Rumor Roundup: Are the Kings due for a roster shakeup?

Mike Richards (Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

Only two years removed from their 2012 Stanley Cup championship, the Los Angeles Kings find themselves on the brink of an opening-round playoff elimination against the San Jose Sharks. They dropped the first three games to the Sharks, and managed to avoid being swept with a 6-3 victory in Game Four.

After the Kings fell behind 3-0 in the series, Los Angeles Times’ columnist Helene Elliott wondered if they were approaching the end of an era. She commended the Kings’ solidarity and sacrifice but pointed out rivals like the Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks improved this season. She felt their struggles against the Sharks suggested the roster – particularly their core players – could use a shakeup, though she didn’t single out which core players should be moved.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick, defensemen Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov, and forwards Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards make up the Kings’ core. Quick, despite his shaky performance against the Sharks, appears entrenched as their starter. Doughty and Voynov anchor their blueline. Kopitar, a finalist this season for the Selke Trophy, is among the league’s top two-way forwards.

If Kings GM Dean Lombardi decides to shake things up, Richards, Carter and Brown appear the likely trade candidates. While each carries a long-term contract worth over $5 million per season they also lack no-trade clauses, giving Lombardi a wide range of destinations to choose from.

Of the three 29-year-olds, Carter carries the most trade value. This season he reached the twenty-goal mark (27) for the eighth time and the 50-point plateau for the fifth time. The recent decline in the offensive numbers of Richards and Brown could be tied to the wear-and-tear of their physical style, which could hurt their trade value.

WHERE DOES JONAS HILLER FIT INTO ANAHEIM’S FUTURE?
It took four games into the Anaheim Ducks–Dallas Stars divisional semifinal for Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller to finally make an appearance. It came midway through the third period of Game 4, spelling off Frederik Andersen, who gave up four goals on 25 shots in a 4-2 loss.

Having blown a 2-0 series lead, the Ducks could make Hiller their starter in Game 5 as the series returns to Anaheim knotted at two games apiece. He was their starting goaltender for most of this season but struggled down the stretch. Sportsnet.ca’s Mark Spector believes that to be the rationale behind the rookie Andersen drawing the starting assignments against the Stars.

The move also casts doubt over Hiller’s future in Anaheim. He’s eligible for unrestricted free agency in July. Earlier this season the 32-year-old was the subject of trade speculation until Ducks GM Bob Murray emphatically stated Hiller wouldn’t be dealt. With Andersen taking over as playoff starter and promising John Gibson poised to crack the lineup next season, the Ducks could let Hiller walk come July.

WILL BRIAN GIONTA HEAD BACK TO NEW JERSEY THIS SUMMER?
The New Jersey Devils were among the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams this season. GM Lou Lamoriello is expected to pursue some scoring depth this summer. NJ.com’s Rich Chere speculates Lamoriello could try to bring back Brian Gionta, who’s now captain of the Montreal Canadiens and due to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

Though Gionta’s offensive numbers were down this season (18 goals, 22 assists through 81 games), Chere believes the 35-year-old winger still has 25-goal potential. He claims the Canadiens want to re-sign Gionta, but he’ll have to accept less than his current $5 million per season. Gionta’s younger brother, Stephen, has spent several seasons on the Devils’ checking lines. He’s also an unrestricted free agent this summer. If Lamoriello re-signs Stephen, Chere suggests he’d be the ideal recruiter to pursue Brian if he becomes available in July.

Most of the Devils current scorers (Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe) are in their thirties. It would be wiser for Lamoriello to acquire younger scorers than to sign a blast from the past.

Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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