Tony Medina/Icon SMI)
Trades intended to “push a team over the top” remain the most scrutinized in all of sports, and they often produce mixed results that fall short of the ultimate goal.
A consistent contender in San Jose and an up-and-coming club in Los Angeles accounted for arguably the three most significant offseason trades last summer. So far, neither team has gotten the impact they had hoped for in the win column.
The Kings find themselves once again fighting just to get into the playoffs while the Sharks tread in more dangerous waters than they have ever been in during the Todd McLellan era – they are at once inches from missing the playoffs and within striking distance of their fifth straight division title.
Los Angeles’ lack of improvement came despite their landing center Mike Richards in exchange for top prospect Brayden Schenn and the reliable Wayne Simmonds.
In San Jose, their newfound discomfort has arrived even after their dealing for both defenseman Brent Burns and winger Martin Havlat, who both spent last season in Minnesota.
Burns has assumed an increasingly large role, but has not consistently been the impact player the Sharks had hoped he could be. They banked up wins early in the season despite some subdued offense from the active defenseman. Later, his point-per-game February could not put the brakes on the 5-10-1 skid they have experienced from Feb. 1 to Mar. 5.
Havlat seemed to have shed his troubling injury history in recent seasons, turning in the three healthiest campaigns of his career prior to this season. After a weak start—just two goals in 26 games—Havlat tore his hamstring Dec. 17 and has been out of action ever since. His return could provide a major boost to San Jose, as Havlat has scored 28 points in 26 playoff games since the 2005 lockout.
For Richards’ part, his presence in the lineup and contributions on the score sheet have both been strong predictors of the Kings’ success. They have posted a 17-3-5 record in games in which he has scored, but they have gone 11-14-7 in games where he did not.
Richards closed out November with ten points in ten games, a stretch in which then head coach Terry Murray said he was “carrying” the Kings.
He then sustained a concussion and missed eight games. Los Angeles lost five in a row and six out of eight with Richards sidelined. Richards returned but scored only 11 points in 32 games during December, January and February. Los Angeles owns 13-20-7 record in games in which he has either not scored or not played, accounting for the majority of their defeats.
The Kings hope their Feb. 23 trade for Richards’ longtime teammate Jeff Carter will let Richards maximize his talents anew. Thus far, the Kings have scored four goals in three of the four games since Carter’s arrival. Los Angeles’ defense has been sufficiently stingy to push them to 19-0-2 when they score three or more goals in a game this season.
In the final fifth of the season, both teams will need contributions from their new acquisitions in an unforgivingly tight playoff race.
Burns has turned up his play and Havlat hopes to return soon as the Sharks could soar or plummet in a division where three points separate four teams.
Similarly, Richards and Carter clicking anew could push the Kings off the playoff bubble and into a position to host a first-round series for the first time since 1990-1991.
Pacific Division Notes
San Jose coach Todd McLellan will be back on the bench for tonight’s game against Edmonton, he had missed the three previous games with concussion symptoms … Dwight King and Jordan Nolan have established themselves on the Los Angeles roster. Each player has two goals since their recall from the AHL, King has six points in ten games … Phoenix lost their third straight game, falling 2-1 in Pittsburgh. They will face the Blue Jackets in Columbus tonight … Anaheim bounced back with a 4-2 win over Edmonton in which Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan had multi-point nights … Dallas will take on the Canucks in Vancouver tonight, the first of three meetings in the final month of the season between the two current division leaders.