In case you haven’t heard, the Ottawa Senators traded Dion Phaneuf yesterday. The full deal also included Nate Thompson heading to Los Angeles, with the return being Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore.
1: The Sens acquired two Kings players in the deal, Gaborik and Shore. How would you describe each of their styles of play? What should we expect to see when they hit the ice?
J. James Lee: Marian Gaborik is no longer the All-Star that he was in 2012. At the time, he was a threat to score 40 goals in the regular season. Since 2011-12, however, he has been injury-prone. The previous two seasons, Gaborik has only played 54 and 56 games. He has already missed 26 games this season, and has been a healthy scratch as well. But when healthy, Gaborik can be an X-factor for your team. His skating still remains fast when healthy, and scoring is his primary identity as a player — both with fancy goals and dirty goals in front of the net. He quietly contributed 27 goals in 2014-15 in 69 games of action. With the right linemate chemistry, he is still capable of scoring surgical, highlight goals, as he did with Anze Kopitar after the Kings acquired him in the 2013-14 trade deadline.
Gaborik benefited from an overly generous, 7 year, US$34 million deal after his performance in the 2014 playoffs (see question 3). But four years later, it is clearly the end of the line for the 36-year-old Slovak, alas. Gaborik had self-described “pretty major” knee surgery last spring, and he did not play this season until November 24. He started out well for his now-diminished role on the Kings, helping turn the team around after a slump of seven losses in eight games in November. But since January 4, he has been held to only one assist, and has been a healthy scratch in a few games as well.
Nick Shore is a 25-year-old who has not yet realized his offensive potential in the NHL. Unlike his peers Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, who are also 25 and known for their scoring potential (102 goals in 349 GP, and 64 goals in 282 GP respectively), Shore has only scored 14 goals and 35 assists in 221 GP. Shore, however, has a reputation for being a faceoff specialist and an effective forward on the penalty kill. He also comes cheap and is an RFA after this season.
2: What does this move mean for the Los Angeles Kings going forward?
JJL: This is an intriguing trade, the more I analyze it. Kings fans are desperate for the team to reclaim its Stanley Cup mojo, after two missed playoffs and a first-round exit since 2014. Jon Rosen’s blog LA Kings Insider does not go a day without creative trade ideas from fans. No player is immune, and since 2015 there has been a gradual trend towards uprooting the whole team. However, fans conceded that a trade of the aging Gaborik is a virtual impossibility — until now. It comes at a cost, though — the Kings are now committed to a more expensive player who is also contracted until 2021.
The Kings definitely address a glaring need on defense, and they did it without trading a major asset or valued prospect, which is huge. After best-defenseman-in-the-world Drew Doughty (sorry Erik Karlsson fans), and Jake Muzzin (who produces a little under All-Star level), the Kings lack blue line talent. Alec Martinez, the third D-man, has shown himself to be quite average without his overtime heroics. The Kings are relying heavily on younger players like Derek Forbort, Christian Folin, Kevin Gravel, and Paul LaDue. All have potential, but the Kings’ window to contend is only this season and next (the remaining length of Doughty’s contract). The team is still very much in win-now mode. Phaneuf, though he is no longer the All-Star of yore, still plays strong and tough, which is compatible with the Kings. He represents proven talent to “Shore” up the blue line (excuse the pun), as Los Angeles makes a stab at the playoffs. He also allows the Kings to not overplay Doughty for up to 30 minutes a night — a long-term concern for the team.
In addition, Doughty has made a few indirect public statements about his desire to test the free agent market. Whether the Kings pay Doughty US$13M to keep him is not a certainty, especially considering how the Chicago Blackhawks are now hampered by two US$10M contracts. Phaneuf serves as an insurance policy if Doughty walks, giving the young defensemen of the Kings breathing room to solidify their places in the NHL. More importantly, if Phaneuf flourishes, the Kings will have a major bargaining chip to avoid being pushed around by Doughty’s demands in 2019.
I’m quite curious as to why the Senators would want an aging, injured 36-year-old (February 14 is his birthday) who is contracted until 2021. Certainly Gaborik is not the one to turn Ottawa around. Gaborik’s cap hit declines to US$3M in 2021, though. The jury is out on whether Gaborik would want to play in a less glamorous city (sorry) at this stage in his career. If Gaborik retires before 2021, the salary dump is complete, and the Senators get what they wanted in the trade.
Regarding Shore, the Kings won’t miss much. Toffoli and Pearson have established themselves as regulars on this team. The Kings are very excited about 21-year-old Adrian Kempe, who has 16 goals and has already shown elite-level poise and stickhandling prowess, enough to almost replace Jeff Carter in his absence. (Remember Kempe’s patience against Mike Condon to tie it, and then his beautiful shootout goal to win it against the Senators on October 24?) The team is also very excited about 24-year-old Alex Iafallo, who has spent time on the top line with Kopitar and is perhaps the top forechecker of the team. Also to watch is 21-year-old Michael Amadio, who has scored 50 OHL goals and has already shown shooting ability in the NHL. In the pipeline is Gabe Vilardi, who is lighting it up with Kingston (excuse the pun) in the OHL.
3: How will Marian Gaborik be remembered in Los Angeles? Any favourite moments?
JJL: Marian Gaborik will be respected and remembered as one of many key figures in what was a magical, dream season for the Los Angeles Kings in 2014. All Kings fans can tell you where they were when Alec Martinez scored the GWG in Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup for the Kings. After being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline, Gaborik scored 14 goals and 8 assists in the playoffs, with a 17.9% shot percentage, as the Kings slogged their way through four gruelling rounds to win the Cup. Whether it was the bat-in to tie Game 1 against the Anaheim Ducks with 7 seconds left, or the tip off the post to win that game in OT, or the backhand rebound putback to tie Game 7 against the Blackhawks, or the rebound goal against Henrik Lundqvist to tie Game 6 against the New York Rangers (ohh those highlights never get old), the Los Angeles Kings could not have won the Cup in 2014 without Gaborik. In my book, he was the true winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014.
Big thanks to James for taking the time to answer these questions! You can read his stories over at Jewels from the Crown.