Inquirer Daily News
Free agency a bust so far for Kings

By Michael Rushton, NHL Contributing Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Los Angeles area is home to Venice Beach, Hollywood and the famous 90210 zip code. The Fresh Prince once called it home (on television at least), and former Yankee icon Joe Torre made the jump from the Big Apple to the City of Angels.

There is no doubt that Los Angeles has a certain appeal that draws in the masses.

Unless you play in the NHL.

Despite being considered a franchise back on the rise, the Los Angeles Kings have yet to make a splash in free agency. Apparently, a team coming off a 12-win, 22-point improvement isn't very enticing for those skaters looking to relocate.

Not that the Kings haven't been in the headlines since free agency began on July 1. Los Angeles had been linked to the top unemployed prize, Ilya Kovalchuk, but was unable to convince the Russian sniper to lower his asking price and come out west, leading general manager Dean Lombardi to announce on Monday that his team was pulling out of the bidding war.

(The Los Angeles Times did report on Wednesday that the Kings were back in the hunt for Kovalchuk's services, but followed up on Thursday that they were again backing away from the high-priced winger.)

Reports have linked Philadelphia Flyers forward Simon Gagne to the Kings.
While the Kings were wasting their time courting Kovalchuk, they failed to add scoring help alongside lamp-lighter Anze Kopitar, the hard-working Dustin Brown and veteran leader Ryan Smyth, while Norris Trophy nominee Drew Doughty and fellow young blueliner Jack Johnson have yet to receive any new help at the back end.

Off the market are forward Ray Whitney and defensemen Anton Volchenkov, Dan Hamhuis and Paul Martin, leaving the Kings staring at a free agency list that now includes a host of players that come with questions, including hot-and-cold forwards Lee Stempniak and Alexei Ponikarovsky and injury-plagued defenders Willie Mitchell and Kim Johnsson.

That's not what you want to see when you are a club that is coming off its first playoff appearance since 2002 and resides in a tough Pacific Division.

In fact, free agency has so far only seen the losses of enforcer Raitis Ivanans (whose toughness has yet to be replaced) and defenseman Sean O'Donnell. It also appears as if the Kings aren't interested in bringing back their own free agent Alexander Frolov, a talented forward with questionable work ethic who could end up jumping ship to the KHL.

Cap space isn't an issue for the Kings, but appeal apparently is. The good news for Los Angeles is that years of stockpiling top-end draft picks, in addition to a logjam in net, gives the team depth to make some trades.

Reports have linked Philadelphia Flyers forward Simon Gagne, a two-time 40-goal scorer, to the Kings, and Ducks forward Bobby Ryan's name has popped up as well. Gagne comes with some risk as he has dealt with injuries in two of his last three seasons (including the dreaded concussion), and a move for the unhappy Ryan out in Anaheim will likely deal quite a blow to Los Angeles' prospects pool.

The Kings say they passed on Kovalchuk, a two-time 50-goal scorer, because his cost wouldn't allow them to keep together their young core. Doughty, Johnson and Wayne Simmonds are set for restricted free agency following 2010-11, and the philosophy based on keeping them around also smartly kept them from overpaying for some of this year's free agency group (think six years for Volchenkov by New Jersey or four years, $6.5 million by the Rangers for Derek Boogaard).

Still, for a club that hasn't been a fixture in the playoffs for the good part of this century, not making any type of moves has Los Angeles on the brink of losing the momentum captured with an excellent 2009-10 campaign.

Perhaps the Kings had too many eggs in the Kovalchuk basket or maybe the west coast just doesn't appeal to those who skate on a frozen pond, but hey, it was good enough for Wayne Gretzky.

And if Gretzky can't make some calls on the Kings behalf, maybe Jed Clampett can.
Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo