It’s Been Said Before, But The LA Kings Don’t Need an Enforcer
Kevin Westgarth has a very specific role as a forward for the Los Angeles Kings.
He’s the security from goons for the skill players that need protection, like, um, well I’m not even sure who. No one on the roster is undersized besides Stoll, who never gets into altercations and Lewis, who is a fourth liner. The marquee players like Kopitar (6’3″ 225 lbs.), Richards (5’11” 199 lbs.), and Penner (6’4″ 242lbs.), do not need hired help to keep them feeling safe. Kopitar got hurt last season because of shoddy ice in Los Angeles. Simon Gagne and Justin Williams have had their history of injuries, but no enforcers can protect against clean body checks.
The Kings already have players like Kyle Clifford (6’2″ 208lbs.) who is both a fighter and and an offensively capable player, and the newly added senior version in Ethan Moreau (6’3″ 223 lbs.). Not to mention Dustin Brown (6′ 204 lbs.), known for being one of the NHL’s toughest players, and Matt Greene (6’3″ 232 lbs.), a responsible stay at home defenseman who can also drop the mitts and protect the area in front of Jonathan Quick.
The Kings have some tough decisions to make coming up. On a 23 man roster, the following are guaranteed:
- Doughty (knock)
That is assuming Westgarth, Drewiskie, Parse, and Loktionov are not guaranteed spots, even though they were all on the Kings roster last season. By my count, that’s 23. Then there’s the matter of Colin Fraser, the tangible return from the Ryan Smyth trade. He’s technically on the roster unless the league decides to send him back to Edmonton, or put him down or something.
Lest we not forget Trent Hunter, given a pro tryout with the team this preseason. He has been impressing coaches with his work ethic and impressing fans with his body checking and composure in the offensive zone. He can clearly help an NHL team and the Kings are in a position to sign him on the cheap.
I won’t even discuss the matter of Viatcheslav Voynov who seems to be filling the role of speedy, power-play capable blue-liner nicely, and Thomas Hickey, who the Kings need to finally decide what to do with.
Sticking to the forwards, there is a logjam on the roster for players who can provide concrete benefits to the team. Loktionov has, especially recently, displayed his impressive skillset that has earned praise throughout his (non-NHL) career. While playing with the team last season, he even saw time on the first power play unit and never looked out of place.
What then, should the Kings’ front office do? A seventh defenseman will definitely make the squad, if not an eighth. Lombardi would have us believe that Parse is the second coming of Alexander Mogilny, so it’s unlikely that he’s going anywhere, especially since he has zero trade value.
That said, there’s only room for two (or one) of Loktionov, Westgarth, and Hunter. This bottleneck led to the inevitable cuts of such highly touted players as Tyler Toffoli and Brandon Kozun, among others, who were having very strong camps. Toffoli actually scored the game tying goal in Phoenix in addition to an assist, and was reported to have a strong overall game as well.
It’s possible and even likely that Toffoli and Kozun simply are still not NHL ready. That doesn’t change the fact that there is simply not a spot for them even if they were. This is a matter for another day.
The question at hand is, what does management do about the lack of space for Loktionov, Westgarth, and Hunter? If they decide to go with an 8th defenseman, as Murray reportedly is considering, then there is room for only one of them.
I fear, that one would be Kevin Westgarth.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Westgarth. He does what is asked of him very well. He fights, and he doesn’t screw anything up. But when you compare that ability to that of Andrei Loktionov, which one can help the team more?
Last night, Loktionov took a pass, skated in on a breakaway, and deked Anaheim goaltender Jeff Deslauriers out of his under armor. Yes, it’s only preseason. Yes, Deslaurier is probably not an NHL caliber starter. But seeing a player in a Kings jersey make that kind of move without the number ’11’ on the back sent me into a temporary state of confusion that is only reminiscent of the effect of multiple shots of Jagermeister.
So then, I ask Terry Murray, or anyone else who can answer it: what is Kevin Westgarth needed for?
If you answered, “to fight opposing teams enforcers, obviously,” I have a theory about that.
It’s not necessary to buy a gun if there is no threat of getting shot. Likewise, it’s not necessary to reserve a roster spot for a player that is only useful in a fight if no other teams have any. Wouldn’t it be better to use that money for something that can actually enhance one’s life? In the case of a hockey team, wouldn’t it be better to use the roster spot (and salary) on a player that can help put points on the board?
The only possible argument for even considering Kevin Westgarth’s inclusion on the Kings’ roster is the fact that many of the team’s opponents have enforcers that for some reason need a dancing partner. I will disregard the fact that most teams that carry an enforcer don’t even dress them against teams without one.
Let’s examine the Western Conference teams that still carry a true enforcer, with best preseason guestimation in mind:
Brian McGrattan (not under contract, likely will not get one)
David Koci (unsigned)
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Detroit Red Wings:
Zack Stortini (non officially on roster)
San Jose Sharks:
St. Louis Blues:
Of the players in this list, only Parros played more than 50 games. I have left out a few players like Ben Eager, B.J. Crombeen, and Derek Dorsett, whose roles are a bit blurred. They are fighters but are probably technically considered energy players, but mainly because they aren’t in the same fighting class as Westgarth. They are more comparable to Kyle Clifford.
Kyle Clifford. The reason Wayne Simmonds was expendable is also another reason why Kevin Westgarth is expendable. Because of the seven rostered players on this list, Clifford has fought three of them.
But Clifford is more than just a fighter. Yes, he only notched 7 goals and 7 assists in his 76 games as a 19 year old rookie, but he tied for the team lead in goals and points in the six game playoff series against San Jose last May. Kevin Westgarth’s career numbers: 65 games played, 3 assists.
So, not only do most teams no longer dress a heavyweight enforcer, the Kings already have useful players who can ‘protect’ the ever-so delicate players on the roster. If not Clifford then Matt Greene, though he usually doesn’t win fights, he will not back down from any. The important thing is that Greene is also useful in at least one other area.
Do the Kings really want to pay Kevin Westgarth to sit in the press box against teams like Detroit, Vancouver, and San Jose who have no one even remotely close to an enforcer, while Andrei Loktionov is breaking ankles and lighting up goalies in the AHL? They couldn’t use some extra skill against these teams?
I fear this to be our reality yet again in Los Angeles. Even after Westgarth got KO’d last night in a preseason game against Anaheim. Even after Westgarth was chosen over the very capable Oscar Moller in last year’s playoffs. Even after everything that happened this summer.
How about a compromise: send Loktionov down, waive Westgarth, and spend their salaries on ensuring that the ice in Los Angeles doesn’t cause a severe injury to a star player again.