The Los Angeles Kings roster is starting to take shape but still has a few holes that need to be filled.
One of those holes is the lack of grit and toughness in the lineup.
This was exposed in the Kings’ series against the Edmonton Oilers where they were pushed around without much fightback.
The Kings need to add another element to their roster this summer and the rumors are already starting.
The most recent rumor and the one that has Kings fans the most interested — not including the Pierre Luc-Dubois rumor which is a different discussion — is Tom Wilson.
There have been reports that the Kings are kicking tires on Wilson, as the Washington Capitals look to re-tool.
In theory, this trade is great for the Kings. You add a physical top-six forward who can contribute offensively and add some bite to the roster.
But in reality, this trade doesn’t look as good.
This trade would remind me a bit of the Milan Lucic trade in 2015. The Kings would be trading for the idea of Wilson and what he was more than what he actually is.
At his best, Wilson has a massive impact on the Kings and completely changes the team. A peak Wilson has that effect on 32 teams in the NHL.
The issue is, can he be that player again and for how long? Power forwards typically don’t age well because of their physical brand of hockey — see Lucic — and Wilson has dealt with some injuries in the past.
With just one year remaining on his contract, the Kings would be committing significant assets and cap on a big question mark. With Anze Kopitar’s $10 million coming off the books next summer they can afford to keep Wilson.
I don’t doubt he would be good, maybe even great for the Kings next season. But then what?
They’d be banking on a 30-year-old power forward with injury issues to continue his solid play into his 30s. And I don’t think that’s a good gamble.
There’s also the issue of cap.
Wilson makes $5.1 million and would likely want a similar AAV next summer and the Kings don’t have that space. Sure, they could send one of Alex Iafallo or Viktor Arvidsson the other way to make the money work. But I doubt the Capitals will be interested in that.
If they’re open to trading Wilson it won’t be for a middle-six forward who makes $1 million less than Wilson. They’ll want future assets.
You’re then looking at two trades to get Wilson. A cap dump first to make space for him and the actual trade for him. Given the fact that the Kings have just one NHL goalie signed right now, Wilson shouldn’t be a priority.
If the Kings are fully committed to going all in for a cup next season, then yes, Wilson makes a lot of sense. But if they’re still looking toward the future at all, I’d steer clear of Wilson.
Gambling on a power forward with one year remaining on his contract, who will be 30 when he needs to be re-signed is too risky. Even if he is one of the best players in the league at what he does.
If the Kings are hell-bent on adding a big, physical presence in the top six — and I don’t think that’s a bad idea — their number one target should be Arizona Coyotes forward, Lawson Crouse.
Crouse is coming off a career season with 24 goals and 45 points. Which equals Wilson’s best goal tally and is seven points less than Wilson’s best season.
At 25 years old, soon to be 26, Crouse has more runway to work with and is signed for the next three seasons at $4.3 million per year.
Not quite the same physical presence as Wilson, Crouse is still a monster. He finished last season with 194 hits and while he isn’t as frequent a fighter as Wilson, he isn’t afraid to drop the gloves either.
I’ve been suggesting Crouse as a potential trade target for two seasons and I think he makes sense now more than ever.
The Kings need a player like him and he comes with more certainty than other options.
Cap and assets required to get him are still an issue. But I think it would be an easier problem to solve than Wilson. The Coyotes are still looking toward the future but would probably be more likely to take on an Iafallo type.
Something that involved Iafallo to make the cap work and some younger players like Sean Durzi and/or Samuel Fagemo might get that deal done.
Crouse fits into the top six now. He can either jump onto the top line with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe, making Kempe the “smallest” player on that line. Or take Arvidsson’s spot on the second line if Arvidsson stays with Kopitar and Kempe.
A top six of Viktor Arvidsson-Anze Kopitar-Adrian Kempe, Trevor Moore/Kevin Fiala-Phil Danault-Lawson Crouse looks pretty good. Looking ahead, a future line of Lawson Crouse-Quinton Byfield-Gabe Vilardi looks pretty tasty too.
Heck, maybe the Kings can even kill two birds with one stone. Put together a big package that lands them Crouse and Karel Vejmelka, even though I’m less sold on Vejmelka than Crouse.
The Kings can also add grit and toughness in the bottom half of their lineup if players like Crouse and Wilson are too far out of their budget.
The issue with this is that they don’t have much space in their bottom six and would likely take ice time away from a player like Arthur Kaliyev, Quinton Byfield, Rasmus Kupari and Vilardi.
Winnipeg Jets center Adam Lowry is a good option if the Kings take this route. The Jets look to be in re-tool, possibly even rebuild, mode and might be willing to move the 30-year-old center.
He’s a physical menace at 6-foot-5 and bullied the Kings a few times last season. He can also fight with the very best in the league, we’re talking about a guy who more than held his own against Ryan Reaves after all.
He’s more than just an enforcer type too. He’s scored 10 or more goals in each of the last three seasons and finished last year with a career-high 36 points.
He wouldn’t come cheap at $3.25 million over the next three seasons but could anchor the team’s bottom six in that time.
The Boston Bruins have some cap issues this summer and RFA Trent Frederic might be a casualty of that. His qualifying offer is only $1.15 million, but with arbitration rights and a 17-goal season under his belt, I’m sure he signs for more than that.
Fortunately for the Kings, it wouldn’t be for too much more than $1.15 million and a contract they could likely afford. If the Bruins don’t qualify Frederic the Kings could sign him out of free agency.
Or they can trade one of the prospects they don’t have room for to get Frederic’s rights to gain some negotiating power.
You’d also secure a guaranteed fight with Brendan Lemieux whenever the Kings play him.
Another player I’ve suggested multiple times over the last year or so, Yakov Trenin would be a good option.
Trenin’s a big body who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves and can chip in offensively.
His analytics from last season doesn’t look great, but he still brings that physical element and a goalscoring touch.
He’s also a solid penalty killer, an area where the Kings need a lot of help.
Signed through next season at just $1.7 million, Trenin’s likely the cheapest option and someone who can hit double-digit goals and provide an element the Kings are missing.
Solve Other Problems First:
The Kings need to add physicality and grit to their lineup, no question, but they have to fix some other areas first.
Mainly the goaltending situation.
After they figure out who’s partnering Pheonix Copley in net next season, and sign Vilardi, then they should start looking at these options.