EL SEGUNDO, CA — While many of the National Hockey League teams were signing unrestricted free agents starting on July 1, the Los Angeles Kings parted ways with two of their veteran defensemen, one being traded away while the other bolted for greener pastures.
On June 29, just three days before the unrestricted free agent signing period began, the Kings sent defenseman Lubomir Visnovskyto the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for center Jarret Stoll and defenseman Matt Greene.
Stoll, who just turned 26 on June 24, scored 14 goals and added 22 assists with 74 penalty minutes in 81 games with the Oilers last season and ranked third on the team with eight power play goals.
The 6-1, 210-pound native of Melville, Saskatchewan tallied 13 goals with 26 assists good for 39 points with 48 penalty minutes in 51 games in 2006-07. In the 2006-07 season, Stoll had his best season in the NHL, scoring 22 goals and contributing 46 assists for 68 points with 74 penalty minutes in 82 games.
In 286 regular season NHL games, all with the Oilers, Stoll has scored 59 goals with 106 assists for 165 points with 238 penalty minutes.
Stoll scored four goals and added six assists for ten points with 24 penalty minutes in the 2005-06 NHL playoffs when the Oilers reached the Stanley Cup Finals (lost to the Carolina Hurricanes). He was originally selected by the Calgary Flames in the second round (46th overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He re-entered the draft in 2002 and was selected by Edmonton in the second round (36th overall).
Stoll, who lives in Southern California during the off-season, will now live in the area year-round.
“I was excited to stay where I was,” Stoll explained. “I was here in LA when I got the call. I live here during the summer. I was pretty excited to stay here and join the Kings. It’s a great organzation and a great ownership group, a classy ownership group.”
“It’s good to have that comfort zone coming in, knowing the area, knowing the practice rink,” Stoll elaborated. “It’s a pretty short drive to the practice rink, which is nice. It just eases my way into it that much more. It’s good to have that.”
Stoll had been the subject of trade rumors after a down year with the Oilers last season.
“I was excited, shocked, I felt a lot of different things,” said Stoll. “You hear your name in trade talks for quite some time and you can’t prepare yourself until it really happens. I tried to, but once I got the call, it was a little shocking but exciting at the same time.”
Stoll suffered a concussion during the 2006-07 season and had a tough time regaining his form last season.
“It was a battle,” he explained. “The first half of the season, I struggled to find my focus and to get my game back. A couple of years ago, I had my best season but I struggled up to the halfway point last season. I felt my game got better as the season went on and I got over that. That’s behind me now.”
“You want to bounce back from an off year and I’m working hard to do that,” he added. “I’m always going to work hard in the off-season to get ready for training camp and the grind of the season. I’m fully confident that I’ll turn things around and have a great year.”
For those not familiar with his game, Stoll is a versatile, two-way forward.
“I’m just a solid two-way player,” said Stoll. “I play on the penalty-kill and power play—I usually play the point on the power play in Edmonton, but I’m not sure I’ll do that here. I take a lot of pride in my face-off ability and I just try and play every position and solid at both ends of the rink.”
“I’m jacked about being here and excited to get going.”
Greene, a 25-year-old native of Grand Ledge, Michigan, played in 46 games for the Oilers last season, recording one assist with 53 penalty minutes. He missed 34 games (November 2, 2007 to January 15, 2008) due to injury.
The 6-3, 233-pound blue liner scored a goal and added nine assists in 78 games in the 2006-07 season, and tallied two assists in 27 games in the 2005-06 season after playing his final season at Boston College that same year and then 26 games with Iowa of the American Hockey League.
During the Oilers’ Stanley Cup run in the 2005-06 season, Greene recorded one assist with 34 penalty minutes in 18 playoff games.
Greene was originally selected by the Oilers in the second round (44th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
Stoll got most of the attention during a press conference call featuring the two now former Oilers, but Greene described his game rather bluntly.
“I’m just a stay-at-home defenseman,” he said. “That’s about it. I’m just excited about a new beginning.”
Visnovsky’s skating and offensive skills should fit right in with the Oilers’ style that emphasizes speed and skating.
“Although it is tough to see good players and good people move on, we feel we’ve made a step towards improving our overall offense,” said Oilers General Manager Kevin Lowe. “Lubomir is a world-class defensemen who has been one of the premier offensive defensemen over the past five years.”
Visnovsky, 31, scored eight goals with 33 assists for 41 points in 82 games last season, in what was a poor year, both defensively and offensively for the native of Topolcany, Slovakia.
In 499 career NHL regular season games, all with the Kings, Visnovsky scored 70 goals and added 209 assists for 279 points with 214 penalty minutes.
The 5-10, 188-pound defenseman, who was a 2007 NHL All-Star, was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (118th overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
“It’s never easy to give up a player of Lubo’s caliber, but for the direction of this franchise, this exchange allows us to add two players who fit the long-term vision for this team,” said Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi.
“We appreciate Lubo’s service and outstanding play these last seven years in Los Angeles,” added Lombardi. ”He was not only a great player for us, but a class act.”
On July 1, the Kings acquired defenseman Denis Gauthier and a second round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defenseman prospect Patrik Hersley and forward prospect Ned Lukacevic.
Gauthier, 31, is a nine-year NHL veteran, having played in 489 career regular season games with the Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes and Calgary Flames, scoring fifteen goals and adding 58 assists for 73 points with 658 penalty minutes.
In 43 games with the Flyers in the 2006-07 season, Gauthier tallied four assists with 45 penalty minutes.
Gauthier spent last season with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League (Flyers’ primary minor league affiliate), scoring three goals with fifteen assists for 18 points with 80 penalty minutes.
The 6-3, 224-pound native of Montreal, Quebec is probably best-known to Kings fans for his heavy hit on former Kings center Jeremy Roenick during a pre-season game at Phoenix during the 2005-06 pre-season.
Gauthier was originally selected by the Flames in the first round (20th overall) in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.
Hersley, 22, played in 42 games this past season with the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, scoring a goal with eight assists for nine points with 27 penalty minutes.
The 6-3, 205-pound native of Malmo, Sweden also played in twenty regular season games for the Reading Royals of the ECHL (Kings’ ECHL affiliate) where he scored three goals and added fifteen assists for eighteen points with eighteen penalty minutes. He also scored three goals with six assists for nine points with ten penalty minutes in thirteen ECHL playoff games.
Hersley was selected by the Kings in the fifth round (139th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Lukacevic, 22, played in 61 games for the Royals this past season, scoring seventeen goals with nineteen assists for 36 points with 52 penalty minutes. In the playoffs, he contributed two assists in eight games.
The 6-0, 185-pound native of Podgrocia, Serbia was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (118th overall) of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
And on July 3, veteran defenseman and team captain Rob Blake, who became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, signed a one-year contract reported to be worth $5 million with the San Jose Sharks.
Blake was on Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi’s radar to be re-signed. But rather than play for a rebuilding team with little hope of making the playoffs, Blake instead chose a more lucrative contract offer with a team that is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
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