General manager Dean Lombardi has about 19 different scripts for the Los Angeles Kings' trade deadline plans. It could go a lot of different ways, depending on how the team plays over the next few weeks. Are the Stanley Cup champions going to be in a playoff spot come March 2 or will they have completely fallen out? That's going to have a huge barometer on how things play out.
Status: Too close to call; TBD
Needs/Available: You sort of have to look at both possibilities if you're the Kings, because they could be a buyer, a seller or neither, depending on where they are in the standings over the next couple of weeks. Their biggest need screams top-four blueliner, but a source suggested to ESPN.com Thursday that's unlikely to materialize despite all the speculation. Why? Because the Kings have to plan for the possibility (remote?) of suspended blueliner Slava Voynov potentially coming back to play before the end of the season, should he either be acquitted of his criminal charges next month or if the case is thrown out. Now, the Kings don't even know if the NHL would rescind Voynov's suspension in that case, so the whole thing is a what-if scenario, but the bottom line is that the Kings need to keep that $4.1 million of cap space open in case Voynov does return.
Now, if the Kings could ever get a taker on Mike Richards and his $5.75 million cap hit, that could open up other trade possibilities. But after trying to get the Toronto Maple Leafs interested last month, it doesn't appear there's much interest on that front. Richards has played well by all accounts for Manchester in the AHL, so perhaps a team calls before March 2. But with five more years on that deal after this season, it's tough sledding for the Kings ridding themselves of that contract.
In the meantime, should the Kings fall out of the playoff race by March 2 -- which I doubt -- would they look at their pending unrestricted free agents in Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll and Robyn Regehr and wonder if they need to move them to get some assets rather than take the chance they walk for nothing in July? It's not out of the question if those guys remained unsigned and the Kings fall out of the playoff race. But again, I don't think the Kings will fall out of it.
Finances: The Kings have zero wiggle room under the salary cap if they're intent on keeping space open for a possible Voynov return. So any move would have to be dollar in, dollar out.
Scouting the GM: Lombardi is a tireless worker. He has thoroughly analyzed his team's disappointing performance and projected how he'll probably have to retool his roster over the next two seasons or so around what remains a terrific core centered by Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick and Jake Muzzin, among others. There are kids ready in Manchester. The Kings have drafted and developed well, and they're ready to retool a bit when the time is right. But I think Lombardi is also willing to give his two-time defending champion squad another chance this season if they can somehow squeeze into the playoffs. The Voynov situation and the Richards contract have tied his hands to a certain degree, but you know there's always a plan when it comes to the clever Lombardi. But it can go a lot of different ways depending on wins and losses in the next few weeks.