a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

07/27/11 53.3 Comparing Rebuilds: Los Angeles and Edmonton

Anze Kopitar

In part four of Comparing Rebuilds we will look at the Los Angeles Kings and their long road back to respectability.

The Los Angeles Kings are a peculiar team. Of all the rebuilds we've looked at so far, the Kings are the most unique in their assembly. The spring of 2003 saw the first time that LA would miss the playoffs in a stretch that lasted until 2010. Including the lockout, that's seven long years out of the post season. Sounds pretty standard so far, right? Read on.

In order to understand how the Kings built their team, we'll first have to look at the finished product. After all those years out of the playoffs, 10 of the players on the current roster were drafted by the team. Of those, only Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Bernier, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty can truly be considered impact players. And of those, only Doughty was a lottery pick.

In fact, Brown was drafted 13th overall that first year the Kings missed the playoffs in 2003, when the team was a reasonably respectable 18th in the league. Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick were drafted during the lockout draft of 2005, when there was no season to determine the order. Those two went 11th overall and 72nd overall respectively. After finishing 20th in 2006, ownership cleaned house; removing the entire coaching staff, GM and assistant GM, CEO and also the vice president. Jonathan Bernier was the first pick of the Lombardi era, taken 11th overall.

Thomas Hickey
Thomas Hickey (4th overall) was the first of three lottery picks that the Kings would have in a row, beginning in 2007. Wayne Simmonds went 61st that year as well. In 2008 the Kings finished 29th and took Drew Doughty and then Teubert 13th. Finally, after finishing 26th in 2009 they picked Brayden Schenn 5th overall.

Hickey still has a chance to make an impact in the NHL, but so far the Kings have gotten along just fine without him. Schenn would have counted as a second lottery pick that made the team, but of course he was traded with Simmonds for Mike Richards before this year's draft.

In the Kings' current top nine forwards, only Brown and Kopitar were drafted by the team (and possibly one more depending who plays third line right wing). The defense is no different, with only Doughty and Martinez as former Kings picks. Aside from the two goaltenders, the other selections outside the first round who made the team are all role players that don't really require a rebuild to obtain.

This is in stark contrast to the Oilers, who look to have drafted every player in their current top nine, despite the fact that Ryan Smyth was re-acquired via trade.

On the other hand, one of the main similarities between the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers is that not every year spent out of the playoffs resulted in lottery picks. While teams like Washington and Pittsburgh spent every non-playoff year at the bottom, the Kings and Oilers didn't start off by blowing it up. Luckily, both teams have managed to mine some gems in the mid-late first round in addition to the lottery picks each has had. However, the rebuilds of these two teams has been somewhat slower because of their lack of a load of picks in the 1-5 range.

Counting the lockout, the Kings were out of the playoffs 7 years, and it will be at least 10 before they win a round. The Capitals were out for 4 years including the lockout and it was 6 years before they won a playoff round. Pittsburgh was out of the playoffs for 5 years including the lockout and won a round in the 7th year.

Edmonton has so far been out for 5 years. An optimistic assessment would see the team spend 6 years out of the playoffs and win a round in their 8th; assuming that they follow the model of other rebuilt squads and lose in the first round of 2012-13.

The Oilers' draft position and effectiveness falls somewhere between the Kings and Pittsburgh/Washington, and Edmonton's progress will probably follow.

The Oilers have had slightly better draft position during their time out of the playoffs than LA had, selecting 6th, 22nd, 10th, 1st and 1st (with another high pick probably on the way) compared with the Kings' 13th, 11th, 11th, 11th, 4th, 2nd and 5th. However, the Oilers still aren't close to Pittsburgh's 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd or Washington's 1st, 4th, 5th with some extremely high quality picks late in the first round of a few drafts.

Now all the Oilers need is to luck into a situation like the one that saw defenseman Jack Johnson get traded to LA. Johnson was drafted 3rd overall by Carolina but wouldn't sign there, so he was traded to Los Angeles for Eric Belanger and Tim Gleason. That type of thing doesn't happen every day, but it certainly would help in Edmonton.

By the time the Oilers are finished their rebuild, the team may have traded away many valuable former draft picks for help on the backend, which will bring the comparison to Los Angeles slightly closer together. The Kings have largely been constructed through trade and free agency, but each trade had to start with a draft pick at one time.

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