This might be the equivalent of a career Hail Mary.
In an effort to save a season that’s spinning closer and closer to the drain, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi threw the team a lifeline Thursday evening, trading defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for high-scoring forward Jeff Carter.
Lombardi’s accuracy on this all-or-nothing heave will likely determine his future in L.A.
With the Kings dead last in the NHL in goals scored for three months now and losers of four in a row, Lombardi hopes Carter will give the team a shot in the arm at the three-quarters pole of this season and way beyond. He’s signed through 2022 at $5.25 million a year.
Lombardi isn’t even asking Carter to be the player who averaged 36 goals the previous four seasons, just give him something close.
“Right now, I’d take 20,” Lombard said during a conference call Thursday evening.
Of course, to a similar degree, he was expecting Dustin Penner to continue on his career scoring plane when he traded for him this time last year. Penner, now the fifth-highest paid player on the Kings, came to L.A. at the trade deadline having averaged 24 goals over the previous four-plus seasons in Edmonton and Anaheim.
He has scored seven in 63 games for the Kings, and was a healthy scratch five of the last six because of inconsistent efforts. Definitely not money well spent.
The trade did bring some immediate satisfaction to at least two people not involved in the deal. Slava Voynov will be called up from the AHL to fill Johnson’s spot on the blue line. Now that there’s no longer an abundance of defensemen on the Kings' roster, he won’t need to worry about being the odd man out as the only player who can’t be subjected to waivers.
The other person who’s likely pounding his chest is Kings center Mike Richards, who played with Carter in Philadelphia before they were traded on the same day last June.
According to an article in the Philadelphia Daily News last summer, Richards and Carter apparently really enjoyed hanging out together, so much so that they were traded because they spent too much time partying and refused to take part in a team-orchestrated “Dry Island,” in which players abstained from drinking alcohol during the stretch run of the regular season.
Johnson? He's so homespun he still sleeps in his old bedroom at his parents' house when he returns to Detroit during the season. He even negotiated his own contract extension last year, giving the Kings a good deal so he'd know where he'd be playing into the prime of his career.
Richards and Carter thought the same thing when they inked long-term extensions in recent years as well, then were traded away.
Richards has been mostly solid since arriving from Philadelphia. He missed nine game because of a head injury in December and took some time rounding back into form, but has been playing some of his best hockey of the season again lately.
If the addition of another skilled forward from back East will kick-start the rest of the team, then the Kings could sneak into the playoffs for a third straight year and maybe even finally hit a hot streak this season.
If Carter fails to provide that spark, then it might be back to square one for the Kings.
After six seasons at the helm, that’s not where Lombardi promised the franchise would be.