Blue Jackets winger Rick Nash, and his scoring ability, is a prized commodity… (Terry Gilliam / Associated…)
This could be the most important week of Dean Lombardi's six seasons as general manager of the Kings.
If he acquires a high-impact scorer by the trade deadline of noon Pacific time Monday, he can salvage a season that began with high expectations but descended into a grim battle to score goals and make the playoffs.
Failure to reach the postseason could cost Lombardi his job and there would be no reason to argue he should stay.
The only elite player available and able to deliver the necessary scoring jolt is Columbus left wing Rick Nash, who reportedly listed the Kings among teams he'd be willing to join in a trade. The Blue Jackets are asking a lot for him. It's up to Lombardi to negotiate an acceptable price, and that's an iffy proposition.
Columbus also offered center Jeff Carter but he's riskier because he's signed through 2021-22 and has sulked since being traded from Philadelphia to Columbus. So it looks like Nash or nothing significant enough to make a difference.
The Kings have a bargaining chip in goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who's NHL-ready but stuck behind Jonathan Quick. They can also trade defenseman Jack Johnson but not skillful Slava Voynov too without diminishing their defense corps. The New York Rangers, rumored to be the front-runners for Nash, can spare young defensemen and forwards but not a goalie, though that might not be a sticking point.
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.
Ducks' surge creates happy problem
Once 20 points out of a West playoff spot, the Ducks have cut their deficit to five with a 15-3-4 turnaround since Jan. 1, including a current 6-0-3 points streak. They've also moved from being sure sellers at the trade deadline to straddling the fence.
General Manager Bob Murray, who said on Jan. 6 that he was prepared to trade anyone except Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, is initiating and taking calls but it makes no sense for him dump assets if the Ducks are close at the deadline.
"I know the players are making it a little more difficult for Bob to decide," Coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday. "It's a pretty long trek but we're still pushing."
The reversal began when Jonas Hiller emerged from a funk to compile a 13-3-4 record and allow two goals or fewer in 17 of his last 20 appearances. Their defense solidified and Corey Perry (29 goals), Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan found the net again to support 41-year-old Selanne (20 goals, 53 points).
"And then the third and fourth line started chipping in where they weren't earlier," Boudreau said. "It's a team effort but the No. 1 thing is the goaltender has been incredible. … It's pretty special."
Their road remains tough because they must pass five teams. But they're keeping it interesting with a 4-0-2 record on a trip that continues Tuesday at Tampa and Thursday at Carolina.
"Whatever clicked in with them, they're playing good and hard now and they believe," Boudreau said. "Whatever it is they believe they're capable of doing it."
Coyotes healthy and howling
General Manager Don Maloney and Coach Dave Tippett have done a remarkable job keeping the Phoenix Coyotes competitive in the two-plus years the club has been operated by the NHL, but their magic seemed to have worn out this season.
They had no reserves to replace injured players and the team struggled through the first half. Reinvigorated by the All-Star break, the Coyotes have rebounded to assemble a 7-0-1 streak and climb from 12th to seventh in the West.
"We were just playing well enough to lose. Games were close but we weren't getting that extra point," Maloney said. "Instead of leading the pack we were chasing the pack. The last 2 1/2 weeks we've been able to at least get back in the thick of the pack."
Maloney has room in his budget to make a trade or two only because he scrimped by, sometimes carrying only one extra player.
"Any of the big names and sexier deals won't include the Coyotes but there a couple of players we think we can fit in that would make us a little stronger," he said.
Meanwhile, three groups reportedly remain interested in buying the Coyotes. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL is focused on keeping the team in suburban Glendale "and to this point we have not explored any alternatives that would involve a franchise relocation. Obviously, at some point, we may have to begin going down that road, but we haven't yet."
Maloney said the ownership saga isn't distracting him.
"I don't know if it's because we've become numb to it or we're used to being an orphan of the state but it hasn't been as pressing to me," he said. "Maybe it's because Winnipeg got the team and you don't have the Canadian media making such an issue of it. … We just focus on the team and trying to get to the playoffs and win in the playoffs because the better we play the better chance we have of staying."