Although many observers thought the Los Angeles Kings would be a force in the Western Conference playoffs this year, a series of injuries to key players has just about taken the team out of playoff contention. Forced to work within a limited budget for player salaries, LA General Manager Dave Taylor undoubtedly is looking ahead to next year as the NHL trade deadline approaches. This article discusses Kings players who could be moved at the deadline, the teams likely to be interested in those players, and what the Kings might receive in return.
Aaron Miller and Dmitry Yushkevich: Miller and Yushkevich both are veteran, stay-at-home defensemen who will be unrestricted free agents after this year. While Yushkevich lives in Southern California in the off-season and might take less than market to stay in LA, the Kings probably can’t afford to re-sign them both. (Miller currently makes $1.7M, and Yushkevich makes $2.75M.) Accordingly, they are the players most likely to be traded before the deadline. Both players are proven playoff performers who could fetch a high draft pick and/or solid prospect or young player.
Bryan Smolinski: “Smoke” is a very good defensive center who has struggled offensively. Call him a poor man’s Bobby Holik. Although Smolinski has said he would like to stay in LA next year, it appears unlikely that the club will continue to pay him the $2.4M he made this year. He is therefore another strong candidate for the trading block.
Craig Johnson: The last remnant of the Wayne Gretzky trade, Johnson is an excellent penalty killer and checker who has spent considerable time on scoring lines this year for reasons that many fans have great difficulty understanding. Although he made only $750K this year, it seems unlikely that the Kings will re-sign him given their abundance of lunch pail forwards. He may fetch a low draft pick.
Felix Potvin: Another UFA at season’s end, Potvin currently is injured and mired in inconsistency. While the Kings likely would love to dump his salary, one has to ask who would take it. Then again, Montreal did trade for Stephane Fiset.
Zigmund Palffy: The Kings hold a club option on Ziggy, and everyone seems to want him. The question is why the team would trade their only legitimate sniper, particularly after he demonstrated incredible chemistry with franchise player Jason Allison.
Mathieu Schneider: The only Kings all-star this year, Schneider is a solid power play quarterback and blue-line anchor. While one has to wonder why the Kings would trade him given their strong nucleus for next year, the emergence of Joe Corvo and possible signing of prospect Denis Grebeshkov make it a possibility.
Trading Partners and Possible Trades
While any number of playoff contenders might be interested in one of these players, the most likely trading partners are Eastern Conference playoff teams (or at least playoff contenders) with budgets large enough to re-sign an attractive UFA. The leading candidates seem to be the Capitals, Flyers, Maple Leafs and Devils. Also, as he proved in the Rob Blake trade, Taylor won’t hesitate to make a deal with a Western Conference team if the price is right.
The Capitals could well be the best bet. The Kings’ greatest needs are in goal and on the second scoring line. Neither Felix Potvin nor Jamie Storr has demonstrated the consistency needed to take the team deep into the playoffs, and neither Alexei Volkov nor Cristobal Huet seems to be the goalie of the future. Taylor surely would be interested in Maxime Ouellet, and possibly in one of Washington’s other three goalie prospects: Maxime Daigneault, Rastislav Stana and Ron Gherson. The Capitals also have other interesting prospects including defenseman Steve Eminger and Russian forwards Alexander Semin and Ivan Nepriayev. Miller or Yushkevich could really help the Caps.
News reports claim that Bobby Clarke is interested in both Schneider and Yushkevich. The Flyers were a serious candidate to sign Schneider before he joined the Kings, and Yushkevich is a former Flyer. Palffy also could make a big splash on Broad Street. The Flyers have a bunch of draft picks to trade, including Phoenix’s first rounder in 2003, and the Kings obviously would be interested in Simon Gagne or Justin Williams. Interesting Flyers prospects include goalies Roman Malek and Antero Niittymaki, defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Jeff Woywitka, and forward Alexander Drozdetsky.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Palffy and all three defensemen could help the Leafs make a run this year, although Pat Quinn presumably wouldn’t trade for Yushkevich having recently dealt him to Florida for contract reasons. Nik Antropov probably would be of greatest interest to Taylor, who loves big forwards, and the Kings would have to be intrigued by the prospect of reuniting Brad Boyes with WJC linemates Jared Aulin and Mike Cammalleri. The Leafs also have other interesting prospects in goaltenders Mikael Tellqvist, Sebastien Centomo and Todd Ford; forward Matt Stajan and defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Jay Harrison. Sorry, Leafs fans, but the Kings don’t want Jonas Hoglund!
New Jersey Devils
If Palffy is traded, the Devils have to be a leading candidate to get him. One would think that Scott Gomez or Patrik Elias would need to be included in such a deal, but the Devils also have solid prospects to offer including goalie Ari Ahonen and defensemen David Hale.
Western Conference Teams
Detroit and St. Louis both have the budgets to think about making a deal with the Kings, and they both could use some help on the blue line. It’s hard to imagine, however, that either team would sacrifice any of the few young players and prospects the Kings would want. Combine this with the fact that Taylor won’t want to help teams that stand between the Kings and the Stanley Cup Finals, and you have to question whether there is a deal to be made.
Stay tuned, Kings fans! The March 11 trade deadline will be here before you know it.