On the heels of the Los Angeles Kings’ fourth straight win, the team traded forward Simon Gagne back to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Kings’ victory was a big one, ending rival Anaheim’s 6 game win streak along with rookie goaltender Viktor Fasth’s eight-game win streak, handing him his first career loss. The current positive patch for the team seems to have emboldened management to tweak the lineup. Gagne was picked up over a season ago in order to add offense to the lineup. However, Gagne has seldom been on the ice and even less often on the scoresheet, making him expendable.
While some Kings fans will mourn the departure of Gagne who was nothing but pleasant during his time in Los Angeles, the truth is that the team will not miss his on-ice contributions. With the progression of Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis as offensive contributors, Gagne was rendered obsolete.
A lot has changed since the Kings won the Stanley Cup. Popular thinking was that the Kings would part ways with veteran center Jarret Stoll, making room for Andrei Loktionov to take over as 3rd line center. Loktionov failed to impress and never earned the role he seemed destined for, subsequently being traded to New Jersey for a draft pick. From just a few years ago, highly thought-of prospects Loktionov, Thomas Hickey, and Brayden Schenn have all found new homes. While Hickey will go down as a blunder by the usually solid-drafting Dean Lombardi, Schenn for Mike Richards won’t be second guessed. The jury is still out on the Loktionov move, but with no space on the roster for him, a move was the only option.
It’s possible to argue that some of those guys were mishandled a bit. Were they brought up too early? Did they ever get a fair shot at spot? Were they used in the right way? Maybe. Yet, the spot that Gagne has vacated is perhaps a chance to give another young player an appropriate chance. The Kings are high on Tyler Toffoli and it’s easy to see why. Toffoli managed to avoid the high expectations of a first round pick, being drafted in the second round. After a pair of seasons at the top of the OHL stat-sheet, Toffoli has progressed his game to that of a star in the AHL. With plenty of seasoning under his belt, Toffoli may be looking at his chance to impress at the NHL level. The conditions are such that Toffoli may get some playing time in the NHL, while not having to endure the pressure to immediately produce like Nazem Kadri had to in Toronto.
Meanwhile, the Kings patchwork defense is holding up just fine. Davis Drewiske has been steady. It’s too early to label Keaton Ellerby but so far he has been solid, adding some size and grit and pairing up well with Drew Doughty. The biggest bonus has been the maturation of Jake Muzzin in the past few games. His play has steadily improved and he seems more comfortable to show his offensive flair on the ice. His fake-pass-shot goal against Anaheim showed he has some great offensive skills from the blueline.
There is a long way to go for the Kings and a lot for them to prove as defending champions, and in this lockout shortened season there is little room for error. Yet, for a team with the burden of success on their shoulders and down three starting defensemen, the Kings are weathering the storm quite well.