With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season coming to a crashing halt against the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings facing elimination after being up 2-0 against the Anaheim Ducks, both teams may be looking to make sweeping changes this offseason. For the Kings the easy answer is to amnesty Mike Richards and take a run at a big name free agent sniper such as Thomas Vanek. Likewise the Penguins will be looking to rid themselves of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and find stability in net via free agency (Jonas Hiller and Ryan Miller come to mind right away). Having said this, both teams can use their respective star power to make a blockbuster trade that addresses their respective weaknesses and keep them competitive for a long time.
While Sidney Crosby has “no-showed” in his last three playoff series for the Penguins (one goal in 17 games), he is untouchable; there is absolutely no way the Penguins would trade him (The “Wayne Gretzky was traded” argument is null and void here, different circumstances). That being said his teammate and fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin could be on the move if the Penguins look to dramatically “shake things up”. For the Kings to acquire Malkin they would have to give up a top center in his prime (Anze Kopitar) and a quality No. 1 goalie (Jonathan Quick) while at the same time burdening themselves with Fleury’s contract, something the Kings can do. While it would be risky and would see key parts of the Kings’ 2012 championship team, Dean Lombardi has been known to roll the dice in the past; and this would be a roll that would intrigue even the most veteran gamblers.
While Quick has been the antithesis of Fleury in the playoffs in recent years, the Kings have not one, but “aces in the hole” to address the position if they were to make such a trade. The Kings can amnesty Fleury immediately after acquiring him and sign a free agent goalie with the salary cap room, one in particular comes to mind. Ryan Miller’s wife (Noureen DeWulf) is a TV actress based in Los Angeles, and Miller has long stated a desire to play closer to her. While Miller is older than Quick, the former Olympic MVP would be a capable No. 1 goalie, re-energized by his new found comfort zone in playing closer to his wife for the next few years. Meanwhile, Quick would devastate the best shooters in the east and cover any mistakes made by the team’s high-risk, high-reward defensemen (Namely Kris Letang) as a member of the Penguins.
It goes without saying Malkin is a more productive offensive force than Kopitar, but their respective games can really take off with their new teams. Malkin has always been the Robin to Crosby’s Batman, but when Crosby has missed extended time he has shown he can be “the man”. Malkin would bring an offensive element that would make the players around him (Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Jeff Carter, etc.) better in a way few players can. Likewise, though, Kopitar has been the Kings’ No. 1 center since joining the team, so his defensive play and hockey acumen would allow slide into the No. 2 center spot behind Crosby easily. Kopitar would also give the Penguins a penalty killing anchor who would make the team even tougher to play against.
A trade centered around Malkin and Fleury for Quick and Kopitar (other assets would surely be thrown in by both sides, but the most important pieces would be the aforementioned players) can happen from a salary cap and hockey standpoint.The salary cap numbers (L.A. would be taking on $13.7 million before amnestying Fleury while Pittsburgh would be taking on $12.6 million) are close enough to get the deal done. Both teams have ample cap room going into next season that would allow them to make further moves and address any position(s) left weaker by the “trade”. For the Kings it would be their biggest move since No. 99 came to town in 1988, which for a city that loves dramatics is almost too perfect. Likewise, the Penguins would have a new-look team that would be the pride of the Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future. However unlikely the trade may be, both teams must think outside the box if they want to stay competitive going forward, which may mean parting with some great players.