EL SEGUNDO -- A new day dawned at the Toyota Sports Center. A new era? We’ll have to wait and see.
The nameplate over the locker that formerly belonged to Kings defenseman Jack Johnson was gone. He was off to Columbus, joining the Blue Jackets in a trade Thursday that brought high-scoring forward Jeff Carter to L.A. and reunited him with good friend and former Flyers’ teammate Mike Richards.
Andrei Loktionov was gone too, but he'll soon be back. The 21-year-old center was shipped back to the AHL to make room for rookie defenseman Slava Voynov, recalled to fill Johnson’s spot on the blue line alongside veteran Willie Mitchell. Now that Mitchell has signed a two-year contract extension, Voynov should benefit even longer under his tutelage.
Loktionov, a victim of depth at the top three center positions and with too small a frame to anchor the fourth line, will rejoin the Kings next week when rosters can be expanded, coach Darryl Sutter said after practice. Good thing because Loktionov was just beginning to heat up, scoring three goals in the last five games.
Dustin Brown was still around, despite fervent rumors the night before that he was next on the trading block. Brown, in his fourth season as the team captain, admitted the reports were on his mind, but repeated what most players say in similar situations.
“You just don’t sit here and wonder what’s going to happen,” he said. “You’ve just got to go out there and play.”
Many of the opinions shared in the locker room Friday were what you’d expect to hear the day after a major transaction, and with four days still left until the trade deadline. Players alternated between complementing Johnson, several of whom said their goodbyes in the form of late night or early-morning text messages, and welcoming another proven finisher on a goal-starved team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring.
Before this season, Carter averaged 36 goals over the previous four. Foot and shoulder injuries have limited him to 39 games this season, but he still managed 15 goals for the worst team in the NHL. That would rank him second on the Kings. Carter also owns two hat tricks this season, the second in his final game with the Blue Jackets on Tuesday. The Kings haven’t notched a hat trick since Anze Kopitar earned one against the Blue Jackets last March.
Richards didn’t hide his excitement Thursday night, proclaiming through his twitter account, ‘reunited and it feels so good…excited to be back playing with Carts #needaroommate.' Richards said Friday he hasn’t offered Carter the spare bedroom in his South Bay home, but it’s still available.
Shocked and a bit saddened when he was dealt to L.A. last summer, Richards has grown to enjoy the lifestyle and expects Carter to make a similar adjustment, both on and off the ice.
“He’ll fit well into the dressing room and fit well in the scheme of things,” Richards said. “He’s a goal scorer and, obviously, he has a lot of skill, so he’s going to help us out with that.”
Mitchell hasn’t played in the same conference as Carter until this season, but has seen enough to be impressed.
“I know he’s got a great shot, skates pretty well for a big man and is really good at finding the net and soft spots in the offensive zone,” Mitchell said. “That’s why you want to get him the puck, because he has a world-class shot.
Sutter said he was still unsure whether Carter would make it to Staples Center in time for the start of Saturday’s game against Chicago Blackhawks at 5 p.m. Both Johnson and Carter still had to pass physicals before the trade could officially be stamped as complete. What is known is Carter will play right wing on either the first or second line and will wear No. 77 for the Kings.
As for Johnson, Sutter said it was tough to see him go, but the organization’s depth is on defense and they needed to generate more goals as they teetered in playoff contention.
“Every team has a weakness or a strength,” Sutter said of the trade. "That what you have to do."
What the Kings will lose with the departure of Johnson is size, Sutter said. Johnson, who turned 25 last month, is listed at 6 feet 1, 219 pounds. Voynov, who turned 22 last month, is 5-11, 193.
Both players have better-than-average scoring touch and power-play savvy, but where the Kings should improve with Voynov is defensive responsibility. Johnson’s minus-85 rating in last five seasons is the worst in the NHL.
If the pluses can outweigh the minuses, than this might turn out to be a great deal after all.