ANALYSIS: Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi makes a splash with a risky trade deadline deal—a huge gamble that could easily backfire.
LOS ANGELES — The 2009 National Hockey League trade deadline has come and gone and, rather unexpectedly, the Kings made a dubious three-way trade on March 4 that sent forward Patrick O’Sullivan and a second round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for right wing Justin Williams. The Hurricanes then sent O’Sullivan and a second round selection in the 2009 draft to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for forward Erik Cole and a fifth round pick in the 2009 draft.
The second round pick the Kings sent to Carolina was acquired in 2007 in the trade that sent center Craig Conroy to the Flames.
O’Sullivan leaves the Kings after playing in 62 games for them this season, scoring 14 goals and adding 23 assists for 37 points and he was surprised when he learned of the deal.
“I was a little bit surprised,” said O’Sullivan. “I signed for three years in the summer here. I think the young group of guys that are with LA, we’ve kind of grown together the last couple of years. I think the organization has drastically improved in that time, but I think anybody is tradable at any time. I’m just happy that it’s to a place that has a lot of history and is a great hockey market. I’m really excited to [go] and play there.”
In 188 career regular season NHL games, all with the Kings, O’Sullivan has scored 41 goals with 68 assists for 109 points with 66 penalty minutes.
The 5-11, 190-pound native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina was selected by the Minnesota Wild in the second round (56th overall) of the 2003 draft. He was acquired by the Kings on June 24, 2006, along with a first round pick in the 2006 draft (Trevor Lewis) from the Wild, in exchange for forward Pavol Demitra.
Williams, 27, has played in 32 games for the Hurricanes this season, scoring three goals and adding seven assists for ten points with nine penalty minutes. He is currently on injured reserve after suffering a broken hand after being struck by a shot by teammate Anton Babchuk in a game against the Buffalo Sabres on February 15.
The 6-1, 195-pound native of Cobourg, Ontario enjoyed his best seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
In 2005-06, Williams scored 31 goals and added 45 assists for 76 points in 82 games and helped lead the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup Championship.
In 2006-07, he scored 33 goals with 34 assists for 67 points. Williams also played in the NHL All-Star Game that season.
Williams was selected in the first round (28th overall) in the 2000 draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. He was traded to Carolina on January 20, 2004 for Danny Markov.
In 491 career regular season games with the Flyers and Hurricanes, Williams has scored 124 goals and has added 192 assists for 316 points with 324 penalty minutes. In 42 playoff games with Philadelphia and Carolina, Williams has scored eight goals with 16 assists for 24 points with 46 penalty minutes.
Like O’Sullivan, Williams was caught by surprise by the deal.
“I really didn’t expect it but these things happen,” said Williams. “They come as a shock but most of the time, they work out for the best.”
“I think whenever anyone is traded it’s highly unlikely that they knew about it beforehand, and that was the case for me,” added Williams. ”I was definitely shocked, especially because I was on the injured reserve list.”
Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi apparently had his eye on Williams for some time, looking for a forward with some size and who would be a better fit up front.
“It was a deal we’ve been working on pretty extensively the last couple of days and as you saw, it ended up being a three-way [trade],” he said. “We ended up giving up a good player in Patrick O’Sullivan but one of the things we were looking at to improve our team–Justin Williams is only 27 years old so he can grow with this group. He’s won a Stanley Cup, he gives us more size on the wings and he’s a proven thirty-goal scorer.”
“We just felt that this is a guy who can certainly fit with our mix as we build this,” he added. “We just felt this was a good deal for us.”
Murray, who, like Lombardi, spent time in the Flyers organization, knows Williams rather well.
“Justin Williams is a real good player,” said Murray. “He’s won the Stanley Cup, he’s got a great history of being a goal scorer in the National Hockey League. He was a big contributor to the Carolina Hurricanes in their [Stanley Cup] run. And he’s a thirty-goal scorer.”
Williams is confident he can return to the form he displayed in his best years.
“I’ve got plenty [left],” Williams stressed. “I’m only 27. My best years are, hopefully, right ahead of me. The skill is there and I know I’m going to get a great opportunity here to further my career and be successful. I’m going to get an opportunity to play with some really good players with a lot of enthusiasm and that will result in a lot of good play.”
“The skill is there,” Williams added. “I know I’m going to get a great opportunity here.”
Williams emphasized that he plays hard on both sides of the puck.
“I bring a hard, two-way game,” said Williams. ”I work as hard in the offensive zone as I do in the defensive zone. We have a lot of players that are similar to that effect. I’m a guy who has scored thirty goals in a season a couple of times and I know I can get there again. I’m going to work hard and contribute offensively.
Having won a Stanley Cup was also a major attraction for the Kings.
“The one thing about Justin, and we had some inside information because we had him in Philadelphia when he first broke into the league, I know that was a guy they didn’t want to trade because we were taking a run at the Cup at the time,” Lombardi explained. “Then he goes and wins the Cup with Carolina. He’s a really competitive guy and he can do a lot of things for you.”
One of those things Williams will be expected to do is be a leader, even though at 27 years old, he is not exactly an old, grizzled veteran.
“I’m going to be, I guess, an older guy in the dressing room for a little bit of leadership, which to me is going to be a change but it is something I’m going to welcome,” he said.
With the Kings five points out of the playoff picture with just seventeen games remaining and with six teams between them and the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the trade is a clear indication that the front office has thrown in the towel is now looking ahead to next season and beyond.
The Kings have struggled mightily to score goals in recent games, that is, unless they give up a bunch at the same time. Without Williams in the lineup to replace O’Sullivan’s offense, even with rookie forward Oscar Moller in the lineup, the Kings are subtracting offense at the worst possible time in terms of making a final, last-gasp push for the playoffs.
Indeed, especially after seeing his team falter badly on their recent five-game road swing, earning just two points on the trip, Lombardi knows his team’s fate is sealed. The Kings will miss the playoffs again this season so he could afford to make this deal now with nothing to lose in terms of post-season play.
With Williams on injured reserve, Moller is expected to move up to the first or second line until Williams is ready to play.
“It’s probably one of the reasons we’re able to do it from Carolina’s standpoint,” said Lombardi. “They know they’re giving up a very good player who was an important part of their Stanley Cup team. From our standpoint, we felt that with the way Oscar Moller has been playing, we can fill that hole and then Justin is supposed to be back in about two weeks.”
Upon his arrival in Los Angeles on March 5, Kings doctors examined Williams’ broken hand.
“I just met with the Kings doctors, I got an x-ray,” Williams explained. “I met everybody. I’m going to see a specialist tomorrow. From there, we’ll make a decision on what the game plan is going to be.”
“It’ll be three weeks this weekend,” Williams added about his recovery. “Broken bone timetables are usually four-to-six weeks, so I’m hoping to get back as soon as I can and help the team.”
Williams began skating without pucks on March 8.
“I’m definitely sick of the stationary bike,” said Williams. “There are always ways around injuries for keeping yourself in shape, but there’s nothing like skating, there’s nothing like game play. You can just simulate as best you can. But I’m excited and ready to get back out there. Unfortunately it’s going to take a little bit of time but it won’t be long before I’m back out there.”
“I feel things happen in threes and I’ve had three straight injuries after some pretty good runs,” added Williams. “I’m looking to get back to being healthy and I know I’m not far away from doing that. When I am, I’m going to be a really good asset for this team.”
No matter what happens, even if Williams returns in two weeks, there will only be a few weeks left in the 2008-09 season and by that time, the Kings will very likely be out of playoff contention.
The big question now is…what if Williams is unable to shake the injury bug?
“It’s been tough with his injuries,” said Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford. “It seems to be an uphill battle and [Williams is] still three or four weeks away from coming back, and we’re in the most crucial time of our season.”
Rutherford’s comment about it being an “uphill battle” with Williams’ injuries is quite telling. Indeed, Williams has a long history of injuries, including several of the serious nature:
- 2000-01: Missed twelve games with a broken finger.
- 2001-02: Missed three games with a right shoulder sprain.
- 2002-03: Missed five games with a left shoulder strain and later that season, missed 36 more games with a left knee sprain.
- 2003-04: Missed three games with a broken left wrist and then missed one game with a bruised ankle.
- 2007-08: Missed 43 games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (knee).
- 2008-09: Missed 25 games to start the season due to a torn Achilles tendon.
- Currently on injured reserve due to a broken hand.
One look at that sad laundry list of injuries illustrates just how risky this deal is for Lombardi and the Kings, as Williams is a player who seems unable to stay healthy for any length of time. Indeed, in nine seasons in the NHL, he has played the full 82 games in just two of those seasons. He also played in 79 games in 2003-04 and 75 in 2001-02.
Outside of that, he played in 63 games in 2000-01. But other than that, the most games Williams has played in a season has been 41 in 2002-03.
Even if you ignore the broken finger and the current broken hand, Williams has had numerous serious injuries and has missed a few boatloads worth of games.
And this is the player who Lombardi was willing to give up a young, promising winger in O’Sullivan plus a second round draft pick for?
To be sure, this trade is a huge risk, a tremendous gamble for Lombardi and the Kings, perhaps Lombardi’s biggest wager since joining the Kings. After all, outside of his best two seasons, Williams has not come anywhere close to being the thirty-goal scorer that Lombardi and Murray say he is.
To be fair, Williams could suddenly become the Man of Steel, never miss another game and become the thirty-plus goal scorer the Kings so desperately need. But given Williams’ track record, it is far more likely that this deal will just be one more in a long, pathetic history of horrific trades in the Kings’ franchise history and could be a huge setback for Lombardi’s rebuilding plan.
One way or the other, we will find out soon enough.
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