There will be a reason to watch the Kings next season besides curiosity over whether construction costs for the Staples Center--already above $400 million--include gold faucets in the rest rooms.
Ziggy Palffy is that reason.
There will be a reason to expect the Kings to improve their 32-45-5 record of last season, and not simply because it seems impossible for as many players to suffer as many injuries to as many different body parts as last season.
Ziggy Palffy is that reason.
There is reason to believe Dave Taylor, previously prone to limiting his signings and acquisitions to players who were his teammates at some point, may become a smart, aggressive general manager who is willing to take a calculated risk when the circumstances are right. And there's finally reason to believe media-shy billionaire Philip Anschutz, the Kings' principal owner, is in this for more than the diversion of playing Monopoly with real houses and hotels.
Ziggy Palffy is that reason, because of what he can do and because of the financial, emotional and personnel investment the Kings made when they acquired him Sunday in a six-player deal with the New York Islanders.
Olli Jokinen, traded by the Kings to the Islanders with Mathieu Biron and Josh Green for Palffy, Bryan Smolinski and minor league goaltender Marcel Cousineau, may be a good player someday. Or he may be a respectable second- or third-line center, a big body who must still prove he has quick hands and the stamina to battle down low night after night.
Jokinen was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Kings' plan to build a big, young team through the draft. Selecting the Finnish center third overall in 1997 was one of Taylor's first major decisions when he succeeded Sam McMaster as the Kings' general manager, and Taylor was reluctant to trade Jokinen until he recognized Jokinen has more value to another team than he does to the Kings.
The Islanders, in woeful shape on the ice and in the midst of a modified salary-dumping spree, need players who have low salaries and moderate to high potential. Jokinen meets those qualifications and can be more effective on a team in the more rugged Eastern Conference than he was with the Kings. In a few years the Islanders are likely to have a new arena and/or new owners, and they will be able to pay him if he develops into a top-tier player.
By contrast, the Kings need production more than they need potential. Enter Palffy, exit Jokinen.
"Olli was the first player that I drafted. It was a difficult decision to trade him," Taylor acknowledged. "But I think we acquired a significant package of assets."
Biron, a towering defenseman, may develop into the next Derian Hatcher. Then again, he may not. Green, a left wing who had one goal and four points in 27 games with the Kings last season, was a favorite of then-Coach Larry Robinson for reasons that weren't always apparent. Green wasn't ready for the rigors of the NHL, although his experience may have taught him how high a price he must pay.
Predicting the capabilities of players when they're 18 or 19 is an inexact science, as evidenced by the Kings' selection of Matt Zultek 15th overall in 1997 and their recent decision not to sign him because he didn't develop as they projected. The first-round pick this year (eighth overall) the Kings gave up may be used to draft a future NHL scoring champion--or another Matt Zultek.
In Palffy, the Kings get a proven scorer, a rare commodity that isn't often on the market. "He's one of the most exciting players in the league," Taylor said. "Every time he touches the puck, he does something exciting, especially from the blue line in."
Before a contract dispute limited him to 22 goals and 50 points in 50 games last season, the 27-year-old Slovakian averaged 45 goals over his previous three seasons. He's dynamic. He's exciting. He's a decent guy.
Unlike Pavel Bure, whom the Kings checked out but passed on before the Vancouver Canucks traded him to Florida, they have no fear about Palffy's attitude or work habits. Unlike Theo Fleury, who rejected a four-year, $26-million contract offer from the Kings before Calgary traded him to Colorado, Palffy is on the right side of 30 and has fewer hard miles on his odometer.
And wonder of wonders, he's a King, and they didn't have to strip their farm system bare to get him.
The combination of players changed considerably during the teams' two weeks of negotiating. Until a few days ago, it appeared likely the Kings would give up Scott Barney, a 6-foot-4 center who had a solid season with his junior team in Peterborough, Canada. Taylor got his Islander counterpart, Mike Milbury, to exclude Barney and prospect Justin Papineau, who has drawn raves from nearly every scout who has seen him. That in itself is encouraging.
This trade alone won't guarantee the Kings a Stanley Cup--or even a spot in the playoffs. But it was the right thing to do, and it was done in the right way and for the right reasons.