, except in one area. Garon is an unrestricted free agent this summer, part of the group that GM Dean Lombardi said he will be open to trading. If Garon comes back strong, he could a) attract attention from other teams and net the Kings another coveted draft pick or two or b) impress the Kings enough that they try to resign him this summer. Yes, Dan Cloutier is under contract for $3.1 million next season, but if you were Lombardi, would you feel comfortable with that?

Speaking of Cloutier, he ambled through the dressing room last night using a brace on his arm to support himself as he walked on his surgically repaired hip. It hasn’t been said officially, but I think it’s more likely that you’ll see Roman Cechmanek in a Kings uniform this season before you see Cloutier. And we all know the chances of that happening…

So, Fukufuji is gone, and I’m not sure what to make of that. He showed some good instincts at times but the guy is just plain small, and I’m not sure what can be done about that.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Five Chicago goals

What an odd game…the Kings took the game to overtime at 2-2 even though they didn’t actually shoot a puck into the Blackhawks’ net.

I’m still trying to figure out what Jassen Cullimore was thinking on the game-tying goal. For those who didn’t see, Cullimore was battling with Jamie Lundmark in the corner, got control for a moment, flicked the puck toward and net and through the pads of a truly stunned Nikolai Khabibulin. Cullimore is a veteran guy, so why would you ever throw the puck toward your own net? Too many bad things can happen. In this case it could have cost the Blackhawks two points.

Of course, these being the Kings, it didn’t. Anze Kopitar and Rob Blake apparently didn’t communicate well enough in the defensive zone, the puck got free and Lasse Kukkonen put it past Sean Burke for the overtime winner.

A pretty typical Kings game, all in all. They played well enough to beat a bad team but came up short. Penalties hurt. The Kings took eight penalties in the first two periods and couldn’t get much of a flow because of it. In the third period, the penalties finally stopped and the Kings got going, but coach Marc Crawford said some of the guys might have been gassed because of the constant penalty killing. “We took a lot out of the (Rob) Blakes and (Aaron) Millers and those kind of guys.”

Not much good quote material out of the Kings’ room tonight. Here’s one from former King Bryan Smolinski, who was always good for a dressing-room quip: “This was a game of bottom dwellers. We’ve gone through a lot of injuries and a lot of adversity. So it has been hard. We’re just trying to win hockey games. We don’t care about the Kings. They have their own problems.”

Here’s an interesting note dug up by Joe Resnick of The Associated Press. Aaron Miller hasn’t scored a goal since Nov. 27, 2003. And who did he beat that night? Phoenix’s Sean Burke, now Miller’s teammate in L.A.

Finally, going inside the box score…Jamie Lundmark, who got the third-period gift goal, was remarkably productive with six shots on goal. … Crawford is keeping Konstantin Pushkarev on a short leash in the third period. After the Kings tied the game with 13 minutes remaining, Pushkarev didn’t get another shift.

As I left Staples Center tonight, they were raising the scoreboard into the rafters. They won’t need it for a while. The Kings are gone on a five-city road trip and won’t be back until Feb. 17. The Lakers are gone until Feb. 13.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email