30 IN 30 - LOS ANGELES KINGS (22nd place)
Despite strong calls from the fan base to match their new divisional foe and drop the 'Los' in Los Angeles (..."it's cleaner"), the Kings will instead be looking to drop a certain former captain from their lineup. An 'out with the old' theme should continue this summer, as a desperate need for team speed exists within the Kings lineup. Stage one has already taken place with the firing of Dean Lombardi and Daryl Sutter and subsequent hiring of Luc Robataille and Rob Blake. Yes the 'former player' hiring strikes again - a mistake by a team looking to address budgetary issues within their forward unit. Overall, tough decisions are ahead with potentially long term consequences - re buy-outs & contract extensions. What will this new management group do to mitigate the damage?
Protection List Structure
- Kopitar (*NMC)
- McNabb/Forbort ?
- Kopitar (*NMC)
- Brown ?
- Gaborik ?
- Lewis ?
The 8-1 model above is the obvious choice for the Kings roster. Protecting an extra defenceman in Brayden McNabb vs an aging/slow/overpriced forward like Dustin Brown is a no-brainer. The contracts present in the forward group are anchor's set to pull this team down. Brown's contract has him playing for 5 MORE YEARS at a cap hit of $5.875M, while Marion Gaborik earns $4.875M for 4 more years. They'll be 37 and 39 respectively when those deals expire. Who negotiated these??? Oh yeah, it was Dean Lombardi - this guy in no way deserves another GM role after this sort decision making. Add this onto the eventual decline in play of aging All-Star Jeff Carter, who will be playing till 37 on his current deal as well, and it's clear the Kings lack the requisite flexibility to adapt to the ever changing style of play within the NHL. Without a clear game-changing prospect in the development system, this team will be reliant upon free agency to put together a competitive offensive group. Thankfully this team has one of the leagues top-3 defencemen on their roster, along with an envious 2nd unit pair in Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin to fall back on.
The Kings' superior possession game is in some ways a product of their defensive group, and in others, a strong team system built around shot differentials. For the past 5 years, the Kings have led the league in CF%. With a statistically higher probability to outscore there opponents on a nightly basis, Los Angeles has seen this translate into a top-10 goal differential and more wins. This unrivalled statistical success has trickled down to the individual skaters on the Kings roster, who have seen their positive impact remain well above league average. The adjustments we at PBF make for situational zone advantage put a dent in some of these outwardly stats, but they impact so many players that consideration has to be given to the possibility of an over-correction.
The cause of such a jump lies in the outrageously high team-wide offensive zone start percentages. You cannot find a single every night player who starts in the offensive zone less than the defensive one. To show how such a factor impacts our statistical measures, we'll use a fringe protection list player like Brayden McNabb as our example. His CF% sits at a team high 60.25%, placing him 3rd in the entire league for players who've logged a minimum of 200 minutes. I'm not sure about the rest of you, but McNabb's name isn't exactly rolling off my tongue as Norris trophy candidate. Instead his face-off dependent zone starts provide him with such a high probability for on-ice shot production by mere proximity to the opposing team's net over his own, that his shot differentials are expectedly over-inflated in comparison to his real impact on puck possession. Breaking down his face-off percentages from last season we see him start in the neutral zone - are area of equal probability for positive and negative impact - a standard 33.73%, a minimal 23.09% in the defensive zone, and a whopping 43.18% in the offensive. Those who take his stats at face value without adjustment see only an efficient puck possession player, whereas those who attribute situational factors upon it, gain a better glimpse at his actual impact.
From our perspective, with such profound opportunity for offensive success, his dismal 4 points in 49 games and 50% goal differential speaks to a player that struggles offensively despite intense opportunity, and may be restricted solely to a shut-down role. Whether he's an example of an effective system based player or capable of much more than that is open for opinion, but we stand on the side of the former.
Trade in the works?
The Kings will look back on the expansion draft with deep regret if they don't at least attempt to negotiate a trade with Vegas involving Dustin Brown or Marian Gaborik. They need to rid themselves of at least one of the aging wingers this summer without adding another contract to their buy-out imposed cap hit (re Mike Richards). Such a deal won't come cheap and will likely mean giving up more than what's available on expansion draft night, but long-term this is the best move. Ideally the Kings should try to preserve the few quality prospects present in their development system (ex. Kyle Clague), but if moving one is required to get a deal done with a big contract attached it seriously needs to be considered.
From King to Knight
Under the 8-1 structure, the Golden Knights could be left with a decision between bottom-6 forwards Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Nick Shore, and Nic Dowd.
The two vets in Clifford and Lewis carry reasonable price tags - 1.6M and 2.0M a piece - and bring playoff experience in checking roles. Although age may be a consideration, advanced stats seems to favour the elder statesmen of the group in Trevor Lewis. His strong 53.2 AdjCF% accounts for his ability to drive shot production no matter the on-ice scnenario. His overall offensive prowess may be limited, but his value lies in creating opportunity for others by driving play into the opposing team's zone.
Kyle Clifford provides a rough and tumble style of play for a 4th line contributor. He possess enough skill to be seen as more than a fighter, and isn't afraid to play the agitator role. As an absolute pain in the ass to play against, Vegas could look his way if little is available from the Kings roster, but in our opinion, enough value will be seen elsewhere.
An underrated offensive talent like Nic Dowd could be an interesting selection with more long term projection but thus far has struggled greatly with goal differential and still has quite a ways to go in adapting to life as an NHL centremen.
Nick Shore, another young option, has displayed clear scoring ability at the American league level (2014-15: 42pts in 38 games), but has contributed at a significantly lower rate in his past two seasons with the big club. RFA status this summer pushes him off out of our selection argument as he would take up one of Vegas' 10 non-contracted selection spots.
Alternatives for the Vegas pick could include the likes of Derek Forbort or Jack Campbell.
Forbort could add to the already promising young defencemen projected haul thus far for the Golden Knights. On the numbers his Corsi stats remain stable after zone adjustment; goal differential sits neatly above the 50% mark, and PDO remains in-line with his primary D-partner Drew Doughty. However, that last element brings us to our main concern with Forbort: are his statistical outputs a product of his own doing or are they significantly influenced by his All-World defence partner? We prefer to side with the Doughty factor as Forbort's numbers playing apart from him see a significant drop. CF% goes down to 48.1, AdjCF% drops all the way down to 42.4, and GF% hits 46.2. Chemistry-related arguments could be put forward here, but Doughty being Doughty, see's a spike of at least 4% in each category in comparison to their totals together.
To put the nail in the coffin, Brayden McNabb who played primarily with Doughty in 2015-16 saw a similar drop in GF% but managed to maintain his CF%, whereas Doughty saw no statistical gain playing away from him under 5v5 circumstances. Therefore, history favours McNabb as the more predictable performer and our preferred choice as the 4th D-man protected by the Kings. Forbort, on the outside looking in, remains a viable option for George McPhee and the Golden Knights, but with value seen from defensive picks elsewhere in the draft (i.e. from other team's), taking a forward from the Kings roster appears to be the more logical choice than that of a left-shot D-man with limited NHL exposure.
Forbort's rookie season vs McNabb's three seasons w/ the Kings - Note: Much like Forbort's rookie season, McNabb played primarily with Doughty in 2015-16.
The last option for the Golden Knights, is also the riskiest. Jack Campbell provides boom or bust potential as either a back-up or development goaltender option. After being drafted 11th overall in 2010, he has struggled to gain footing at the AHL level over the past few seasons, while destroying ECHL competition over that same timeframe. Nonetheless he has finally begun to show signs of improvement at the higher level for the Ontario Reign, posting a 2.52GAA and .914 Sv% this past season. Further gains are usually required before a goalie makes his jump to the NHL, so a Vegas selection would have to be made with further development time in mind. But with young starter and backup options available elsewhere, were passing on the wildly inconsistent Campbell here, even as our 3rd depth goaltender.
THE VEGAS Selection
Overall, there's no eye-popping talent available or sure-fire selection from the Kings. Risking a package deal that involves either the 10th overall selection in the draft or Clague, along with Gaborik would be our preferred choice. However, if it comes down to a selection off the projected list of available players, Trevor Lewis is strongest option and would quickly become a driver in the engine room on the Golden Knights 3rd line.
The Kings are gonna battle cap issues for YEARS. With yet another pay-day on the horizon for Drew Doughty in two seasons time and a barren prospect pool to pull from, LA can officially wave goodbye to their Stanley Cup window and buckle up for a few years of inconsistent hockey. Once a player like Jeff Carter begins to fade, I'd actually begin to run away from this team, far away, because the tide in the Pacific division is beginning to change. Compete with the Alberta team's or get out of the way.
In the meantime, it would be best to utilize the California factor in free agency and seek discounted deals in return for an LA-lifestyle and minimal media scrutiny. Who doesn't want a beach house, am I right?
Next up: Carolina Hurricanes