In trying to secure a playoff spot in the near future, the Kings looked to the past on the NHL’s trade deadline day. They are hoping 39-year-old forward Jarome Iginla will be rejuvenated in a competitive environment and will again thrive under the gruff guidance of Coach Darryl Sutter, his coach and general manager during the Calgary Flames’ surprising 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Kings acquired Iginla from the 30th-ranked Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday for a conditional pick in the 2018 entry draft, with the final position of the pick likely dependent on his production and/or the Kings’ performance. The Kings announced the move soon after they had traded rugged left wing Dwight King to the Montreal Canadiens for a conditional 2018 fourth-round pick.
Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said he didn’t think he could afford to re-sign King, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and the draft pick he got in return will help replenish the club’s depleted reserve list. “So you’re taking a guy out of your locker room, trying to get some future assets,” Lombardi said during a conference call with reporters. “And what’s the best way to make sure your team maybe even has a better chance to win without compromising what you want to do going forward?”
For Lombardi — who made a major pre-deadline day splash last Sunday when he acquired goaltender Ben Bishop from Tampa Bay — Iginla was the answer to that question.
King’s eight-goal output was disappointing, though he was tied for fifth among the goal-starved Kings. Iginla also has only eight goals (and 18 points), but he scored four of those goals and recorded eight of those points on the power play, a category in which the Kings ranked 23rd before Wednesday’s games.
Twenty seasons into a Hall of Fame career, Iginla has 619 goals and 1,291 points in 1,535 games. He said he looked forward to reuniting with Sutter, and that the years since that Cup journey fell away. “It feels like it wasn’t that long ago that I was playing for him. Time flies and I think that will help it be a smoother transition,” Iginla said during a conference call while he awaited a flight from Ottawa to Los Angeles.
Iginla said he had heard many rumors about where he might land and was happy that the Kings came to the forefront Wednesday morning. “I think they’re a very competitive bunch. I think they play really hard,” he said. “They have a knack for, once they get down into the nitty-gritty, the big games, they find ways to be successful. They’re very hard group to play against so I hope to contribute to that. They’re a very competitive group, very determined, and I enjoy competing, too, and battling and being determined.”
The Kings, who are a point behind St. Louis for the second West wild-card berth, need Iginla’s determination to turn into production. He said he believes he has plenty left despite his unimpressive numbers while averaging a career-low 14 minutes and 45 seconds’ ice time in 61 games.
“It’s been a hard year production-wise, and team-wise. I’m hoping and I believe that I can get better,” said Iginla, whose contract expires after this season. “As far as what’s left in the tank, I judge a lot of this by, you know, some games, you don’t feel like you have the energy or the spark. I still have the desire. My energy doesn’t really feel like it’s the issue.
“I’ve had a couple of really cold stretches and stuff so confidence-wise you’re probably, I’m probably, battling or was battling the puck a little more than when it’s going well, and not in a groove. But I think those are things that can change.”
Lombardi went this route in 2016, when he acquired little-used veteran Vincent Lecavalier from Philadelphia and was rewarded when Lecavalier played well down the stretch. Lombardi is banking on Iginla flourishing alongside Anze Kopitar or Jeff Carter. “The ability to know when to get open and how to get there and having a release is something we really haven’t had. And certainly not that dimension to put with Kopitar,” Lombardi said.
Iginla will become the first King to wear number 88, but it won’t be a first for him. He was an Edmonton Oilers fan as a kid and was so upset when they traded Wayne Gretzky to the Kings in 1988 that he bought a Kings jersey and put his name and the number 88 on the back. Another blast from the past, but it’s not the number the Kings will care about most.
KINGS NEXT UP
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: 790.
Update: Toronto (28-21-13) comes into its only Staples Center appearance this season one point ahead of the New York Islanders and resurgent Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference wild-card standings. But Toronto, which has made the playoffs once since 2006, has lost three straight and has won only two of its last 10 games in regulation. The Kings (30-27-6) pounded the Leafs, 7-0, in their previous meeting, on Nov. 8, fueled by two goals by Carter.
Times staff writer Kevin Baxter contributed to this report.