Thursday, March 1, 2012

Why the Kings Aren't Scoring & Why It's Dean Lombardi's Fault

The Los Angeles Kings' scoring problems go beyond their top-six forwards.

The top-six has been maligned all season, and rightly so. However, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Mike Richards are scoring at a rate roughly similar to their pace last year.

2010-11 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

2011-12 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

Dustin Brown

.34 goals per game (28 goals)

.28 (23)

Anze Kopitar

.33 (27)

.28 (23)

Mike Richards

.28 (23)

.25 (21)

Ryan Smyth was part of LA's top-six last season and Richards has matched Smyth's performance, up to the annual midseason injury and slump.

2010-11 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

Ryan Smyth

.28 (23)

Justin Williams has struggled to score, though he's still providing much-needed offensive creativity, and Simon Gagne being hurt, well, hurts because the Kings never adequately replaced him. Of course, Dustin Penner has driven off the cliff.

2010-11 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

2011-12 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

Simon Gagne

.27 (22)

.22 (18)

Justin Williams

.30 (25)

.20 (16)

Dustin Penner

.28 (23)

.11 (9)

The Kings are hoping that Jeff Carter can make up for both the loss of Gagne and the Penner Triangle, which is a tall task, but quite possible, given Carter's track record.

2007-08 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

2008-09 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

2009-10 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

2010-11 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

2011-12 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

Jeff Carter

.35 (29)

.56 (46)

.45 (37)

.45 (37)

.36 (30)

So full credit must be given to Kings GM Dean Lombardi for finally patching up the top-six.

Scoring from the defense is also roughly the same as last season, even swapping Jack Johnson out for Slava Voynov.

2010-11 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

2011-12 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

Jack Johnson

.06 (5)

.13 (11)

Drew Doughty

.14 (11)

.12 (10)

Slava Voynov


.11 (9)

Willie Mitchell

.09 (7)

.07 (6)

Alec Martinez

.08 (7)

.06 (5)

Matt Greene

.03 (2)

.05 (4)

Rob Scuderi

.02 (2)

.02 (2)

So what wasn't fixed at the Trade Deadline, during the season, or during the off-season?1

The third line.

These are the Kings who have spent time there this season.

2010-11 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

2011-12 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

Andrei Loktionov

Only played 19 games

.08 (7)

Jarret Stoll

.24 (20)

.08 (7)

Kyle Clifford

.09 (7)

.06 (5)

Brad Richardson

.10 (8)

.06 (5)

Trent Hunter

Not with Kings

.05 (4)

Trevor Lewis

.04 (3)

.04 (3)

Ethan Moreau

Not with Kings

.04 (3)

Colin Fraser

Not with Kings

.02 (2)

And these were the third-line players from last season who left.

2010-11 Goals Per Game Average (82-game Projection)

Wayne Simmonds

.18 (15)

Michael Handzus

.15 (12)

Alexei Ponikarovsky

.08 (7)

Nobody has accounted for Handzus and Simmonds's lost production. Stoll figured to at least match (assuming some drop-off because of less even strength and power play time) either player's goal-scoring pace , but he's currently scoring at a fourth-line level.

The problem isn't that Lombardi let Handzus or Simmonds go.

Handzus had clearly lost a step last season, and despite early returns, I will still staunchly defend trading Simmonds and Brayden Schenn for Richards. Handzus has played to mixed reviews in San Jose, and while Simmonds has flourished in Philadelphia, it's hard to see him scoring quite as much in LA's defense-first system.

The problem is Dean Lombardi didn't replace them adequately.

While Stoll's offensive collapse couldn't be foreseen, Hunter and Moreau were longshots from the beginning based on their ages and injury histories. And no one from the remaining pool of Loktionov, Lewis, Clifford, Richardson, Westgarth, or Fraser had ever provided consistent secondary scoring. To boot, Oscar Moller and Bud Holloway went to Sweden2 over the summer, and after Loktionov, they would've been the first players called up to try to provide secondary scoring.

Now this may sound like much ado about nothing. It's the THIRD and FOURTH lines. It's the BOTTOM-six. But the difference between bottom-six production last year and this year, at this rate, will be about 20 goals.3

Do you think Jonathan Quick could use 20 more goals this season?

Dean should have known.

He made a bet on cast-offs like Moreau and Hunter, and unproven players like Clifford and Lewis, that looked bad at the beginning of the season.

Looking forward, the Kings are hoping that Dwight King and Jordan Nolan (Moller and Holloway almost certainly would've beat them to the big club) can sustain their early productivity. The Kings have also set Stoll up with Penner for the last three games, and both have played well. However, trusting Dustin Penner to be consistent is like giving these guys your Ferrari.

The Kings have the same problem that was predicted in October, a problem exacerbated by slightly less than expected scoring from the "big" guns: The third line sucks.4 The lack of scoring from there isn't from a lack of confidence, it's from a lack of talent.

JC might provide the scoring boost to the top-six necessary to drag the Kings into the playoffs, but without a threatening third line, Los Angeles is looking at another first-round bounce anyway.

And we're looking at life, AD (After Dean).

1 Remember that the Kings were already the 25th-ranked scoring team last year. So we're just talking about matching just THAT level to make the playoffs.

I realize the high prices that elite third-liners like Paul Gaustad commanded at the deadline do make a GM pause, but waiting until the Trade Deadline to address this issue was a mistake from the start. Finding a third-line scorer or two who can chip in 10 goals shouldn't be this hard when you have a whole season and off-season to do it.

2 Is it conceivable that Moller and Holloway might have put up 20 or so goals between them over a full season? Moller has scored 12 goals in 87 NHL games; Holloway is leading his team in Sweden with 28 goals, as he led Manchester in goals last year too. Could those 20 or so goals in the lineup over waiver fodder like Hunter and Moreau be the difference between making or missing the playoffs? Yup. Moller and Holloway’s departures may end up being the overlooked domino that brought down Lombardi’s regime.

3 Kings Bottom-Six Forwards (All Forwards Except Top-Six)

2010-11 Goals (82-game average)...54 Goals (.66 Goals Per Game Average)

2011-12 Projected Goals (82-game average)....36 Goals (.44 Goals Per Game Average)

4 If the third line is not creating consistent offensive pressure on the other team, doesn't it stand to reason that opposing teams can key in more on the top-six?

I wouldn’t have waited until the Trade Deadline to address the problem because of the higher prices.

However, if I had waited because I thought that Stoll or Hunter might turn it around, I would’ve anted up for a solid grinder like Daniel Winnik or gambled on Mike Knuble or Brian Rolston or Dominic Moore. Steve Downie probably would’ve been a pipe dream. I would’ve looked at Ponikarovsky again; by the end of last season, he had really started to play a decent grind game. I would’ve overpaid for Travis Moen, but I don’t know if he was available. Why didn’t LA pick up Anthony Stewart off waivers a month ago?

It might cost a solid asset like Loktionov or Toffoli or a second-rounder, but unless I was very sure that the asset was going to develop into a top player, it would be worth it because the team is trying to win now. Granted, none of the aforementioned players (except Downie) have a lot of goals this year, but they have track records. If you have a need and the market is weak, but you know that your guys can’t cut it, you take a chance.

A couple years ago, Lombardi fortified his bottom-six at the Deadline. He threw away a solid asset in Teddy Purcell to get middling play by Jeff Halpern and literally gave up nothing (a conditional 7th round pick—the condition? The Kings winning the Stanley Cup) for terrific play by Fredrik Modin. Even though Purcell became a solid scorer (I’m not sure he would’ve ever blossomed in LA’s conservative system of play), I applauded and still applaud the intent of those deals, and Modin’s mini-renaissance (couldn’t you have seen Knuble come back to life for the Kings?) exemplified the upside of the gamble.


Daniel Jen said...

Well, first of all, recall that the whole point for all this was to IMPROVE our top-line scoring, not sustain it with a slight dropoff. Thus, I wouldn't say that things are going as planned with the big guns.

In a capped world, I will maintain that teams are bound to have holes unless they get lucky and some surprise players break out for cheap. Last year our "bench" players did the job, and everyone was saying we needed more top six forwards. So I don't think we should beat up DL too much for what he did.

In my opinion, DL has done a great job overall. He screwed up with Cloutier and Penner, but ppl make mistakes. I think we need to give our guys a year or so to get comfy. Richards and Carter are still crying over their move. I wish Gagne was healthy. But I still believe in this team. At least for another year. Personally, I'd rather bitch about our third line than our first.

lisa said...

Good job, Sheng, I like how you break down the numbers and did comparison there, it really changed how we look at the team through our impressions.
I think we need to find that chemistry between players and not to rely on big names, especially injured big name players, to me, players who come back from injuries are never the same, and they prone to get injure over and over again.
I am not sure who can save the Kings, I feel the hunger is not there, there is no pride, and funny they put that as their slogan, I feel everyone just try to do a not to bad job and go home, they say they want to win, but they really have no idea what it takes to win.
I am so tired of year after year to wait for "next year", I almost want to fire everybody.


Sheng Peng said...

@ Daniel Jen
It's true that with a salary cap, teams will have holes. But every Stanley Cup-winning team since the lockout has had a strong third-line. It's a must.

These third lines come together with a combination of skill and luck on the part of the GM, and Lombardi has had neither in those areas. Granted, asking him to acquire a Stanley Cup-capable third line is a tall order, but I'd guess that we have the least-productive third line in the entire league, which I'd say is certainly at his feet.

I'm not necessarily advocating his firing, I'll have to think on that. But I do think that his lack of luck and skill with re-building the third line may cause him to get canned this off-season. I think it's good he improved our top-six at the expense of our bottom-six before--but then, he didn't put enough back into the bottom-six. A decent third line gets us into the playoffs and a good third line makes us legitimate contenders.

Except for a couple obvious mistakes, such as what I wrote about, I think he's done a pretty good job. But management isn't wrong if they have higher expectations for the money they're spending now.

I agree that this team is failing under deservedly higher expectations, which says something about their mental fortitude. That's why the Brown trade rumors made some sense--a hard-working, lead by example player who doesn't seem to get his teammates to respond to him doesn't necessarily seem like the right captain for younger stars like Kopitar and Doughty who might need just a little push.

By the way, Marcel Dionne basically agrees with you. Dionne criticizes Anze Kopitar in this article: