Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Don't Cry: Thanks For The Memories Smytty

I'm sad Smytty's gone
No tearful farewellJust a bunch of rumorsA denialSome awkward negotiationsAnd finally, #94 was gone.

Smytty put DL and the Kings in a tough spot.  Demanding a trade is hard enough for a GM.  Requesting a trade to only one team is nearly impossible.  Give DL credit for accommodating Smyth and his family.  Hopefully, players around the league take notice that the Kings organization does have some class after all.

Everyone was all smiles a couple years ago
I was ecstatic when the Kings acquired Ryan Smyth two years ago from Colorado.  I knew on July 3, 2009 that the Kings were beginning to transition from rebuilding to contending.  The fact, that DL was willing to absorb a $6.25 million cap hit for the next three seasons said alot.  Sure enough, Smyth was as-advertised if not better.  His veteran leadership and presence in front of the net was something that the Kings sorely needed.  His 45 goals over the last two seasons was third to only Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown (4th, if you include Dustin Penner's goals in EDM).  His 20 power-play goals over the past two seasons is tied for the team-high with Kopi.  Oh.  And don't forget the Kings made the playoffs for two consecutive seasons.

Then out of left field, Smytty wants out and word is that the Kings would be willing to move Smytty for 'mid-range draft pick'.  Smytty's $6.25 million cap hit is a tough contract for any team to take on but his value to the Kings was absolutely worth more than a draft pick (or so I thought).  Even if the Kings were to clear his contract off the books; there's not many UFA left wingers that could provide the type of production that Smyth has brought over the past two seasons. 

In the end, the Kings acquired Gilbert Brule and a fourth-round pick and I was genuinely excited.  I'm a sucker for young talent and prospects.  Still only 24, Brule has had an up-and-down pro career marred by injuries.  He showed signs of life in 2009-10 before completely falling flat on his face last season.  At a $1.85 million cap hit, the price was steep but the upside is still there.  If he were able to play 70 plus games; Brule could have been a productive third-line player with second-line upside.  Unfortunately, he's not healthy but he is a good person.  Although, it saddens me to read that the Kings had no intentions of keeping Mr. Brule.

Colin FraserSo instead, the Kings got a healthy Colin FraserWho by all accounts will probably be as much of an offensive threat as a concussed Gilbert Brule.  Fraser comes with a cap hit of $825K and the pick went from a 4th to a 7th.  So you could say the difference in value from a 4th to 7th round pick is roughly a million bucks.  While most Kings fans expected Fraser to be bought out, DL says Fraser will get an opportunity to compete for a spot, presumably a 4th-line role.  He's a defense-first forward and is serviceable in that role.
"...Colin Fraser was hardly a non-participant. That his best skill, shot blocking, is one that neutralizes the opposition as opposed to initiating something positive in and of itself, is something of a tell."
Don't get me wrong.  DL filled a huge hole acquiring Mike Richards as the Kings #2 center but the departure of Smyth now leaves a gaping hole on the left wing.  Colin Fraser won't be potting 20 goals anytime soon.  Or leading the Kings in power-play goals.  I don't know where the Kings look to fill the void left by Smyth.  The Kings will lean on players already on the roster.  Yes.  That means Dustin Penner.  Yes.  That means Scott Parse.  Unfortunately, I'm not sold on either.  Paul Kariya anyone?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How The Heck Did We Get Mike Richards?!

Mike Richards Is A KING?!?! Yeah...I'll Drink To That

Remember when it was rumored that the Kings might be after Vinny Lecavalier back in February 2010?  I said this.
Take a look at recent Stanley Cup Winners.  In addition to great goaltending; every team's had a great 1A/1B center combination.  Penguins with Crosby/Malkin, Red Wings with Datsyuk/Zetterberg, Hurricanes with Brind'Amour/Staal, Lightning with Lecavalier/Richards.

As much as I love Jarret Stoll; he's not in the same-class as any of those players.  Some would argue that Brayden Schenn could be that player but I'm not sure the Kings are prepared to wait 3-4 years to find out. 
DL will wait for a full season of Brayden Schenn before he even considers making a move for an impact player.  Schenn will play next season as a 20-year old.  A lot of ‘experts’ compare Schenn to Philadelphia’s Mike Richards especially after his breakout performance at the 2011 WJC.  Keep this in mind, Richards also debuted for the Flyers as a 20 year old.  His breakout year came three years later when he scored 75 points in 73 games.  Just saying.  Four more years is a longtime to wait.
Well, I guess DL agreed that the Kings needed a legit #2 center and just couldn't wait those four years for Schenn to develop.  Instead, he dealt Schenn for the 26-year old Flyers captain.  I have to type that again.  Dean Lombardi traded prized prospect Brayden Schenn along with Wayne Simmonds and 2012 second-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Mike Richards.

My first reaction was, "We got Mike Richards?!"  My next reaction was, "Has Philly lost their mind?"

I was under the impression that Philly had signed Richards and Jeff Carter to long-term deals to watch them finish their careers in Philly.  Based on Flyers GM Paul Holmgren's reactions to the deal, I would say he was under the same impression as well.

Holmgren certainly didn't sound like a GM who was happy that he just dealt his team's captain and two players that he'd signed to a combined 23-years worth $127 million.  With that said, the pair of trades are directly linked to the Flyers acquisition of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.  The trio of moves seems to have the fingerprints of Flyers chairman Ed Snider all over it.  A man who witnessed Bernie Parent backstop his Flyers to consecutive Cups in 1974 and 1975.  Snider vowed the Flyers would fix their goaltending issues after being swept in the Conference Semi-finals by the Boston Bruins.  A series which saw the Flyers tie an NHL record with seven in-game goalie changes.  The Flyers goaltending carousel also failed to record a shutout all season.

Was Snider upset with his captain?  Perhaps.  Snider anointed Richards the 17th captain in franchise history for the start of the 2008-09 season.  Richards scored a career-high 80 points but has failed to reach 70 points in each of the last two seasons.  Mike Richards relationship with the Philadelphia media has been well-documented for years now.  As well as some of his antics off the ice.  It looks as though Snider got tired of the act and wanted a major shakeup.  Mission accomplished.  I would like to personally thank Mr. Snider for being one of the most proactive owners in hockey.  I would also like to thank the inabilities of Sergei Brobrovsky, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton to stop a puck in the postseason.  I would also like to thank Rich Winter, agent of Ilya Bryzgalov for getting his client a ridiculous 9-year, $51-million contract.  Without you, none of this would have been possible.  Welcome to L.A. Mike Richards!

Friday, June 17, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Michal Handzus

Michal HandzusMichal Handzus
2010-11 Stats: 82 GP, 12 G, 18 A, 30 PTS, -5, 10 PPP, 20 PIM  
UFA this summer

Zeus is serious.  And experienced.  And this is undisputed.  Zeus may be one of the most overpaid players in the league at $4-million a season but he's been invaluable to the Kings over the past three seasons (he was pretty dreadful in his first year year).  About as reliable as your 1991 Honda Civic, Zeus has only missed ONE game during his four seasons in Los Angeles.  Considering the Kings history with signing oft-injured free-agent forwards, Zeus has been a huge success.

His ability to play up or down in the lineup and in all situations makes him extremely valuable.  Zeus didn an admirable job filling in for Kopitar down the stretch and in the playoffs.  He led all Kings in PK ice-time during the regular season with 2:24 which jumped up to 3:33 in the postseason.  His 10 points on the man-advantage ranked 6th amongst Kings forwards during the regular season.

Watching Zeus kill penalties is poetry in motion.  Maybe it's his lack of foot speed but watching him struggle to skate back and forth to cover the points and then poke the puck off a d-mans stick with his long reach or lay down and block a shot is pure awesomeness.  It's no wonder Zeus has led all Kings forwards in blocked shots in each of the last four seasons.  There's no question the guy is giving it his all every single night.

Alot of fans feel ike Zeus's time in L.A. is over and it may very well be.  With Brayden Schenn looking to center the second line next season.  Trevor Lewis may be ready to replace Zeus as a jack of all trades although his 39.2% in the faceoff circle is a far cry from Handzus's 51.7%.  Having Zeus around to mentor Lewis and Schenn for another season or two might not be such a bad thing.

FINAL GRADE: B+; Yes.  Zeus looks like he skates with cement blocks tied to his skates.  Yes.  $4-million a year for a guy that's averaged only 14 goals a season during his tenure as a King was way too rich.  Yes.  Zeus has some of the best hair in the NHL.  Yes.  Zeus's ability to win faceoffs leaves alot to be desired.  With all that said...The Kings need to seriously consider bringing Zeus back for at least one more season.  If the Kings can lock up Zeus on a one or two year deal at $2 million per; DL needs to consider it.  Otherwise, thanks for the memories Zeus.  Your hair will be missed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Rob Scuderi

Rob ScuderiRob Scuderi
2010-11 Stats: 82 GP, 2 G, 13 A, 15 PTS, +1, 0 PPP, 16 PIM  
Signed thru 2012-13; $3.4 million

 What a year for Rob Scuderi.  He set a career-high in goals with...two.  All kidding aside, Scuderi had himself a solid second year in L.A.  Scuds and JJ were the only two Kings defenseman to appear in all 82 games this season.  Here's what I wrote about Scuds in the 2009-10 season review...
Scuds is an interesting one; $3.4 million for 0 goals and 11 assists sounds crazy but that’s the price the market dictated last July.  Scuds was as-advertised.  A solid stay-at-home defenseman.  Nothing more. Nothing Less.  He's just a hard-working minutes cruncher that won’t put your team in danger.
In a nutshell, that pretty much sums up Scuderi's 2010-11 season also.  He doesn't do anything flashy but plays a simple game based on positioning that makes him invaluable to the Kings.  Adding Mitchell to the fold helped take some of the pressure of Scuderi to constantly play the big minutes against other team's top lines and power play units.

A bit alarming to some was Scuderi's +/- rating dip from a +16 to +1.  A significant drop off considering that the Kings goal differential stayed relatively the same from last season.  Scuderi's ice-time increased from just over 19 minutes to 20 minutes per game, his penalty-kill time increase slightly, and his quality of competition rating rose slightly.  It appears that two factors played a role in his +/- rating drop.  The first seems to be Scuderi's increase in giveaways this season which rose from 33 to 59 (his takeaways dropped from 23 to 22).  His giveaway to takeaway ratio rose from 1.43 to 2.6, the only Kings defenseman that saw a significant increase.

Another difference this season appears to be Scuderi's quality of teammates.  His QUALTEAM rating dropped from .163 which to -.088 this past season.  For a player like Scuderi who isn't much of a threat to create offense on his own, his +/- rating relies heavily on the production of his linemates.  Last year's +16 rating was likely a product of Drew Doughty's career year.

FINAL GRADE: B; I'd love to see Scuds play more physical but even more than that...I want to see Scuds shoot the puck.  His insistence on sending the puck around the boards and not even fake a shot is frustrating to watch sometimes.  A dominant cycle for 20 seconds will lead to a pass to the point where Scuds will pass up the shot to flip the puck back into a corner.  Scuderi does so many things well in the defensive zone it's hard to fault his lack of offense.

2010-11 Season Review: Willie Mitchell

Willie Mitchell
Willie Mitchell
2010-11 Stats: 57 GP, 5 G, 5 A, 10 PTS, +4, 0 PPP, 21 PIM
Signed thru 2011-12; $3.5 million

Leave it to Dean Lombardi and the Kings to sign a player who missed the last 34 regular season games and all 12 playoff games of the 2009-10 season because of a concussion to a two-year contract.  The pessimist that lives in all Kings fans thought this signing could easily follow in the footsteps of such blockbuster flops as Valeri Bure and Alyn McCauley.  The Kings may have been the only team to offer Willie Mitchell a two-year contract and I don't think DL could be any happier with how his big free-agent acquisition worked out this past season.

I loved Willie Mitchell's game but had some reservations about his health going into training camp.  After watching a full-season of Willie, I'm convinced that Mitchell is indeed a 33-year old version of Sean O'Donnell.  He brings nearly all the same tools: leadership, grit, toughness, and an inability to handle the puck with any confidence.  Mitchell doesn't hit much but positions himself well to make the simple play in his own zone.

Much in the same way Rob Scuderi helped the blueline last year, Mitchell provided more of the same.  A veteran presence who focuses on defense first, keeps the game simple, and does all the little things that help win hockey games.  Mitchell and Scuderi serve as the safety nets to Doughty and Johnson's high-risk, high-reward offensive games.  TM leaned on Mitchell to play big minutes against other team's top lines and easily became the Kings #1 penalty killer.  Mitchell averaged over 21 minutes of ice-time per game (and over 24 minutes in the playoffs) and led the team averaging 3:24 of ice-time on the penalty kill.  Mitchell's quality of competition rating of .086 led the team, which reiterates the thought that Michell played against other team's top players on a nightly basis.

FINAL GRADE: B+; Mitchell's concussion looks to be a thing of the past but a broken wrist and lower-body injury still cost him 25 games this season.  While DL has struck out with most of his forward free agent acquisitions during his tenure in Los Angeles; he's done well adding Scuderi and Mitchell to the blueline over the past two summers.  Mitchell is another solid veteran added to a young group still trying to find it's identity.  It's no coincidence that the Kings saw their goals allowed per game drop (2.57 GA/G to 2.39 GA/G) and their penalty kill percentage rise (80.3% to 85.5%) this past season.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Alec Martinez

Alec MartinezAlec Martinez 
2010-11 Stats: 60 GP, 5 G, 11 A, 16 PTS, +11, 5 PPP, 18 PIM  
RFA this summer

While Dean Lombardi may have blown the 2007 NHL Draft by selecting Thomas Hickey #4 overall; he grabbed another puck-moving defenseman in the 4th round that has already had an impact in the NHL.  Alec Martinez started the 2009-10 season with the Kings but looked so uncomfortable in his first four NHL games that the Kings were forced to send him down.  The pace and speed of the game seemed to overwhelm the 22-year old defenseman.

Fast forward a year later, Alec Martinez got the call in late-November and didn't look back.  He quickly became the third puck-moving defenseman on the Kings blueline and became a reliable contributor on the Kings second power-play unit.  Martinez's knack for getting shots thru to the net is what made him so valuable this season.  He attempted 112 shots on net with 74 of them reaching target.  Of the Kings six regular blueliners; Martinez's 66% was the highest.  His five power play points in 60 games was the third highest total behind Doughty and Johnson (whether that's an accomplishment or warning...i'll let you decide).

When you see Martinez skate with his somewhat upright stride and head always up; you can see a bit of Scott Niedermayer/Brian Rafalski.  You can tell that three years at Miami University (Ohio) and two years in the AHL have helped develop his game.  His decision making in the defensive zone and knowledge of when to make the simple play is already light years ahead of Jack Johnson.  With that said, Martinez's ceiling isn't nearly as high but his consistency is already there.

FINAL GRADE: B+; For the pessimist in all of us: Martinez serves as a reminder that Hickey has been a bust and the Kings don't trust Voynov who's already a two-time AHL All-Star.  Considering no one really expected to see Martinez up again after his disaster of a debut in 2009; Alec was a nice surprise this year.  Although his play tapered off towards the end of the season and the pace of the playoffs seemed to be a bit too quick for him.  Martinez's 2010 season has sent a message to prospects like Hickey, Voynov, and Muzzin that it's his spot to take going into training camp next season.  Resigning him is an absolute no-brainer.  An extension similar to what Drewiske received would be ideal.  My guess: 3-years, around $2.5 million total.