This week’s Power Rankings update took a brief look at what each team could do before the trade deadline, which is a little over a week away. Now I would like to take a moment to focus on a few teams in particular, those with ample amounts of cap space and the most obvious needs at present as they gear up for what is hopefully a long playoff run.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have plenty of depth throughout the lineup, but they do have a need for a top six winger. Both Dustin Penner and Kyle Clifford have spent ample amounts of time there this season, but neither has had much success recently. Clifford has only 2 goals in his last 20 games, while Penner isn’t any better, having only 2 goals on the season. Tyler Toffoli has been playing quite well since being called up, but he’d be better served in the bottom six and would also benefit from the addition of a top six winger by seeing Clifford and Penner join him further down the pecking order.
At one point it also looked like Los Angeles would be in the market for a top four defenseman as well, however the emergence of Jake Muzzin has likely put an end to those talks. Muzzin’s ice time has increased substantially since late February and in turn it has boosted his offensive production, having recorded all but 2 of his points from February 25th onward. He’s also helped bring balance to the top four, as stepping onto the top pair with Drew Doughty has allowed for Rob Scuderi to join Slava Voynov, creating an excellent second pair. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen if Muzzin can handle the pressure that comes with being on the top pair come playoff time, so there is still a chance the Kings acquire a more veteran presence similar to Willie Mitchell, should he be unable to join the team anytime soon.
Due to a number of factors, such as anything less than a repeat being a disappointment and tons of cap space both this season and next, the Kings are in the running for a number of the higher priced players available. The key targets to alleviate their need for a top six winger would be Jarome Iginla, Ryane Clowe, Marian Gaborik, Ales Hemsky, and Drew Stafford. Iginla would place highest on the list for obvious reasons, but the asking price may be too high for Dean Lombardi’s liking. Same with Clowe, as the Sharks would prefer to avoid trading him within their division. That leaves three players with a year or two beyond this season remaining on their contract. Stafford would probably be the easiest to acquire as the Sabres would love to shed his salary, while Hemsky, despite the rumours, is unlikely to be moved. Finally you have Gaborik, a dynamic player that seems to have fallen out of favour in New York. He would be an expensive addition, but the Kings can afford him both this year and next due to the expiring contracts of Penner and Scuderi.
As for who the Kings would target if they do feel the need for a defenseman, that would be Robyn Regehr without a doubt. He’s by far the most Mitchell-like rental defender on the market. If for some reason the price for Regehr gets too high, they may also consider Jordan Leopold, but other than those two I suspect they would just stick with what they have.
Fearless Prediction: Iginla lands in Los Angeles, but no movement on defense. Kings finish 4th in the West.
Looking at the standings as of today you wouldn’t expect Carolina to be included in a discussion of teams hoping to make a long, productive playoff run. However, they made a big splash during the summer by bringing in Eric Staal’s brother Jordan via trade and signing often criticized winger Alexander Semin out of free agency. Both moves have proved successful as Jordan is producing at a better pace than his career average, while Alex has been a perfect fit on the top line with Eric. Nonetheless, these additions have not translated into better results in the win/loss column due in large part to injuries throughout the lineup.
One of the injury issues should be resolved soon, as both Tuomo Ruutu and Chad LaRose returned to the lineup last night. Ruutu may take a few games to get back into the swing of things, but eventually this should result in a more dependable and balanced lineup beneath the amazing top line of Tlusty-Staal-Semin.
On defense they’ve dealt with numerous injuries throughout the season, having used eleven different guys back there to varying degrees of success. However, arguably their top defender, Justin Faulk, is out until possibly the final week of the season with a sprained MCL. They could really use another defenseman capable of handling 20+ minutes of ice time per game in his absence.
Finally, in goal they’re currently faced with injuries to both Cam Ward and Dan Ellis. Ward hasn’t been great this season, but was finally putting it all together during his last five games prior to the injury that has sidelined him until mid-April at the earliest. Ellis on the other hand has displayed no amount of consistency this season, alternating between good and bad starts on a regular basis. Current starter Justin Peters hasn’t been any better, having displayed flashes of great play at times, but mostly poor to average goaltending.
Due to the inherent weakness of the Southeast, the Hurricanes are only 6 points back of division leading Winnipeg Jets and 3 points out of 8th in the Eastern Conference. That provides them with a decent chance of making the playoffs and once you’re in anything can happen, just look at Los Angeles last year. However, Carolina does have a relatively difficult schedule to finish the season with, so rather than just hope they can scrape in with what they have, they should consider the high risk, high reward approach, improving the team now to make the task easier and in turn improve the overall chance of success once the playoffs begin.
Step one is to acquire a goaltender that can get them over this hump while Ward is on the mend. There are plenty of options available, though I would suggest they acquire a veteran presence that could also prove beneficial in the playoffs if Ward happens to struggle. Rentals that could work include Evgeni Nabokov and Nikolai Khabibulin, however, the best option looks to be Jean-Sebastien Giguere. He has two years remaining on his contract, however it looks like he’s fallen out of favour in Colorado and the Hurricanes will need a backup for next season as well with Ellis hitting free agency. Giguere hasn’t been great this year, but has a proven track record of being clutch in the playoffs.
Step two is to acquire a top four defenseman that can fill in for Faulk and also contribute when he returns. Again, plenty of options here as well and the Hurricanes have the cap space to target just about anyone, but would probably do best to target simply a rental in this case. Mark Streit or Lubomir Visnovsky would be excellent additions, also being able to contribute on the power play, but may be too costly for the Hurricanes, who likely won’t want to give up any of their better prospects. Jordan Leopold, Ryan Whitney, and Ryan O’Byrne should be easier to acquire, but the longer they wait on making a move the more likely there is to be a rise in their asking prices.
Fearless Prediction: End up with Khabibulin instead of Giguere, mainly because they also take Whitney in a package deal. Squeak in at 8th in the East.