Kings general manager Rob Blake said all along that when Jeff Carter returned, it would essentially represent their trade deadline acquisition.
Combine that with the additions of Dion Phaneuf, Nate Thompson and Tobias Rieder in the last two weeks and it’s easy to see why Blake was satisfied not to tinker with his roster any more as Monday’s deadline passed.
“I think we put a plan in place a few months ago,” Blake said. “We wanted to acquire depth on defense. We wanted to make sure we took care of that. We wanted to get a little speed in our lineup up front … You kind of have your game plan in place. Again, that can get thrown out with different phone calls, but we were pretty content knowing what we had coming in to today.”
Carter returned to the lineup Saturday as the Kings also begin to integrate Rieder, a forward who was acquired from Arizona along with goalie Scott Wedgewood for backup goalie Darcy Kuemper. Trevor Lewis is also expected to return from a lower-body injury. In other words, fairly soon the Kings will have the team they envisioned at the beginning of the season.
“I thought we owed it to this group,” Blake said. “Coming in here, we haven’t seen them with Jeff Carter. We haven’t seen [Tanner] Pearson and [Tyler] Toffoli with Jeff Carter [in the past four months]. We haven’t seen Lewis with Jeff Carter in this lineup yet. We’re going to get that here shortly when Trevor comes back. I think it will give us a real sense. I think we’re in a position here to compete for a playoff spot, and that’s going to be up to these players now.”
Blake knows that crunch time is here. The Kings were two points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference on Monday morning, with 20 games left, beginning with a home-and-home set against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Blake said he wasn’t close on any deals. Many of the big names that moved in the last 48 hours, such as Rick Nash and Evander Kane, were acquired with first-round draft picks. Blake said he was open to paying such a price if the right deal came along, but it never materialized.
He stuck to his plan of trying to build depth in the lower levels of the organization. The Kings’ only first-round draft picks since 2009 are Pearson, Adrian Kempe, Derek Forbort and Gabriel Vilardi, who is their prized forward prospect. Vilardi is expected to compete in training camp for a roster spot next season or return to his junior team.
“Vilardi, we think is a very valuable player to us,” Blake said. “I think we understand the value of that first round now.”
The Kings have played a lot of young players extensively this season and now have better depth. Blake said Michael Amadio and Paul LaDue will be with the team the rest of the season.
The lack of a move wasn’t surprising to Drew Doughty, who sensed this was their team before the noon deadline passed.
“When it’s officially over, then guys really can relax and just be happy that they’re staying in this spot because no one wants to leave L.A.,” Doughty said. “That’s just the bottom line. No one wants to get traded out of here. Everyone loves playing here.”