Traditionally, the NHL trading game requires one important domino to fall before things really heat up and it happened on Thursday night following a frantic day of negotiations. Thank you Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets. You can both take a bow for getting the ball rolling, the Kings acquiring Jeff Carter and his 11-year, $58-million contract for defenceman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick.
Random thoughts on that possibility, beginning with what may happen next - the very real chance that the Kings could trade Dustin Brown, their team captain and a player previously considered an untouchable by the organization. Anyone who’s had any dealings with Brown will tell you this about him: he’s a polite kid, bordering on shy, and dripping with character. He is a wide body - only six feet tall, but 209 pounds, and can play the power-forward game, which he does, but not consistently enough, at least not this year.
In 2007-08, Brown broke through with 33 goals in what was a career-high 60-point season. In the early stages of a scorched-earth, everything-through-the-draft rebuild, that made the Kings identify him as a core puzzle piece going forward. They signed him to a bargain-basement six-year, $19.05-million following that season, and since then, they’ve seen him largely plateau. The last three years, he’s managed 53, 56 and 57 points - good, but not great numbers, and if he’d had the sort of galvanizing effect on the dressing room that a Jarome Iginla or a Jonathan Toews can have, then that would be enough, probably more than enough.
But Kings’ coach Darryl Sutter, who spent a lot of time meeting with GM Dean Lombardi these past few weeks, made an interesting comment the other day - calling out both Brown and Anze Kopitar, and noting how they seemed “stale” playing together.
Stale is an interesting modifier, a word that isn’t used all that frequently in the NHL, although it probably should be. But stale is what the Kings look like right now, and no matter what your walk of life, generally the only way to remedy staleness is by making important and dramatic changes to your routine. And it looks as if the Kings determined that they need to inject more life and zip into their dressing room, or otherwise, run the risk of missing the playoffs altogether, which would probably cost the organization’s movers and shakers their jobs.
Hence, the gamble to add Carter and the possibility of more moves to come. The Kings may not be a Stanley Cup contender just yet, but they should be better than this, if only because they play so well defensively and goaltender Jonathan Quick is in the midst of another exceptional season, the third in a row in which he’s going to win 35 or more games.
If Brown is in play for the Kings and if Columbus GM Scott Howson follows through on his promise to keep wheeling and dealing (he plans to be “very busy, very active”), it could lead to an interesting final 72 hours before Monday’s deadline comes and goes.
Looking back, sometimes the most interesting part of any trade is the players that weren’t included in the deal. For example, the Kings were able to make the Carter deal without surrendering highly regarded young goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
As with Cory Schneider in Vancouver, Bernier’s name has been out there for some time because the Canucks, Kings and maybe the Nashville Predators are the only teams in the league with an both established starter in goal and an intriguing backup, waiting for his chance to be a No. 1. If the Kings decide not to move Bernier, you’d have to think it is because they fear what Quick may ask for in his next contract negotiations.
For all that ails L.A., goaltending hasn’t been an issue, or at least not until just the last couple of games when Quick looked a little gassed against the Phoenix Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche. But, even so, his GAA is 1.96 and his save percentage .931, exceptional numbers that would have looked good a decade ago in the dead-puck era or in the 1950s.
Bernier got into 25 games for the Kings last year (11-8-3, 2.48 GAA, .913 save percentage), but he won’t come close to that this season. Sutter likes to ride a No. 1 - he did it in Calgary with Miikka Kiprusoff and he’s doing it with Quick now; and the only risk there is burning him out when the games mean the most. As for Columbus, Howson made it clear that he’ll get around to addressing his goaltending in time, but not right now. It’s a smart strategy, knowing that many more goaltending options will present themselves in the summer, when teams aren’t in the playoff races and hanging onto all their available netminding talent, if only as insurance in case of injury. If Howson can stockpile enough assets - draft choices, young players - than he’ll be in a position where he can make a bold and aggressive move to get the goaltender that the Blue Jackets desperately need.