Harvest Time In Los Angeles

By Tony Calfo

When Dave Taylor was handed keys to the Los Angeles Kingdom in 1997, his first task was to set up a hierarchy in the Kings system that would allow them to build and maintain a farm system. As the Kings head into the 2002-03 campaign, they are just beginning to feel the positive effects of that “build from within” plan.

What Dave Taylor knew then and is coming to fruition now is that to maintain a fiscally responsible franchise that can achieve success on the ice, a team has to be economically diverse. That is that they have to have high-income players who perform, along with lower-paid players who still contribute. In past seasons, the Kings had overpaid big names on the downsides of their respective careers. They also overpaid some free agents and the balance of the roster spots were filled out with players who shouldn’t have been in the NHL. While the final execution of this plan is still in the future, the structure of it is taking shape and the Kings will feel some of its benefits this season.

The structure is basically some younger, higher income, quality players who will anchor the team. Players like Allison, Palffy, Deadmarsh, Miller and Norstrom were acquired via trade. They were given an opportunity to prosper, and consequently signed to extensions or new deals (or soon will be). The high-end money goes to the horses you ride the most. The next level of veterans like Laperriere, Schneider and the like follow a similar plan- acquire via trade or lower-end free agency, give them time, and then make them part of the plan for reasonable dollars. The balance of the team has traditionally been players who are older, fringe NHL players. This season, thanks to a rebuilt system, they will be prospects that are not simply taking up roster space, but developing (or not). Management gets the answers on these players and if they show cause, they enter the structure’s middle range and ideally move up through the high-end players signed to long contracts. If they do not show the signs, they leave the organization via trade, as players like Jokinen, Biron and Green did, to help maintain the model by acquiring new talent.

The Kings will have ample opportunity to watch and grade their prospects. For the first time, their AHL team will feature nearly all their top prospects. They have the ECHL team in Reading for players to develop as well. They also have some prospects that will get their shot on the NHL level, like Alexander Frolov. No more wondering how most of your prospects are performing. When there is a need to see a player, he can be called up or scouted in 24 hours. A trip to Manchester will allow the Kings to see as many as 8 of their top 10 prospects in one game. When was the last time the Kings could do that, much less call up a top-level prospect? There were basically zero of the top farmhands in the AHL the last few seasons in Manchester, Lowell or Springfield. The last really centralized home for Kings prospects was Phoenix, where prospects like Jeff Shevalier, Ruslan Batyrshin, David Goverde, Rob Cowie and the like were located.

The model is built. Now King fans can sit back and watch it work.

NOTES-

In one of the most amazing stories in some time, Scott Barney has signed a one-year deal with the Kings. After being out of hockey for two seasons due to back injuries, Barney has been among the most impressive Kings in camp. Congrats to Scott.

Matthew Yeats and Jason Crain appear to be out of the Kings’ plans. Yeats is no longer Kings’ property and Crain was released along with Jim Henkel. B.J. Boxma has been signed to an AHL contract with Manchester and sent to Long Beach on loan.

Of the Kings’ big four prospects- Cammalleri, Lehoux, Aulin and Frolov, only the young Russian Alexander Frolov is still with the Kings. He has shown flashes of brilliance so far. It’ll be equally interesting to watch his progress, along with the other’s progress in Manchester.