Justin Papineau- Sign or Sign-Off

By Tony Calfo
Justin Papineau, the crown jewel of the Kings farm system, is still unsigned and his future with the Kings may be in question. Papineau must be signed by the draft this season or he can re-enter and the Kings will receive absolutely nothing as compensation.

Papineau burst into the Kings prospect spotlight by having some huge years in Belleville. Papineau has also had a tremendous run in the playoffs last season, leading his team to the title and claiming the Wayne Gretzky Award. His 52 goals in 68 regular season games last season had the Kings front office salivating. Papineau showed the scoring touch that the Kings lacked since the departure of the Great One.

This season has not been what the Kings or Papineau hoped for. Papineau was injured at tryouts for the WJC’s, but it was obvious that he was not going to make the team. As the Kings top prospect, this was an ominous sign. Since then, Papineau has battled through injuries to post his worst career numbers- numbers that many players would call a career (40 goals, 36 assists in 60 games). Papineau has not scored in the playoffs to-date (he has only played one game), but a solid post season would make it tough to let him slip back into the draft.

The answer seems obvious- give him whatever he asks for and sign him ASAP. The solution may not be that simple. Papineau’s lack of size has been oft-mentioned. While his speed and skills are unquestioned, some perceive an indifference from Justin that is interpreted as lazy. He also didn’t respond very well to his first injury, which was only a muscle pull, so his toughness has also come into question. Papineau may also be victim of what Pavel Rosa has not been able to do this season. The similarities are striking- both have similar size and both had huge seasons in the Q. Rosa was signed to a long contract that has given the Kings 16 points to show for their investment. Rosa will be 23 this summer, but he clearly has not matched expectations- mostly due to injuries. Papineau skates better but is not even as physical as the soft Rosa, so the Kings management is concerned about making a lengthy investment.

Another issue is the financial aspect. Justin will claim a sizeable contract and the Kings have to take care of an emerging Aki Berg this off-season. A large contract would likely add to Berg’s demands and after a holdout last season, the Kings need to get Aki signed as soon as possible. The Kings also have an escalating payroll and even though they just built the beautiful Staples Center, they still lose millions of dollars every year. The results of these losses is the hard-nosed approach that the Kings used with Aki Berg last year.

So what does all this babble mean? To summarize, the Kings need to sign him. The Hockey News rated the Kings pipeline 28th- that includes Papineau. With Scott Barney MIA and no forwards with star potential- the Kings need to take a risk with Papineau. The sight of former Kings’ property starring for another team is not unfamiliar, but with all the progress the team has made this season, it takes the Kings in a direction they are trying to avoid. A failure with Papineau would discourage fans far less than seeing him prosper with another team.

Tell me what you think…