Turn your face to the west and breathe deeply. Do you smell that? It’s faint, but growing stronger. It’s the sickly-sweet scent of desperation drifting in from the NHL’s Pacific Division.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Kings swapped winger Mike Cammellari one-for-one with Edmonton Oilers winger Jussi Jokinen.
The Kings were tops in the Pacific as of Wednesday morning, but had lost three straight. The Oilers, which some betting sites had pegged as a possible Stanley Cup contender, were second to last in the division, but for the grace of a historically awful start from the Arizona Coyotes.
It was no secret that both teams have big dreams this season, with the Kings wanting to impress under a new coach and general manager, and the Oilers wanting to top last season’s performance, so a move wasn’t unexpected. This trade was shocking in one respect, though – its banality.
Cammalleri had been useful, if average, piece for the Kings. He was signed this summer for just $1 million, and put up three goals and four assists over his 15 games. His 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage wasn’t nearly as pretty, though, at just 44.2 percent on a fairly good Kings team.
But is Jokinen really going to be the spark that brings Los Angeles back to life? It’s unlikely. Again, added this summer for just $1.1 million, Jokinen was envisioned as a solid depth signing. However, in Edmonton, the goals simply dried up, and he’s only put up a single point on the season – a lone assist. Still, he’s got an impressive 57.1 Corsi For percentage, suggesting he’s playing the right way, but is extremely snakebit.
Given the one-for-one swap, this deal makes little sense from L.A.’s perspective. It’s not like they should be expecting Jokinen to step in and become the new Jeff Carter. At his best, he’ll likely be what Cammellari was – useful, but average.
In fact, the Kings’ best hope to snap out of their slump is already on their team, in the form of rookie Adrian Kempe.
Kempe, 21, already has racked up seven goals and four assists on the season and has seen his shot metrics steadily improving. For the last several games, he’s been playing with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, two of the Kings’ most proven scorers, indicating that coach John Stevens feels Kempe is going to be a quality point producer, too.
The trouble? Kempe has only put up one tally since Oct. 28. Scoring is streaky business, so it’s likely that he’ll get back on the board soon, especially if he continues to take several shots a night. This is exactly what the Kings need, but also would make this trade even less necessary.
From the Oilers perspective, the deal makes a little more sense. They are desperate for depth scoring, and for whatever reason, Jokinen just could not provide it. However, their woes run deeper than just Jokinen. The entire team is feeling the effects of an extremely low shooting percentage, especially on the power play.
Leon Draisaitl, who shot at 16.9 percent last season, is putting up a more pedestrian number of 13.2 this season. Patrick Maroon, who had a career-high 15.1 percent last year is now just under his career average, at 10.6 percent.
The Oilers’ issue lies, as it usually does, in the hubris of the general manager, who seemed to think that such scoring was sustainable. After all, he was more than happy to swap a 51-point scorer for a 35-point one in the offseason.
Cammalleri may be able to help bridge that gap some – certainly, his seven points outstrip Jokinen’s one – but the fact of the matter remains that the Oilers need more help up front. They needed Peter Chiarelli to make a big, bold, Matt Duchene-like move to get them out of this basement, and instead, they have gotten… another $1 million depth winger.
That isn’t to say that a gasp-worthy trade isn’t on the horizon. In fact, we may have gotten our first inkling as to his thought process on Monday, when Sportsnet’s Mark Spector published a piece detailing the Oilers’ scoring troubles, and pinning most of the blame on defenseman Oscar Klefbom.
Both the Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle trades were prefaced with pieces akin to this one, where an entire team’s plight was placed on the shoulders of a single player. To see it crop up again, especially with the Oilers suffering in the standings, is not a surprise.
But it is a bit odd to see Klefbom as this season’s scapegoat, especially when the praise for him in 2016-17 was effusive. Yes, he hasn’t scored at the same clip (his shooting percentage has dropped from 6.0 to 3.4 percent – his career average is 5.0), but again, expecting above average numbers every year is a fool’s wish.
Is it a guarantee that Klefbom is Chiarelli’s next trade offering? Not at all.
But one thing is for sure, though. Something sure reeks in the Pacific. And it smells like desperation.