Column: Make a trade or stand pat? Kings must determine how to become a true contender

Kings defenseman Drew Doughty celebrates with goaltender Pheonix Copley after the Kings win.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (8) celebrates with goaltender Pheonix Copley after a victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday at Arena.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)
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The breathlessly overhyped NHL trade rumor market paused briefly this week when the Kings announced they had secured a cornerstone defenseman — but the player in question wasn’t Jakob Chychrun, who’s being held out of Arizona’s lineup for what the Coyotes called trade-related reasons.

Signing 23-year-old Mikey Anderson to an eight-year, $33-million contract wasn’t a splashy move by Kings general manager Rob Blake, but it made sense economically (a $4.125-million salary cap hit) and strategically. Anderson is a strong shutdown defender, fits well with Drew Doughty on the top pair, and is becoming physically assertive. He’s evolving into a potential leader as the Kings move deeper into their post-Stanley Cup era and toward contending again.

Adrian Kempe scored for the third straight game, Viktor Arvidsson had a goal and two assists, and the Kings beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-2.

Feb. 13, 2023

The Kings, who will begin the final third of the regular season Friday at Anaheim against the draft lottery-bound Ducks, still have a ways to go before they can be ranked among front-runners for the Cup. For one, there’s that pesky negative goal differential: They’re the only team currently holding a playoff spot that has given up more goals than they’ve scored, 185-184. That’s a galaxy away from the Ducks’ wholly earned minus-92 differential, but it bothers coach Todd McLellan.


“And it’s something that we’ve talked about and addressed,” McLellan said by phone Thursday. “At the point where we did address it I think we were minus-11, and it’s very rare that a team, one, makes the playoffs, and two, has success with that type of differential. So we were conscious of it and we’ve spoken to it and since then, it’s only been two games but we got that number down a little bit. But it has to improve.”

The Kings’ goaltending remains a question, though bargain-bin find Pheonix Copley saved their season when Cal Petersen imploded and Jonathan Quick faltered. But Copley, recently rewarded with a one-year extension worth $1.5 million, has never played a Stanley Cup playoff game. Quick, in the final year of his contract, has one win in his last 12 appearances. Petersen is playing regularly in the American Hockey League, where Blake said he has been collecting wins and bringing his goals-against average down. Even if Copley (their only NHL goalie under contract for next season) continues to work his magic, Blake might have to dip into the trade waters for a veteran goalie for the short and long-term.

Blake has resisted plunging in for Chychrun, 24, an impact player who will bring Arizona some combination of a prime draft picks and prospects. Blake preferred to wait while forwards Arthur Kaliyev and Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore returned from injuries in order to better judge the team’s overall defensive efforts. If he doesn’t like what he sees — or if the need for a physical presence on defense crops up again — Blake has until noon Pacific time March 3 to reconfigure the mix via trade. He has accumulated enough assets to make a deal that won’t compromise the top-tier roster depth.

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun skates to the puck against the St. Louis Blues.
Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun skates to the puck against the St. Louis Blues in Tempe, Ariz., on Jan. 26.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

“I think we compete with some of the top teams, and they’ve showed that,” Blake said when asked if the current team is a Cup contender. “Our defensive structure, I’d like to see our group with this offensive group for a little while. We’ve got 27 games left here to just get in, so that’s the battle we’re looking at.”

Adding a brawny, left-handed shooting defenseman to balance the surplus of righties wouldn’t hurt, even if it’s not a player of Chychrun’s caliber. But McLellan said he doesn’t see an urgent need to shake things up.


“I think there’s a lot of questions right now because the trade deadline is coming up. We are comfortable with the team that we have. We like the group. We like the chemistry. We like a lot of things about our team,” he said. “Do we have to play better night in and night out? Yes, we do. But we think we have pieces.

“Now, if we can improve the team — if that’s a defenseman, a forward or a goalie or whoever it might be — great. But if we don’t, it’s not an excuse or a reason for us not to push forward and try and be as successful as we can.”

Blake said he has seen more consistency recently, a contrast to the Kings’ maddeningly disjointed performances early in the season. “They play well with structure, and they’ve been up to challenges,” he said.

In the final third of the season McLellan also wants more consistency from the Kings, who outscored the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins 11-2 in winning their first two games after the All-Star break.

Adrian Kempe had his first four-goal game and a natural hat trick, Pheonix Copley recorded a shutout, and the Kings beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-0.

Feb. 11, 2023

“I would like us to play to our identity a little more consistently. It was erratic early in the season. Very erratic, and I think we talked a lot about that,” McLellan said. “Then we started to settle in, and we’re still looking for that consistency, a game that we can count on night after night for 60 minutes. And I think we’re close. I think we can do it. But we’ve got to push a little bit more.”

They have about two weeks to decide if simply pushing harder will get them deep into the playoffs, or if they need Blake to make a move that gets the trade market buzzing again.