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Royal Gamble

There’s no doubt the Jeff Carter trade makes the Los Angeles Kings a better hockey team.  Trading for one of the most prolific goal-scorers over the last four seasons is a sure-fire way to upgrade your roster.  The question is, does the trade help the Kings become a Stanley Cup contender?

Let’s start with the facts.

To describe the Los Angeles offense as anemic is an understatement.  The team has scored a league-low 129 goals this season, which means they’re on pace to finish the campaign with about 170 tallies.  Furthermore, the Kings have potted a mere 84 even strength goals on the year.  That’s a frightening number, summoning awful memories of the dead-puck era.

Meanwhile, the team’s defense is amongst the best in the league.  Los Angeles has given up a mere 128 goals, good for third in the league (97 of those goals have been at even strength).  Jonathan Quick is having a standout season, sporting a paltry 1.92 goals against average and a league-high seven shutouts. 

Generally speaking, it’s hard to think of any good reason to take on a $5.3 million salary cap hit for the next ten years.  Should Carter suffer a severe injury that imperils the future of his career, a la Sidney Crosby, the Kings will look back on this trade with immeasurable regret.  The Rick DiPietro saga should serve as a painful reminder of what can happen to a team that’s stuck with a massive long-term contract for an injury-riddled hockey player. 

With that said, Dean Lombardi isn’t overly concerned about hypothetical situations.  He’s also not particularly worried about how the Carter contract will impact the Kings’ payroll down the line.  In fact, Lombardi’s making a habit of taking on lengthy contracts, having acquired Mike Richards over the summer, despite his nine-year, $5.8 million cap hit. 

The Carter trade reeks of desperation.  Lombardi’s been taking a lot of heat recently, and he’s clearly feeling the pressure to transform the Kings into a legitimate playoff threat this season.  Obviously, he believes Carter is the missing ingredient that will jump-start the team’s struggling offense and help them contend for a championship.

It’s a nice thought, albeit a delusional one.

It’s easy to see why Kings fans are optimistic about the trade.  Despite owning the worst offense in the league, Los Angeles still occupies a playoff position, thanks to their stalwart defensive corps and top-notch goaltending.  The old adage says defense wins championships, and the Kings have one of the best.  In theory, it would seem that all the club needs is some - any - scoring punch to put them over the top. 

Carter seems like a terrific addition to a team that already features established talent like Richards, Kopitar, Williams, and Gagne.  The fact that Carter is a former teammate and close friend of Richards is a nice bonus.  Nevertheless, while the Kings may be a better team today than they were last week, and that has yet to be determined, they are by no means a legitimate threat to win the Stanley Cup. 

While a potent power play never hurts, the best teams in the league excel at even strength.  The reason for this is because most of a hockey game is played with equal manpower on the ice.  Detroit is plus-45 at even strength.  Boston is plus-43.  The Rangers are plus-33.  Vancouver is plus-25.  Los Angeles, on the other hand, is minus-13 at even strength.  It’s safe to assume Jeff Carter’s presence won’t drastically improve that number.

The other glaring problem the Kings face is a lack of depth up front.  The club has an excellent veteran presence on its first two lines, but after that, the cupboard’s bare.  There’s absolutely no scoring threat beyond the top six, and to boot, all the role players in Los Angeles have minuses next to their names.  That’s a double whammy that will kill the Kings come playoff time. 

It’s virtually impossible to blame Dean Lombardi for acquiring Jeff Carter.  The prospect of snagging one of the few gifted offensive players on the market this winter was simply too tempting to pass up.  Los Angeles has lost three 1-0 games over its past 15 contests, and the frustration of the fans has reached a boiling point.  Lombardi appears to be on borrowed time, and the Carter trade is a gamble he probably felt he had to make.

When it comes right down to it, the Kings still have a long way to go to join the elite teams in the league.  Lombardi would likely admit as much himself.  Still, by picking up Carter, the Kings general manager is clearly hoping his club will catch lightning in a bottle, as Tampa Bay did last year, and find some magical way to slip past the titans of the Western Conference en route to the Stanley Cup final. 

Unfortunately, a royal gamble usually results in royal disappointment.  Should Los Angeles not make a deep playoff run, Lombardi will have to justify giving up a promising young defenseman and a first-round draft pick for a skilled, but moody centerman.  He’ll also have to find a way to explain why he chose to saddle his franchise with almost $12 million per year in salary for two players Paul Holmgren was more than happy to turn loose. 

That is, if he’s not canned first.

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Comments

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Here’s to hoping he’s canned and he takes his “defense only” coaches out the door with him.  It’s the system they play that stifles the offense, not a lack of talent.

Posted by sean_o_sean on 02/27/12 at 02:42 PM ET

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.