Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Conference Position: 9th
Pending Free Agents: 10 (5 unrestricted, 5 restricted)
Cap Space: $3.748 million
The Kings make my list of teams to watch for several reasons. The first of which is that this team was predicted to be the biggest challenger to the San Jose Sharks for the Pacific Division title this season, something that doesn't look like it's going to happen for either team.
Instead the Kings currently find themselves as the only Pacific Division team sitting outside the playoffs in 9th place, but with two games in hand on the Calgary Flames who are sit in 8th place with a 1 point lead over the Kings. This comes just a single season after the Kings, riding the back of a career year from goaltender Jonathan Quick and the Norris-nominated talents of then-sophomore defenseman Drew Doughty to a 6th place finish and the team's first playoff appearance since 2002.
That was the product of a long and in many ways, painfully, slow rebuild put together by Dean Lombardi and the Kings scouting staff, but much to the regret of Kings fans, it ended with a 6-game exit to the Vancouver Canucks. This year hasn't been quite the same. They haven't gotten the performances from Doughty, Handzus, or Jon Quick that they've needed and come to rely on night after night. Marco Sturm, a mid-season acquisition, hasn't cut it as an offensive boost, struggling with injuries. Wayne Simmonds, despite showing so much progress and potential last year, hasn't been filling in his role this season, and Ryan Smyth, who had a great comeback year last year, also hasn't put up the same numbers that he did last season.
And so now just one year after they sent a message to the NHL that they're a force to be taken seriously again, they're once again approaching a defining summer that could either keep them alive for a couple years or ruin them for another decade.
The other big reason the Kings are on this list is because of the magnitude of free agent talent that they will be boasting this summer.
Michael Handzus, the veteran Slovak-native forward, has only 20 points so far this season, a number far below what is expected from a forward receiving a cap hit of $4 million. For that reason I would expect to see the Kings look to move him before the trade deadline. He isn't filling his role and is clogging up a good portion of the Kings salary cap situation, which with 9 other free agents still in the lineup after this season, is something the Kings will need.
The other big name that's free is the aforementioned Drew Doughty, whose entry level contract expires this summer. The 21-year-old defenseman should be expecting a massive pay raise this coming summer, and he can expect it from Los Angeles, as his $3.475 million cap hit is one that will likely discourage most other teams from tendering him an offer sheet purely because of the compensation required to pull him away. But still, with such big names in need of resigning and the Kings fighting tooth-and-nail for a playoff spot this year, I would expect to see Los Angeles be quite busy at the Trade Deadline.