Tyler Toffoli didn’t want to talk about his assist.
On this night, a Kings home loss to the Dallas Stars on Jan. 8, Toffoli set up a goal on his first shift with a sharp cross-ice pass. His line generated more quality chances the rest of the night too. The eye test said he had played well.
All Toffoli cared to focus on, however, was the result.
“We lost the game,” he said bluntly when asked about his helper. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
This has been the Kings’ reality all season, their marginal gains largely overshadowed by a disappointing 18-27-5 record. A dismal 4-1 road loss Saturday to the Philadelphia Flyers ensured the Kings will enter their All-Star break in last place in the Western Conference. A little more than a month away from the Feb. 24 trade deadline, they are already one of the NHL’s most obvious sellers.
Toffoli, 27, headlines a group of Kings players who could potentially find themselves in the middle of trade rumors over the next several weeks.
The sharp-shooting right winger is one of the club’s seven impending unrestricted free agents. Forwards Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis and defensemen Ben Hutton, Derek Forbort, Paul LaDue and Joakim Ryan are the others. Toffoli’s legitimate top-six scoring potential and relatively manageable $4.6-million cap hit offer perhaps the best chance of commanding the type of valuable return the Kings will be seeking via a trade.
At times this season, Toffoli has looked like a distressed asset. The one-time 30-goal scorer was healthy scratched in late October, dropped to the fourth line in early December, and recorded only 13 points and a minus-10 rating in his first 30 games.
But over the last month, he has started looking like a hot commodity again. Since Dec. 10, he has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) and a plus-six rating. Up until the third period Saturday — when coach Todd McLellan mixed up his lines in the team’s fourth consecutive defeat — Toffoli had locked down a spot on the team’s top line, even after forward Dustin Brown’s return from pneumonia this month.
“When Dustin went down, we needed to put somebody in that hole,” McLellan said before the Kings’ recent five-game road trip. “In my mind, Toff had worked his way into it.”
General manager Rob Blake could look to move players with multiple years remaining on their contracts too, especially as he targets extra high-round picks for this summer’s draft.
“I don’t think a year from now, or the draft two years away, we’re going to have that ability,” Blake said earlier this season. “But I do think last year’s number of draft picks” — the Kings made four picks in the first two rounds and nine overall — “and this year’s should be very similar.”
That strategy worked a season ago when the team sent defenseman Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a first-round pick (which eventually became Tobias Bjornfot) and two prospects (Carl Grundstrom and Sean Durzi).
On this season’s team, defenseman Alec Martinez (signed through next season on a $4 million annual average value contract) profiles as a potential trade chip, while forward Jeff Carter (signed through 2021-22 on a $5.3 million AAV deal) was asked before Saturday’s game about being a potential target of the Flyers.
“I don’t want to leave L.A.,” Carter told reporters. “I’ll tell you that right now.”
But as the Kings continue their transition to the future, some of their current players might have no choice but to move on. In some cases, the better they play in the coming weeks, the more likely they could find themselves being dealt somewhere else.
Harris reported from Los Angeles.