A sentence from Rich Hammond leapt out at me this morning.
Toffoli has made big strides. Coaches like his skill, but what they like more is the fact that Toffoli, while still playing junior hockey, has started to approach the game like a pro. His conditioning and all-around game have improved greatly, to the point that the Kings seriously considered the possibility of playing Toffoli in the playoffs. Heading into next season, with the NHL roster presumably returning intact, it will be tough for Toffoli to crack the roster, but it certainly won’t hurt him, at age 20, to spend a year at the AHL level. Of course, like every prospect, Toffoli has his sights set on the NHL
He’s that close to being ready for prime time, and we’re thinking of giving away his roster spot for the next three years?
A lot of people have been asking me why I’m opposed to signing Shane Doan. Is it just that his epic meltdown of bad sportsmanship in this past playoffs is impossible for me to get past? No, it’s not just that, and anyway, I could look past it if I had to, especially since he wouldn’t be the captain or the alternate captain or the alternate-alternate-alternate-sub-alternate-intern on the Kings. Is it that he is an evolution-denier, which in my book makes him mentally-challenged? That would be a problem if he were my spouse, but in a teammate I don’t really care; after all, I had been lobbying for years that the Kings needed to bring in some assholes with high-skill (foregoing the whole “character guys” mandate that has been the staple of the Lombardi Plan), and I’m sure my favorite players have many beliefs I would rather not know about.
No, my problem with signing Shane Down is that he would be taking up a roster spot that I think we need to give to one of our several highly-touted prospects. One of the weirder effects of winning the cup has been, in my opinion, this new belief that the Kings need to go into full “protect the dynasty”/REPEAT-REPEAT! mode, as though — having slowly and methodically built this team through careful and crafty drafting, strategically brilliant trades and pitch-perfect UFA signings, what we now need to do is get as old and veteran as possible and batten down the proverbial hatches.
A critical strategy of Lombardi’s method is that he takes pains to “ladder” his prospects so that a couple of them come due (I’m using the bond-laddering analogy here) every season. This of course keeps things competitive, but primarily what it does is it helps insure that at least a handful of the contracts on the active roster will be affordable ELCs or cheaper second contracts.
This year: Voynov, Clifford, Loktionov, Nolan and King are all on ELCs. Fraser, Lewis, Richardson, Westgarth, Martinez, Drewiske and Bernier are on bargain-basement deals. That’s 12 guys. And every one of those twelve are due for new contracts either immediately or next summer. Wait, maybe Westgarth is 2014. That doesn’t matter though, since I doubt he’ll be on the team by this September, edged out by market forces like the ones we’re talking about now).
With Kopitar, Richards, Carter, Doughty and Quick signed long-term, and Brown soon to follow, who are the kids going to be in three years? Yes, Williams will likely move on in two years. And Penner and Gagne, after next season. I was already at the tipping point when Stoll was re-signed. I thought that was an interesting choice, giving that it all but dooms Andrei Loktionov to a year in the AHL (or worse, KHL), until/unless someone gets injured. Loktionov has one more season of waiver-exemption, but after that, he’s either a King or he’s traded, if he isn’t traded sooner. And I will be extremely upset if that comes to pass.
I would much rather have given C3 to Loktionov and let him spread his wings. (No, the third line is not our defensive-stopper unit, so don’t get me going; the Kopitar and Richards lines get the tough assignments, not the Stoll line.) I have lobbied for a speedy-offensive third line — a la Donnelly-Millen — for awhile. One of those configurations could/should be Gagne-Loktionov-Toffoli, or, after this season, King-Loktionov-Toffoli, or even, down the road Schumacher-Loktionov-Toffoli. Now, with the signing of Stoll, that dream is dead.
Now, add Doan to that. The third line automatically becomes Gagne-Stoll-Doan. Is that a good line in 2012-13. Probably. What about in 2015? No. Because it won’t exist. Because none of those three guys will be on the team in three years. Two of them will probably not even be in the league anymore.
Putting Doan on the third relegates Clifford, King, Nolan, Lewis, Fraser, Richardson and Westgarth (and Loktionov and Toffoli) to the fourth line or press box. Two of those names have to go, right off the bat. I choose Westgarth and one of Clifford, King or Nolan. You could trade Westgarth (or waive) and send Nolan (who has exemption left) back to Manchester. Richardson becomes the Drewiske of forwards and one of Clifford or King is always a healthy scratch. I don’t mind losing Westgarth; he’s been made expendable by Clifford, King and Nolan. But sending Nolan and Loktionov to Manchester seems like a step backward.
And here’s one more thing, kind of a big deal now that I think about it: Stanley Cup hangover.
Going into next season with the roster intact (which, by the way, is some kind of miracle) is a silver lining inside a cloud no-one is talking about yet. The conventional wisdom is that a huge contributing factor to Stanley Cup hangover is the fact that the team has just played 100+ games compared to most teams’ 82, and have had only a few weeks to recover, compared to half a year. Players are banged up. Old players, exponentially so. One way to combat the exhaustion that is bound to have an effect is not simply to jump into 2012-13 as though the first week of the season is already the playoffs and the Kings have to immediately prove to everyone that the 2012 cup was no fluke by going all-out in defending the cup from game one in October. I frankly think it would be an excellent time to get some fresh legs in there.
Although maybe it’ll will work out that way no matter what. Sign Doan, and by January the old timers will be hurt and we’ll be looking at King-Loktionov-Toffoli anyway.
I’d be happier if people would remember that we had Jarret Stoll at C3 for the whole season, and Gagne and Hunter and Moreau for a big chunk of games, and with those guys we very nearly didn’t make the playoffs at all.