LOS ANGELES — In a season that has seen relatively few trades so far, the Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers gave us the first legitimate blockbuster deal since the 2015-16 season began last October, when the Flyers sent center Vincent Lecavalier and defenseman Luke Schenn to the Kings on January 6, in exchange for center prospect Jordan Weal and a third round pick in the 2016 National Hockey League Draft.
To make the deal work, the Flyers retained 50 percent of both Lecavalier’s and Schenn’s salaries ($2.25 million and $1.8 million, respectively).
Also making the deal work is that the 35-year-old Lecavalier will retire at the end of the season.
“The player made it clear that that was his intention and going forward, given the players we have to sign, it was imperative,” Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi said during a media conference call. “We could give him what he wanted, which was a serious shot at going out a winner. But we could not make that commitment going forward.”
“It fits where he is, in his life, the way he described it,” added Lombardi. “He wants one last shot at it, and he’s going to retire after this year. Otherwise, with the players we have to sign, this would not work, so that was a key element for us, in terms of making this work.”
For the Flyers, this trade gives them salary cap relief, both in the short term and going forward, and they get a 23-year-old prospect who was not going to get an opportunity to crack the Kings lineup, but could fit into the Flyers’ future plans.
“He’s still got a chance to play [in the NHL],” said Lombardi. “He got a snapshot of it, but the reality is, the way we’re headed here, [with Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar], we don’t anticipate that they’re going anywhere. We’re breaking in [Nick] Shore, we’ve got [Andy] Andreoff, and one of our best prospects in the minors in [Nick] Dowd. So this is a good opportunity for him to see if he can, in fact, stay in this league. I think it’s also a real benefit in that [Flyers general manager Ron Hextall] knows him, and brought him along.”
“The reality is that it was probably going to be tough for him to break into this lineup with this group right now,” added Lombardi, who noted that Hextall cut his teeth as assistant general manager with the Kings under Lombardi before taking the general manager’s job with the Flyers.
“This is a good deal for Philadelphia,” said Lombardi. “It works for them. You can see what he’s got on his plate, and what he’s doing. [Our organizations] are at different stages. This deal is a very good deal for him, and that’s the way it should be. Hopefully, it works out for us.”
Lombardi indicated that the deal had been in the works since October, and that making the deal sooner rather the later was the prudent choice.
“Hexy and I have been talking about something like this since October,” he said. “It just kind of expanded out. Things like this take time, but I didn’t want to wait on this. The price is certainly reasonable, I’m not locked into next year, but I think it was important to [do] this as soon as possible to get them into the fabric of the team. I didn’t want to wait. It’s important, particularly because of the way this team is—it’s a very tight team. It allows them to get in here, have a longer feeling out process, get comfortable, and then, if it doesn’t work, you’re still in a position when the deadline is to make an adjustment.”
“When I was talking to Philly, I said that if were going to do something like this, if we’re going to take Vinny, we’ve got to have him now,” he added. “There’s going to be a break-in period for [Lecavalier] as well as Luke. Luke’s going to have a different role here, so the timing of this was fairly important to try to get this done early versus letting it drag on.”
“The way we were able to put this deal together over the last month, it was a chance to take a swing at filling two holes with one deal. We’ll see.”
Lombardi noted that he felt that his team began the season with those two boles in the lineup.
“We had identified, even in training camp, and moving forward, certain areas we thought we might like to upgrade as we were watching our team this year,” he said. “One of the issues was strength down the middle. As we were working through this, particularly the way our division and our conference is, strength down the middle is imperative, and particularly, having that size.”
“The logic here is that there’s a lot of history of this,” he added. “Vinny, at this stage of his career, as it was made clear to us, it’s all about getting that one last chance to win it all. I think he’s hungry, and given his mindset, and the fit on this team, it’s a potentially a great fit in his role, and that’s the key.”
“If you look at Vinny—we’ve watched him. It hasn’t worked out in Philly the way he wanted. The other thing with top guys like this, at this stage of their careers [is that] it’s important for them to see a chance to do some serious damage to keep them motivated, and it was clear to us, in talking to him through this process, that this the number one thing on his mind. So if you look at a Kopitar, a Carter, and a chance to put this guy in the mix, we think it’s worth a shot to see if this will work. That’s the logic.”
With veteran defenseman Matt Greene lost for the season due to an upper body injury that required surgery, Schenn gives the Kings an experienced, physical, right-hand shot defenseman that they’ve lacked.
“In terms of Luke, the loss of Matt Greene for the year—we’ve lost a physical element back there,” Lombardi stressed. “We see a lot of Matt Greene in Luke. He’s still a young player, and we think there’s some room to grow. He’s very familiar with Drew Doughty, and some of our [other] players. It’s a chance for him to come in, be himself, and not have to worry about being a top [draft] pick, all the expectations and everything else.”
“He kind of reminds me of Matt Greene when we first got Greener, and these guys are important guys in the mix,” Lombardi added. “You’re dealing with a 26-year-old, and I think there’s still some upside with this kid, and i think there’s a lot of similarities between him and Greener. The important thing for him is to come in, fit in, do your role, and go from there. We’ll see how it plays out. but in terms of the element he brings in, in terms of our top four [defensemen], I think he could be a valuable asset to the overall mix, and I like the fact that Drew Doughty is very familiar with him, as a person. He played with him throughout his junior career in a lot of tournaments. I think Drew is going to take him under his wing, get him relaxed, and let’s get our game to where it’s capable of going.”
The trade also takes pressure off of Andreoff and Shore.
“We’ve got some kids who’ve done a good job,” said Lombardi. “Shore and Andreoff have made great strides, but this allows us to be a little more patient. These kids have got to come in here and help us win. These kids are held to a higher standard, but you’ve got to be able to put them in an environment that allows them to make their mistakes and maintain their confidence. Sometimes, you’ve got to back off on your expectations. This gives us the flexibility to be a little more patient with Shore and Andreoff.”
“You’ve got to remember what’s happened here,” added Lombardi. “Regardless of the off-ice stuff, but when we won before, we had Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll. Those are veteran players who knew how to win. Now you have a very different look, in terms of breaking these kids in behind Carter and Kopitar. [Now we have] a proven guy (Lecavalier) who can do this job, as well as be patient with those kids, allow them to mature at their own pace, and not force them, because you’re under the gun, expected to win every night.”
A change of scenery could also be just what the doctor ordered for Lecavalier and Schenn, and that they fit into the Kings’ plans for more reasons than just filling the holes in the lineup.
“A lot of people forget that even though this team has won two Cups, that a lot of its best players were just entering their prime,” Lombardi indicated. “They’re not only becoming better players, but I’m starting to see some leadership that we’ve always envisioned, whether it’s Jonathan Quick or Drew Doughty, Kopitar and Carter. That’s pretty strong nucleus with a pretty strong resume, and it’s their team.”
“For guys at that stage of their careers, this is probably the best thing for them,” Lombardi added. “That you don’t have to carry the mail, but we put you into this slot, and you might the best guy in the league in that slot. So it’s still being a top player, but because you have players entering their prime now, and they’re starting to learn that leadership, you’re able to do things like this that certainly wouldn’t have fit in the past when we were at a different stage of building.”
“When you look at the history of things like this, with teams that have a chance to maybe do some damage, like a Bill Walton, a top player when he went to the [Boston] Celtics, or a guy here—Bob McAdoo, went to the [Los Angeles] Lakers, a guy like Darryl Strawberry going to the [New York] Yankees. These were all top guys at the end of their careers who wanted a chance to win, and were willing to accept a lesser role. Maybe they weren’t the players they were when they were MVP’s, and everything else, but the willingness to accept a lesser role [made them] fit in, and they’re still very productive players.”
A side story to this deal is that, as reported earlier, Hextall learned much of his craft working with Lombardi as the Kings’ assistant general manager before moving onto to the Flyers’ general manager position.
“I don’t think it’s any secret, what I think of him, and how important he was to our process,” said Lombardi. “We’re all really proud of him, and when you watch what he’s done there in a short time—I can see what he’s doing.”
“Hexy and I have been at this for two or three weeks, and he knows all my tactics, so it’s like negotiating with myself,” Lombardi joked. “It’s like looking at myself in a mirror.”
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