GM Rob Blake has tough decisions to make with ageing Kings team

Los Angeles Kings' Austin Wagner (51) and Michael Amadio (10) skate past as the Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal during first period NHL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday March 26, 2019. (Jason Franson/CP)

EDMONTON — How old are the Los Angeles Kings? Well, they have eight players in their 30’s, and a 29-year-old in Drew Doughty who next season will unwrap his eight-year, $88 million deal.

But, that’s not really the problem. This is: Of those eight 30-year-olds, seven have at least two years remaining on their contracts.

Like any team near the bottom of a 31-team National Hockey League, general manager Rob Blake is looking at his roster and plotting on how he can inject some youth and speed. And he’d better hurry — the Kings were statuesque in an 8-4 loss to Edmonton Tuesday night, outskated by an Oilers team that is at best middle-of-the-pack fast, and buried by dueling hat tricks by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl.

So, as Blake took a stern look at his club Tuesday, we did as well, looking for ways this Kings team can crawl out of the Pacific cellar. Here’s what we found:

Anze Kopitar — Keep him. Six years remaining at $10 million per, and the question here is, are the Kings paying him for something he used to be? Or something he is?

Kopitar leads all Kings not named Doughty in ice time at 22:25 per game, and has 21-35-56 in 75 games this year. He’s averaged 23 goals over the last six seasons, and 68 points. That would put Kopitar outside the Top 50 in NHL scorers this season.

Dion Phaneuf — Move him. If you have an ageing, slower forward, you can hide him on the fourth line. If he’s a defenceman, it’s awfully hard to shelter the player – especially on the road.
What do you do with a 33-year-old defenceman who’s making $5.25 million for the next two years? He’s been a warrior through 1,045 games, but the game is just too fast for Phaneuf now.

Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli — Keep them and hope they come back. At 34, Carter’s prodigious career is winding down. With three years remaining ($5.3 million), he has 31 points this season, and had a career-high 20-game goalless drought.

Toffoli is still young at 26, but had an awful season. He could be a player you attach a bad contract to in a deal, but you might watch Toffoli bounce back somewhere else, which would hurt.

Todd McLellan — Get him if you can. The Kings will likely replace interim head coach Willie Desjardins after the season, and word is McLellan is at the top of their list. McLellan will be careful, however. They never got over the top in San Jose, and Edmonton didn’t pan out. McLellan needs to find success in this next gig. Is Los Angeles the place for him?

Then there’s Ilya Kovalchuk, who the Kings took the rare step of leaving at home on their Western Canadian road trip.

Who leaves a player at home, even when he’s a healthy scratch while they look at younger players? Well, the Kings do, when they feel like they’ve heard enough from the mouth of the worst UFA signing in the summer of 2019.

“After Willie came here, I don’t have a chance,” Kovalchuk told the Los Angeles Times. “I play five, six minutes a game. A few games I play with Kopi. We did well. We score all five games, but then he decided to change and I never play again much. That’s the way he sees the situation. He’s the head coach and he’s responsible for results.”

The truth is, Kovalchuk does not play with pace, or play hard enough to make up for his lack of foot speed. With the playoffs not a possibility, Desjardins isn’t giving Kovalchuk the chance to mail it in even more than he has been.

“It’s another challenge for me,” Kovalchuk said. “I’m even more motivated now because [this has happened] … like, it’s not fair to me but I’m not going to cry in the pillow. The sun’s up and the kids are in school and they’re happy and that’s most important thing. I will find a way to go through this, for sure.”

The Kings are stuck with Kovalchuk for two more years at $6.25 million.

Would they take Milan Lucic and a defensive prospect like Ethan Bear for Kovalchuk from Edmonton?

We’re sure that Blake’s picking up his phone on pretty much any offer these days.

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