I watched most of the Leafs’ game last night vs LA last night. Hard to believe the way that these teams’ relative fortunes have shifted so dramatically in the past 4 years.
Although a Torontonian by birth (and sporting preference), I live in NYC these days and so tend to meet a lot of fans of the Blueshirts. If any NY Rangers’ fans still have any doubt on the merits of the rebuild strategy announced by the team last spring, I would urge them to keep an eye on the LA Kings and think “There but for the grace of Gorton, go the Rangers”.
The same could have been said about the Leafs, circa 2014, when then GM Dave Nonis, still labouring under the delusion that Toronto was just one or two players away from being a serious Cup contender, tried to make a few trades and free agent signings to upgrade the team (following on the footsteps of his predecessor, Brian Burke, who made the same kinds of mistakes during his tenure as GM). Of course, we all know how that ended up.
Los Angeles appears to have made a similar miscalculation this past offseason. The Kings really do look like a team from the last century even though they won not that long ago. It’s a young man’s game that prizes roster flexibility. Every contract has to be weighed this way
But LA did the opposite, locking themselves in with expensive long term deals and aging veterans. They re-upped Drew Doughty and inexplicably signed 35 year old Ilya Kovalchuk. Last night’s game showed the disaster for all and sundry. They are slow, old and now weighed down by horrible contracts, esp the Doughty deal (to say nothing of the Dion Phaneuf contract; poor Dion, he is truly becoming the hockey equivalent of the Monkey’s Paw). If the team were smart, they would approach Doughty right now and ask him to submit a bunch of teams to whom he would agree to be traded, because they are otherwise doomed to irrelevance for years. (And, to anticipate the 4 million armchair GMs in the GTA, NO, NO, I do not think the Leafs should remotely consider acquiring him, especially not for Willie Nylander, who I’d rather see sit for a year if a sensible contract or trade can’t be made by Dec. 1st. Heretical as it sounds, I actually think Morgan Rielly is a better D-man than Doughty today).
Lesson number 1, esp in today’s salary cap world. When you’re getting over the hill, don’t delay the inevitable. Just bite the bullet and start the rebuild. That seems a good rule of thumb for any sport, not just the NHL. Of course, it helps if you’ve got a great executive like Brendan Shanahan to implement the vision, but there’s no doubt that the decision the Kings made to stick with the status quo was disastrous. They are likely stuck in hockey purgatory for years, as their franchise glory is going down in flames as rapidly as those tragically engulfing the Southern California region today.