Since the 2015 season, every post I have written that remotely takes seriously what the Kings need to focus on has had the same damn topic: Center depth. I am not kidding. Literally every post suggests the Kings address their third line center situation.
The 2012 Kings had Kopitar, Richards (then good), Stoll, and Colin Fraser down the middle which was a great 1-2-3 combo. Fraser was a fourth line guy entirely, but a defensively responsible pain in the ass to play against, which was perfect for the Kings’ system.
2014 had the Kings go with Kopitar, Carter, Stoll, and Richards (then less good) down the middle. It was by far the best string of centers the Kings had put together. Admittedly, they had Carter in 2012 too, but he was only implemented as a winger, which the Kings had less of at the time.
2015 brought in the decline and complacency of Stoll and Richards (not to mention drug use), of which the Kings had limited internal options for replacing. Nick Shore, Nic Dowd, Jordan Weal, Andy Andreoff, and subsequently Vincent Lecavalier were all tried, and none really advanced beyond fourth line option. Well, Lecavalier got third line minutes despite it being a disaster. Weal never really got much of a look because he was dealt for Lecavalier and Luke Schenn (which was in regards to another persistent, yet less concerning roster issue).
Dowd got the boot in favor of Torey Mitchell (yuck and awful), and Shore was dealt for Nate Thompson (a worse Colin Fraser) plus Dion Phaneuf (again, regarding that secondary issue that was less pressing). Jussi Jokinen, who was essentially El Cid (dead edition) also got a few looks before management could no longer stomach it. Adrian Kempe, who has been bad and shown no improvement at the pivot, has been the de facto third line center.
This has been all to replace JARETT FUCKING STOLL.
Stoll was a second line center for the Kings back in the 2009-2011 days of playoff maybes, but got bumped to the third line which was more of a natural fit. He checked hard, led the unit, and could shoot like no other when he had the time and space. Kempe only takes penalties, is barely old enough to drink, and no longer scorers besides on breakaways. All situations that could be remedied if he was used as a complimentary winger.
But I digress.
No one has been able to take on Stoll’s job. Richards was given opportunities to be that long term 3C guy but spiraled out of control before Lombardi planted enough Oxy on him that Billy Mays was probably dead in the trunk of his car as well. No one has earned the trust to be the third line guy, and every outside option was 1000 years old and broken.
Except for Kempe, who has been atrocious the last year. For whatever reason, Stevens still has the blinders on with him there.
It remains the signature issue the Kings have had since their Cup days. The Voynov fisaco may have resulted in a wash of a season in 2015 where the defense was never able to recover, but in time Derek Forbort, Paul LaDue,
Colin Miller, and now Sean Walker have offset that loss (just in time for Phaneuf to be totally unnecessary). Nothing has been done about the center spot still.
Wingers were always a luxury with the Kings, of which they had sometimes dire little of. It was offset by strength down the middle which was the Kings identity, even before Richards (though Michal Handzus was less inspiring). Lately, natural wingers got stuffed into the center spot, wasting their talent (Kempe), or it was too large a role for them (Shore), or they just fucking sucked because they were riding dinosaurs with Jesus and their bodies were ravaged by the eons of time (Lecavalier). The third line has been a black hole for years. Nothing has helped, and it has drained the Kings in every season.
The NHL has been a league where depth has been in higher and higher demand, largely following the 2013 season. The Kings capitalized on that once. But due to injuries, criminal behavior, and salary cap constraints they have let that slide entirely by the wayside. Even this past off-season had the Kings scrambling for another scoring winger (Pacioretty, Kovalcuk) instead of being aware that their center depth remained a total mess.
Could a third line of Pearson or Kempe or Kovalchuk or Lewis on the wings work? Absolutely. Just not with Adrian Kempe running the show at the center spot because he’s a mess (and he would totally work better on a line as a winger which is the position he learned to play in the first place).
Enter Michael Amadio.
He’s the closest kid ready who actually plays center. Jaret Anderson-Dolan is still a ways out, and who the hell knows about Gabe Vilardi. Amadio has show he can make some slick passes, and is defensively responsible. He can also find open seams to sneak into for offensive chances. The Kings (if they move Kempe to wing) would have enough winger depth that he would have quality linemates.
But instead the Kings will probably trade Alec Martinez for Justin Abdelkader and keep using Kempe as a center.
Fuck you good night.