The Ryan Smyth Saga – Dean Lombardi HATES Drama…
…In the same way Snooki or J-Wow hates drama. I’m sure they have said that at some point, but honestly, I wouldn’t know.
The summer isn’t even a week old, in hockey chronology, and it is already shaping up to be the most dramatic one in- OK well a dramatic one.
Yesterday, the Godfather of hockey reporting, Bob McKenzie claimed that Ryan Smyth “indicated to the Kings that his preference would be to play next season in Edmonton if a trade can be worked out.” Many are saying that he has requested a trade, but I don’t think this is exactly how this should be interpreted.
This entire thing could be Lombardi’s doing. Either way, the two of them had a discussion about it, and it’s possible that Lombardi floated the idea of buying him out to free up that $6.25 million (against the cap), to which Smyth said he would rather go back to Edmonton than for that to happen. Does this make sense? No. Lombardi likes Smyth, and he is currently the only player on the roster who can be counted on to play top 6 left wing minutes. And as far as we all knew, Smyth liked Los Angeles.
Of course Smyth denied it. That was not supposed to be public information, and that getting out really does Smyth no good. It’s harmful to his reputation and may cause problems in the LA locker room should he be here for another year, which is probably the most likely scenario. It is already becoming a problem to the fans, whether he did or didn’t say it.
Helene Elliot confirmed McKenzie’s report and pointed out another interesting angle: “Lombardi is also negotiating with [Don] Meehan (Smyth’s agent) on a new contract for franchise defenseman Drew Doughty, who can become a restricted free agent July 1. Lombardi visited Meehan’s Toronto office twice and was blistered both times.”
Quisp points out exactly what this connection means: re: the source of the Smyth comment leak: “I don’t know whether I think Smyth did tell his agent to inquire [about a trade] but craftily denied doing it himself, or (I’m leaning this way:) that Team Lombardi is the source and is telling Helene that it’s Smyth’s agent doing the dirty work because (1) people will believe that and (2) it paints Meehan as The Bad Guy, which helps Lombardi on the Smyth front AND the Doughty front. What worries me about that is what I just described is essentially a P.R. campaign waged in the press…and there wouldn’t be any need for such a campaign if the Doughty contract was imminent.” That is some scary shit. There is more good stuff about it on JFTC as always.
The other conspiracy theory this leads to is that Lombardi is actively trying to free up cap space for this summer. Most are speculating that this means the Kings are going to go after Brad Richards. This is only because he is the
only most desirable UFA this summer:
- Teemu? sure, but no one would give him more than a year and there is no way Anaheim wouldn’t have him back if he wants to keep playing.
- Alex Tanguay? Decent player, but not a game changer.
- Jussi Jokinen? Intriguing, but not exciting.
- Eric Cole? Perhaps the only NHL player more injury prone than Justin Williams.
- Brooks Laich? I can’t think of a reason Washington wouldn’t re-sign the versatile centerman.
- Radim Vrbata? Lombardi should sign him strictly based on his affinity for lighting the lamp at Staples. (Ed. note: dammit, that was 09-10)
- Andrew Burnette? If you thought the announcement of Ponikarovsky was anti-climatic…
- Michael Ryder? With his play in the Stanley Cup Finals, he is due for a renewal if not a raise in Boston.
- Tim Connoly? Remember the Saturday Night Live character ‘Massive Head Wound Harry‘?
- Simon Gagne? Wait. I should have- nevermind. He wouldn’t waive his no-trade to come here last season, no reason to think he would this year.
So as you can see, this list just makes Brad Richards look that much more appealing, and I still don’t see it. Don’t get me wrong, Richards is a terrific player, and I’d love to see him in a Kings uniform. But the consensus seems to be that Richards will want a long term contract, and with the concussion he just sustained, this is a somewhat disturbing proposition.
Injury aside, the Kings needs for a center are short-term at worst. The Kings two most promising prospects are both centers: Brayden Schenn and Andrei Loktionov. Both have had their NHL cup of coffee, so to speak, and neither have stuck, but this should not discount optimism. Both have excelled at every level they’ve competed at and show nothing but promise. The only question is, are they ready to do it at the NHL level?
With Loktionov- it appears as though it should be this season. The 21 year old struggled early on playing on that elusive first line left winger position, but mostly because he is a natural center. After he was shifted back to his preferred position, his play elevated after an apparent confidence boost. He started to show just what he can provide at the position, especially when the Kings lack a 2nd playmaking center. Another year older and hopefully stronger, Loktionov should be ready for regular NHL action, the only question perhaps is can he be counted on to play regular 2nd line minutes?
As far as Schenn- it’s a bit more uncertain. Schenn turns 20 in August and has only played a handful of games professionally- at the NHL or AHL level. The only point to be made is that even if Schenn is ready to compete at the NHL level, the club will be cautious with counting on his ability too soon. If he will be better served in the long term playing a year in Manchester, then that’s where he will be, regardless of if he can contribute to the Los Angeles Kings.
Thus, in 2 years, the Kings will boast a roster of three talented young centers (Kopitar will be still only be 26). Do they really need a 4th? Sure, one of them can be converted to the wing, but as we saw with Loktionov this season, that is not ideal.
Allow me to offer an alternative. Consider Zach Parise. If he goes to arbitration (which they have filed for but can still agree to a contract before the hearing, thus nullifying the necessity) he will then be on a one year contract, after which he is a UFA. That doesn’t mean they again can’t sign him long term after that, but arbitration typically leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, and Parise has already expressed that going to arbitration would not be ideal. This doesn’t even take into account the New Jersey salary cap situation, created in part by the Kovalchuk contract, which many have speculated could be a factor as well. So then it could be possible that the Devils are faced with trading Parise at some point. If so, what would they want? A goaltender for the future, defensive prospects, maybe a pick or two. Sounds like some assets the Kings have to me.
I acknowledge that this is a pipe dream, but it is the type of thing that is possible with that cap space other than just free agency. The point is, freeing up cap space doesn’t just allow Lombardi to sign a free agent; it also allows him more flexibility for trades, especially with teams that are up against the cap, like the Flyers. I’m not saying Jeff Carter for the same reason I’m not saying Brad Richards (center, injuries, long term deal, no thank you).
If Lombardi is somehow able to sign Richards after trading Smyth, here is what the depth chart would look like:
Penner – Kopitar – Williams
Parse – Richards – Brown
Clifford – Stoll – Simmonds
Richardson – Lewis/Loktionov/Schenn – Westgarth
Is this lineup markedly better than last year’s? Possibly, but it makes some bold assumptions:
- Neither Loktionov or Schenn will be ready for more than a fourth line role this season.
- Dustin Penner and Scott Parse will be able to play top six minutes.
- Dustin Penner or Scott Parse are the solution to the LW1 problem.
- Assuming Richards will have a long term contract (longer than two years), either Richards, Loktionov, or Schenn will be able to convert to the wing; OR
- Loktionov or Schenn will fit best into a fourth line role until the expiration of the Richards contract.
Richards will sign with either New York or Toronto (with Buffalo and Montreal as dark horses) for over $7 million/year and over 5 years. Lombardi may be in the fold, but he will not offer the amount of years or dollars that others will. He will probably sign one of the other names to a one year deal and they will disappoint greatly. This will hopefully put the Kings in position to go after Parise via trade or as a UFA next summer. Or Lou locks him up long term tomorrow and this whole idea goes to shit.
The point is- Lombardi does not sign players just because they are available. His philosophy is ‘The Right Fit” so much so that it’s a catch phrase. It can be no more literal than ‘fitting’ in terms of filling the positional depth chart, and signing Richards would be trying to fit a, albeit very attractive, square peg into a round hole that has been empty since #20 retired.