Kings’ defensive surplus provides trade options

All eyes were on defenseman Jack Johnson on Tuesday night, and not only because he was the Los Angeles Kings’ final shooter in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at Glendale, Ariz.

Johnson’s future with the Kings is increasingly unclear, even though he signed a seven-year contract extension with them a mere 13 months ago.

The Kings boast so much blue-line depth that they can afford to keep both Slava Voynov (11 points, plus-four plus/minus rating in 33 NHL games this season) and Thomas Hickey (an American Hockey League All-Star) in the minor leagues. Johnson, meanwhile, is considered a desirable commodity that could be used in a package to yield a return that could help LA’s sputtering offense.

“It’s kind of an annual thing for me now, you know?” Johnson told Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “Most of those rumors aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.”

There’s slightly more bite to these current rumors, as far as Johnson should be concerned.

The Kings, who continue their two-game trip Wednesday night at Colorado (FOX Sports West, 6 p.m. PT), are reported by Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch to be one of the teams to which Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash would accept a trade. LA could put together a strong package that might not be matched by other teams looking to secure the six-time 30-goal scorer’s services.

In addition to Johnson, the Kings likely would also part with goaltender Jonathan Bernier and a draft pick in a package for Nash. Voynov and forward Andrei Loktionov could also be in play. Loktionov scored the second of the Kings’ three first-period goals Tuesday against the Coyotes.

The Blue Jackets are also “openly shopping” Jeff Carter, according to Portzline. In any trade with Columbus, a team dangling a young goaltender who can immediately step in and play will be on Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson’s speed dial before the trade deadline Monday.

Both Boston and Vancouver have goaltenders Howson would be salivating over, though it’s unlikely either Tuukka Rask or Cory Schneider gets moved. While both teams have plenty of young talent to offer — Cody Hodgson and David Krejci are likely pieces that the Blue Jackets would want included in a Nash trade — both the Bruins and Canucks are already settled offensive teams with depth and more likely to smooth up their edges with smaller trade deadline moves rather than make a massive, in-season personnel adjustment.

Both teams also boast uniquely close locker rooms, the hierarchy of which can become disrupted when key players are moved.

“This is a pretty tight room,” Schneider said to Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province last week. “We’ve forged an identity and a bond and we all believe in it and it would be great to keep everything together.

Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi might opt for several smaller trades instead of the larger Nash blockbuster. With Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk having returned from a concussion, he’ll certainly draw a look as someone who could fill the Kings’ position of weakness at left wing. Because it would take less of a haul to acquire either van Riemsdyk or Carter, there’s the potential of the Kings adding scoring punch to their flanks around an already deep center corps, part of transactions posited by John Hoven at MayorsManor.com.

With a strong package on the table, it now comes down to the direction Howson wants to lead his franchise, with the ominous thought of another rebuilding phase on the horizon. Columbus will use a top pick at the 2012 NHL draft on one of two impact forwards, Nail Yakupov or Mikhail Grigorenko, and has a developing 19-year old skilled forward, Ryan Johansen. So it’s not inconceivable to think the Blue Jackets would balance their transitional period by acquiring defense and goaltending.

We argued last week that Los Angeles’ biggest challenge is getting the most out of players already on the team’s roster, but it appears there are several options available to Lombardi that could allow the team to deal from an area of depth to acquire offensive pieces capable of improving the Kings’ league-worst output of 2.07 goals per game.

There’s plenty for Lombardi and Howson to talk about again, and, thankfully, this time it’s not about coloumbs.