With the departure of Sean O’Donnell and Steve McKenna in the expansion draft, the Kings had a glaring need for some muscle. Enter 35-year-old Stu Grimson, who signed a one-year contract last week to patrol the ice for the Kings in 2000. While this is a great PR move and gives the Kings a season with one of the toughest forwards to ever lace them up, how much of a difference can Stu make? After all, enforcers have moved a lot this offseason and a low draft pick could have given the Kings players like Oliwa, Cote or any number of young thugs. Why Grimson? The reason is twofold- Kip Brennan and potentially Brian McGratten.
The Kings left Calgary with more questions than answers last week after taking a serious blow in the loss of Sean O’Donnell and the rumours about Eric Lindros coming to Los Angeles. Where do the Kings go from here, and just how did they do in Calgary?
The weekend didn’t exactly get off to the best start when the Kings lost Steve McKenna and Sean O’Donnell to the expansion Minnesota Wild on Friday. The Kings went through some painful growing pains with Sean O’Donnell to see him become a solid defenseman. Now another team, almost certainly a contender by year’s end, will enjoy the fruits of the Kings labors. On paper, the King lost their #3 defenseman who is in his prime, was a feared fighter, and was a leader in the clubhouse. They also lost a fringe enforcer in McKenna. The biggest losses will be felt in the locker room where Mac and Odie were well liked and looked to as leaders. McKenna will be a hit with Minnesota because of his size and personality, and I personally saw some improvement in his skills this season. On a team with other enforcers, McKenna could grow into a contributor. O’Donnell has become a physical, stay at home defender who could either be a captain or great trade bait to a contending team. Either way, it leaves the Kings already softening lineup with no enforcer and no blue liner who will drop the gloves. With Galley, Odie and a likely Berg holdout, the Kings are in trouble where they were once strongest.
The Los Angeles Kings face a critical couple of weeks as they will hope Minnesota and Columbus do not clean them out in the expansion draft and then hope a skilled forward lasts to their pick in the expansion draft.
The Kings expansion protected list was a couple players shy of what the Kings were hoping for. After potentially holding their cards too long the Kings had to protect two goalies and therefore could not protect Sean O’Donnell and Pavel Rosa. The loss of either or both of these players would hurt the Kings. Rosa is the most tradable forward in the Kings organization and after suffering through some horrible seasons, Sean O’Donnell has turned himself into a solid blueliner and an imposing fighter whose lack of penalty minutes speaks to his evolution. He is also one of the top scrappers on the team. Since O’Donnell knocked out Jeff Odgers a couple years ago, most enforcers have steered clear of Odie.
Rosa is still an attractive offensive forward that the Kings could package with a goalie after the draft and possibly get a major contributor. Rosa is also the best of a poor collection of forwards in the Kings system and his departure would leave the cupboard bare.
The 2000 entry draft is vital for the Kings future. They seem to be solid at goalie and defensemen, so drafting some forwards with size and skill who can contribute will be key.
The Kings and Justin Papineau appear to have gone their separate ways. While Justin Papineau is not the first highly skilled player to re-enter a draft after not being able to come to terms, he may be the most talented individual to leave such a untalented farm system. With Papineau’s departure, the Kings have virtually no playmakers in their system. Knowing this, why would the Kings do this?
The answers are actually a little more clear than they may seem. I, for one, had hoped that they would sign Papineau because of his offensive prowess. The Kings clearly don’t think enough of his game to make him an offer on a larger signing bonus. We all know the knocks about Papineau, but I think there is something the Kings saw when they made their last scouting trip to see him that made their decision final. One of those things may actually have happened here. Scott Barney underwent back surgery and by all accounts, should be ready to race by the start of training camp. The Kings have always thought more of Barney and the fact that they didn’t sign Papineau speaks volumes about their faith in Barney.
The Los Angeles Kings season has to be regarded as a big step forward. The Kings posted one of their highest point totals in their history and developed two solid scoring lines and two effective defensive lines. Rob Blake had an outstanding season and the Kings played well despite some shaky goaltending. Then the Kings seemingly erased all those positives by relying on one scoring line and going 0 for the playoffs on the power play. So where do the Kings go from here?