What was expected to be a relatively quite summer for the Los Angeles Kings of course ended up being one of the most memorable in the team’s history, and it all got started with the bombshell that veteran forward Ryan Smyth dropped on Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi just days before the draft, when the Alberta native requested a trade to go back home to the team that he began his career with, the Edmonton Oilers, citing family reasons behind the trade request. About four months after the trade, Smyth makes his return to LA. Will it be a triumphant one?
It put the Kings in a rough spot, as they had no leverage considering they really had only one team to negotiate with and the request had gone public, and they ended up only acquiring depth forward Colin Fraser and the Oilers’ seventh-round draft pick in the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Of course, this whole mess isn’t even over yet. The original trade had the Kings acquiring a package including forward Gilbert Brule, but after it was determined that he may not be healthy, that trade was voided, and the Oilers then sent the Kings Fraser, who, of course, has yet to play a game for the Kings because the Kings found out after acquiring him that he would require foot surgery. The Kings filed a grievance against the Oilers, and there will be a hearing in Toronto in a couple of weeks to determine how this whole debacle will finally be resolved. The most likely scenario, in my opinion, is that the Oilers will be forced to surrender another draft pick to the Kings. Likely something in the middle rounds.
Needless to say, Dean Lombardi was pretty upset with Steve Tambellini and the Oilers, leading to this gem from Lombardi, “I’d rather invest with Bernie Madoff than deal with the Edmonton Oilers.” Combine this whole mess and the disaster that is Dustin Penner that the Kings acquired from the Oilers back at last season’s trade deadline when they were expecting an impact scorer, well, don’t expect the Kings to be making any more deals with Edmonton any time soon.
Although the Kings and Oilers may not be making any more trades in the near future, they will be playing a few games against each other, as these two Western Conference rivals play their first of four meetings this season on Thursday at Staples Center. Oh, it’s the Oilers. Easy win. Dead last in the NHL for two straight years. The Kings went 4-0-0 against them last year. Yup, might as well chalk up two points already… What? They’re tied for first in the West? Uh-huh… The Edmonton Oilers are off to a shocking, scorching start to their season, as they have a 7-2-2 record (although they’re only 1-1-1 on the road). In fact, they’re two points ahead of the Kings, who sit at 6-3-2. The Oilers have won five straight games, while the Kings have dropped three of their last four, and this is same Edmonton Oilers team that dealt the Washington Capitals their first defeat of the season last week. Yeah, not a team that can be taken so lightly at the moment.
How are the Oilers getting it done? Well, it’s not with offense. In fact, the Oilers have scored less than the Kings, as Los Angeles has 26 goals in 11 games, while Edmonton has 25 goals in 11 games. But as good as LA is at keeping the puck out of their net, Edmonton’s been even better this season, giving up 18 goals compared to the Kings’ 22 goals against. It’s funny, with all of the great young offensive talent on the Oilers, many thought that they would be able to put up some goals this year, but that the question was whether or not they would be able to keep the puck out of their net. So far, it’s been the exact opposite.
It’s not like the Oilers feature a very intimidating defense corps, either, as it features Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Theo Peckham, Tom Gilbert, the surpringly productive Corey Potter, and 2008 Kings first-round pick Colten Teubert, who was of course acquired in the Dustin Penner trade, has been called up and is expected to make his NHL debut at Staples Center against his former organization. I’m really hoping he doesn’t have a good game and make me feel even worse about the Penner trade.
They’re actually missing two of their top defensemen, as Andy Sutton is suspended and Ryan Whitney is injured. So sure, the Oilers deserve some credit for their defensive play, but the reason that Edmonton is giving up 1.46 goals against per game, 0.45 better than the Kings who are second in that category, is because of the outstanding play by 38-year old veteran Russian netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, whose 1.12 GAA and .960 Sv% are both the best in the NHL to this point. In seven games, he is 5-0-2 with a shutout, and has given up just eight goals.
Even if Devan Dubnyk gets the start, he’s been fantastic this year too, with a 1.98 GAA and a .938 Sv% with a 2-2 record and has given up eight goals in four games. So in other words, expect the Kings’ trend of scoring no more than two regulation goals in nine of their first 11 games this season to continue, and if the Kings are going to win on Thursday, they’re likely going have to get it done with terrific defense and goaltending and win a low-scoring, tight-checking affair. No problem, the Kings are used to that.
Even though the Oilers haven’t scored much this season, they’ve certainly got the potential to put up some big numbers on any given night. Up front, Edmonton has each of the last two first-overall picks, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as well as two more very talented young first-round picks in Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, captain Shawn Horcoff has seven points in 11 games, and Ryan Smyth is off to a nice start to his second stint in Edmonton, with five goals and five assists in his first 11 games back in Oil Country. It’s expected that Eric Belanger, Sam Gagner, Ben Eager, Ryan Jones, Anton Lander, and Lennart Petrell will make up the remainder of Edmonton’s forwards. Skilled forward Ales Hemsky finds himself on the injured reserve, a place he is very familiar with.
It looks like the Kings will regain the services of the man that they signed to replace Smyth, Simon Gagne, after he missed the last two games with a “middle-body injury.” He was back skating on the first line with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, while Scott Parse stayed with Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, Dustin Penner moved down to the third line with Jarret Stoll and Brad Richardson, and the usual fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, and former Oilers captain Ethan Moreau remained intact. Kevin Westgarth and Trent Hunter are expected to be the spares, and no changes on defense, with Willie Mitchell skating with Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi with Jack Johnson, and Alec Martinez with Slava-err, I mean Matt Greene. Davis Drewiske will be the healthy scratch, while it’s not yet known who will start in goal.
Dustin Penner gets to play his former team for a second time, and first this year, and while you hope that will motivate him and he’ll be hungry to have a strong game and put one in the back of the net against his old team, I wouldn’t count on it. Nothing seems to motivate this guy, and now he’s on the third line and he may not even receive power play time right now.
Also, the Kings are going to wear their new third-jerseys, which are actually their home jerseys from last season.
And, of course, as mentioned earlier, Ryan Smyth is making his return to LA. How will the fans treat him? Well, he gave us a couple of good years here, no question, and he provided a lot of veteran leadership and experience for a young team. But, he requested a trade to go back to Edmonton for no good apparent reason other than he was homesick when he only had one year left on his contract and could have just played it out and then signed back in Edmonton, and it’s not like this was a veteran looking for a Cup before he retires, this was a veteran leaving a contender and a team where he may actually have a chance, to go to a rebuilding team. I never applaud someone requesting a trade, I think it’s an incredibly selfish move. Not only have you signed a contract and agreed to play somewhere so you should honour it and play out your contract, or in Smyth’s case, agreed to waive his no-trade clause to come to LA, and not only are you getting paid millions of dollars, but it doesn’t only affect you. Usually you get traded for someone, so at least one other person you could be making them uproot their family and move cities. It seems like an awfully selfish act if you ask me, so I sure hope Smyth had a better reason than being homesick with one year remaining on his contract. So back to the original point, I’m not sure how the fans will treat him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s booed. He also made some controversial comments a while ago where he said something along the lines of that it was good to be back somewhere they appreciate hockey. Taken out of context? Maybe. But it didn’t sound good, and if he did mean it as a shot at LA, then it was completely uncalled for.
Are the Oilers for real? Probably not. At least, I don’t think so. But right now they’re playing very well, so the Kings are going to have their hands full. Can the Kings bring Edmonton back to Earth, or will the Oilers continue their shocking start to the season?