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Is Kings GM Dean Lombardi’s fate tied to the NHL trade deadline?

Greg Wyshynski
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Perhaps it's psychological scarring from the Wayne Gretzky years, or just the philosophy of what large market teams "should" look like, but there's been this notion that the Los Angeles Kings and GM Dean Lombardi require an offensive star on their roster.

Back in Summer 2009, that player was Marian Hossa, for whom the Kings had acquired negotiating rights but were unable to make a deal. Marian Gaborik was also on the radar, but his contract demands were too high. In Summer 2010, that player was Ilya Kovalchuk, whom they courted hard before he rejected their "best offer" to meet his needs. (His needs apparently being a contract that circumvented the salary cap.)

Then, in 2011, Lombardi went in another direction: Trading for Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers, a star player already under contract through 2020. And that was that …

… until it became apparent this season that the Los Angeles Kings still can't put the puck in the net; and still, in the eyes of many, lack a marquee player.

Is Rick Nash one? Is Jeff Carter? Because the prevailing wisdom is that if Lombardi doesn't land one of them for a playoff push, the clock on his tenure with the Kings is ticking down to zero hour (after freezing for a few moments at 1.8 seconds remaining … damn you, coulombs!).

Helene Elliott of the LA Times laid it on the line today:

"Failure to reach the postseason could cost Lombardi his job and there would be no reason to argue he should stay."

Which means the Kings' pursuit of Rick Nash could be the more important moment of Lombardi's tenure with the team. From Elliott:

"Ultimately it will be up to Nash. That doesn't bode well for the Kings, who have repeatedly struck out with high-profile free agents. Somehow, Lombardi has to get this right. Or get his resume ready."

Here's how Elliotte Friedman sees things:

[Jon] Quick's dominance makes Jonathan Bernier expendable, although there is some debate about Bernier's ceiling. Voynov's emergence leads to Jack Johnson trade rumours, although Lombardi could, in theory, deal either one.

Lombardi could package Bernier and one of the two defenceman for a scorer. (Jeff Carter is the obvious candidate.) But, if he split up that package -- and moved Johnson in the process -- he could add a second one. When he does step up to the plate, how big a swing will Lombardi take?

If he takes his swing, Jeff Carter is the easier pitch to knock over the wall.

Nash has veto power, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are, "listening to offers for captain Rick Nash and openly shopping Jeff Carter," according to the Dispatch. Which is to say they want to move Carter and are willing to move Nash. There's a difference, and that'll manifest in their respective price tags.

The Mayor gets into the Jeff Carter option a little deeper:

Carter is Richards' best friend. If anybody can keep Carter on the straight and narrow, it's going to be Richards. Besides, how much motivation would Carter really need to return to his previous form in LA? He can score goals like he did in Philadelphia and possibly return to the Stanley Cup Finals. Or, he can stay in Columbus, where scoring goals gets him what - a last place banner?

Yet, there's one more reason why Carter makes more sense than Nash. Remember, to get the Blue Jackets' captain, the Kings will most likely have to move Johnson AND Bernier. A deal for Carter wouldn't have to include Johnson.

Theoretically, this leaves him available to move in a deal to the Flyers for James van Riemsdyk - a 22-year old goal scoring left wing, something the Kings desperately need.

Is it playoffs or bust for Dean Lombardi? Perhaps. The Kings will have over $14 million in cap space next summer to make another go of this. He's made a number of average to poor decisions, like Dustin Penner at the last trade deadline. Ownership might want another hand on the wheel if this thing goes off the tracks again.

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