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How the L.A. Kings were built

5/30/2012

In 2010, we talked about how the Chicago Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup with a true homegrown team. Well, they had 10 homegrown players on their roster. Last year's champion, the Boston Bruins had five.

So when I went to dig out the results for the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings, I didn't expect much. Because, since 2000, they've found NHL talent at a slightly above-average rate, and the value from each pick has been only average. In all, their drafting has been mediocre.

But the Kings have 13 homegrown players on this potential championship roster.

It's not like GM Dean Lombardi has forced the issue. They've traded pieces that are essential to homegrown teams -- like first-round picks and elite prospects. But they have done three key things that have allowed them to assemble a potential championship team while keeping much of their own talent.

1. The stars

You need high-end players to be a good NHL team. There's really no way around it. And the easiest way to add an elite player is with a top-five pick, which is exactly what the Kings had in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

But of those picks, only Drew Doughty (No. 2, '08) is currently on the team. Thomas Hickey (No. 4, '07) is a bust so far; Brayden Schenn (No. 5, '09) was traded away. For most other teams, this might mean they have to add elite players via free agency or trade, which gets really expensive. (Just ask the New York Rangers how many pennies Brad Richards cost them.) But the Kings have managed to find stars without those valuable picks -- and that's quite difficult to do.

For example, Anze Kopitar was drafted No. 11 in '05. The average expected GVT per season for that pick is about 2.9, but Kopitar has averaged about 15 GVT per season since he's been in the league, making him the second-best No. 11 pick since 1990 behind Jarome Iginla. In other words, he was a huge steal.

Jonathan Quick was drafted No. 72 in '05. You typically find an above-average goalie outside the top two rounds every other year, and there is no solid historical evidence that this is based on some scouting skill. It's mostly luck, though Kings scout Brian Putnam may not agree.

Captain Dustin Brown was drafted No. 13 in '03. Even if we're looking purely at his measurable contributions -- and obviously he contributes far more than that -- he over-performed by 4.5 GVT per season, making him one of the 40 top-value lottery picks since 1990.

The Kings traded for Mike Richards in exchange for Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a draft pick. Richards has averaged about 11 GVT per season in his career, which is about the value of a No. 2 overall pick. Schenn, though he has star potential, accrued just 1.2 GVT this season, though Simmonds had 8.4 GVT this year. But adding someone like Richards without giving up too much immediate help is quite rare.

So in short, the Kings found their stars without spending a fortune in free agency -- and without solely relying on their top-five picks, a la the Pittsburgh Penguins. And Lombardi has done an excellent job of ensuring that this core will be around for a long time.

2. The role players

It's one thing to draft your own stars. But it's another to draft your own role players. Guys like Trevor Lewis, Dwight King and Scott Parse are far easier to come by in free agency or via trade, but it's far cheaper to draft them yourself. You get them while they are on their entry-level contracts, and you get them during their restricted free agency years, which is considerably cheaper than after they've hit unrestricted free agency. And while the Kings have had an average conversion rate in the draft, they've ensured themselves a steady flow of players by having an incredibly high hit rate in the first- and second-rounds.

From 2000 to 2009, only two Kings' first-rounders failed to reach the NHL -- Hickey and Jens Karlsson. And only five second-rounders failed to reach the NHL. That means they've had 16 first- or second-round NHL players to either develop for their own club or trade away for other assets (more on this later).

It's incredibly difficult to ensure yourself NHL talent in the late rounds -- it's often like throwing darts -- but what teams do in the first and second round is full of intent; they have holes, and they directly draft to fill them. The Kings have been excellent at filling those holes, and this kind of efficiency increases their chances of getting lucky with guys like Kopitar and Brown.

3. The trade assets

Even though NHL teams will look to fill holes in Round 1 -- and some teams, like the Kings, are very good at it -- the draft is still a game of chance. That's why it's often better to draft the best player available and worry about how the pieces fit later. That's better than entirely whiffing on a pick because you're trying too hard to fill a hole, which happens far too often.

So even a team like the Kings, who are incredibly efficient with the first-rounders, have extra assets they are willing to part with. And Lombardi has shown he isn't afraid to part with those pieces in huge trades.

The most notable deal is when he traded Schenn, Simmonds and a pick for Richards. But there's also the trade for Dustin Penner, in which he sent away prospect Colten Teubert, a 2011 first-rounder and a conditional 2012 third-rounder. And the trade for Jeff Carter, in which he sent away Jack Johnson and a conditional first-rounder. Lombardi also traded away Mike Cammalleri, Brian Boyle, Lubomir Visnovsky and Cristobal Huet -- all Kings' draft picks.

In short, they've done a great job of parlaying their homegrown assets into key pieces -- especially when their homegrown assets are not crucial pieces to the puzzle. The next guy to go is probably backup goalie Jonathan Bernier and, given the Kings' inability to score in the regular season, he might serve as trade bait to upgrade that part of the roster. But even after all these deal, there are still 13 homegrown players left on this team, including most of their top players, outside of Richards.

We should know by now that there is no correct "model" for aspiring Stanley Cup champions, but it is good to see the methods used to build these teams. Two years ago, I wrote about how the Blackhawks' ability to develop their own talent allowed them to build their championship roster. Last year, I wrote about how the Bruins are great at drafting NHL talent -- but they quickly use those players as trade assets to fill their needs.

Well, the Kings have found a nice mix between the two: They draft their own team, but they also have no qualms about trading away their homegrown pieces for immediate help. It's allowed them to have a strong core of players who are on affordable contracts, while also having guys who can push them to championship levels.