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Kings Need to Break Out of Funk, But How?

One month ago the Los Angeles Kings were riding high. Now, they’ve down a complete 180.



LOS ANGELES — One month ago the Los Angeles Kings were riding high. They had just finished an undefeated, four-game homestand and looked to have turned the corner. Now, they've done a complete 180.

They've gone 5-6-4 since that homestand and look nothing like the playoff lock fans expected them to be. They have to find a way to break this descent into mediocrity, but how?


I'll address this one first because it's on the minds of every fan. To the point that #FireTodd was trending on Twitter after Tuesday's game. 

I'll start with this, barring another massive loss or two and a player mutiny, it's unlikely Todd McLellan is fired in the immediate future. If Rob Blake makes that decision, I'd be shocked if it were before Christmas. 

McLellan banked a lot of goodwill with his surprise playoff berth last season and there's no indication that the Kings' front office has lost faith in him. Things have gone sour, but not that sour. And while many fans won't want to hear this, the Kings' front office has a good argument for not firing McLellan.

The Kings' five-on-five analytics suggest a more successful team. They're boasting a 53.47% expected goals percentage, 51.87% Corsi for and 53.12% Fenwick for. Despite this, their actual goal percentage has dropped to 48.92%. That points to a five-on-five system that's working, in that the Kings are creating more scoring opportunities and have more puck possession, but the players aren't capitalizing. Players not finishing their chances is a tough thing to blame a coach for.

The other glaring issue you can't put on McLellan is goaltending. According to, the Kings have allowed 9.2 goals against above expected the third-highest total in the league. Short of strapping on pads and jumping in goal himself, there isn't much McLellan can do to improve the goaltending situation. Both Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen have failed the team this season and it's unlikely Pheonix Copley is the savior. 

With the fifth-worst goals differential above expected in the league, -12.23, the front office might feel McLellan isn't the problem. And again, when your team is out chancing, out shooting and out possessing the opposition, they'd have a case. 

That's not to say McLellan deserves no blame, he does. There have been some questionable lineup decisions from him. Most notably his persistence with four righties and two lefties on the blue line. Particularly his persistence with Sean Walker. According to, Walker is posting a -2.5 goals above replacement and -0.4 wins above replacement this season. These are by far the lowest numbers posted by a Kings defenseman. The next lowest goals above replacement and wins above replacement numbers are 1.1 and 0.2, respectively. Walker is the only Kings' defenseman posting negative numbers in these categories.

There have been a few odd decisions at forward as well, but none of them have had the negative impact the decisions on defense have had. 

The biggest concern and best argument for moving on from McLellan comes off the back of Tuesday's game. The Kings looked like a team that gave up after going down 3-0. They accepted defeat before the game had finished. And that is indicative of a coaching problem. That also wasn't the first time the Kings have looked lost and dejected in a game. 

There's also the argument that something needs to change, and you can't trade 23 players, so a coaching change is your best option. That's a fair argument, but I don't think the Kings are at that point yet. Or at the very least, the people whose opinions really matter don't think that. 

Making a Trade:

This is the short-term route I imagine Blake and the front office explore to get this team going again. As's Jimmy Murphy reported Tuesday night, senior adviser Marc Bergevin was in attendance at TD Garden to watch the Boston Bruins take on the New York Islanders. While this could be a case of scouts scouting, you don't often send a senior adviser to a game for no reason. So, a trade might be closer than people think.

Who should the Kings trade for? I discussed this recently. Someone with size, preferably a left-shot defenseman would be the ideal candidate. And of course, bringing in a goalie would be great. That will be a difficult task with $10.5 million tied up in Quick and Petersen through this season though. 

While I wouldn't read much into Bergevin's attendance in the Bruins game, there are some interesting options. There aren't many players from the Islanders I could see the Kings targeting. But there are a few names in Boston. Derek Forbort, who was originally drafted in the first round by LA, would fit the mold of big, physical left-shot defensemen the Kings want. And is currently having one of the best seasons of his career. It would take a decent haul to bring in Forbort, who's making $3 million through next season. But the Kings have a deep enough prospect pool to make something happen. 

The other interesting option from Boston would be goalie Jeremy Swayman. After splitting starts last season, he's had his net taken by Linus Ullmark, who's having a remarkable season. Swayman would be the ideal pickup for the Kings. A cost-controlled young goalie with NHL experience. Whether the Bruins would want to trade him is another conversation. However, with Ullmark's ascension and contract that runs through the 2024-25 season, a deal isn't out of the question. 

Bergevin's visit may mean nothing and the Kings have no interest in the above players, but that's the profile the Kings should be targeting if they want to explore trades. 

Give the Keys to the Kids:

This isn't an option the LA Kings take right now, but it's still on the table if things don't improve soon. If things continue to deteriorate, playing Drew Doughty 26 minutes a night and Anze Kopitar 20 doesn't make sense. That would be the time to hand the keys over to the prospect pool you've built over the last four years. 

Call Quinton Byfield up and give him top-six minutes, keep Arthur Kaliyev in the top-six and move Gabe Vilardi back into the top-six. On defense, get Jordan Spence and Brandt Clarke into the lineup regularly and let the kids learn. 

This is a nuclear option and should only be done if things get really bad, but it's an option, nonetheless. This would likely come with moving on from McLellan and would certainly come with trades. With this option, you'd move more veteran players to clear space for the kids. And anyone over 25 would be expendable. Not a return to full tanking again, but a commitment to the players you drafted to take this team into the future. 

The Clock is Ticking:

Whatever the Kings decide to do, something needs to be done quickly. The Kings have been helped by a relatively weak Pacific Division and still hold onto a playoff spot. But given the team's current trend, and their struggles playing against divisional opponents. Missing the playoffs is a realistic fear if things don't change fast.

My best guess, is the Kings make a trade in the somewhat near future, giving McLellan some time to turn things around with the new addition. If things don't turn around after that, by say, mid-January, then McLellan would be let go. Many fans will view that as a far too passive timeline from Blake, but that's my guess at what he does. Of all of his strengths, aggressive moves aren't one of them. He's been a very conservative general manager thus far, and I don't see that changing yet. 

He could prove me wrong and fire McLellan by the end of this week if there are two more bad losses, but I don't see it. Barring the aforementioned player mutiny, which is unlikely, McLellan's job is relatively safe for the immediate future. Internally his seat is warming but probably isn't as hot as many fans think.

One thing is for sure. The LA Kings need to shake things up, and soon, or this season will get away from them. 

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