LA Kings: Perhaps the best UFA LHD is Ben Hutton

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

LA Kings general manager Rob Blake has made it clear that they plan to sign a left-handed free agent defenseman. Is the best option someone they already know?

Early in the LA Kings offseason, while the rest of the playoff teams waited to hear further details on return-to-play, general manager Rob Blake was already busy focusing on the task ahead. He went on record that the team would be active in the free-agent market, specifically looking for a left-handed defenseman.

The Kings have a ton of financial flexibility, so they could conceivably go out and swing for the fence, landing one of the top blue liners. But given where the team is at in terms of their rebuild, that scenario doesn’t make a ton of sense. I’d expect the Kings, assuming they progress in the correct direction next year, to be more active in the free-agent market next offseason.

The 2020-2021 season will primarily see members of the prospect pool graduate to the NHL and determine where they fit in long term. Staying on the defensive side, the Kings are expected to see Tobias Bjornfot, Kale Clague, and Mikey Anderson all transition into somewhat regular roles. Openings on the blue line are already limited, so there’s likely an alternative in there where Clague and Bjornfot split time between the NHL and AHL. But perhaps not.

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In terms of free agents, the Kings will see Ben Hutton, Sean Walker, and Joakim Ryan hit the market, albeit Walker is a restricted free agent. So he’s likely to return next season. Ryan didn’t offer much offensively and was hurt for a good portion of the season, so the Kings will probably see him depart. But Hutton is intriguing.

As a fifth-round pick of the 2012 NHL Draft by the Vancouver Canucks, the 27-year-old Hutton signed a one-year bridge deal with the Kings last offseason. After tallying four goals with 12 assists for 16 points in 65 games of the COVID-19 shortened year, Hutton is projected to receive a five-year deal at a $4.3M AAV per Evolving Hockey.

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We’ve discussed several options for the Kings to potentially pursue this offseason with names like Dmitry Kulikov, Brenden Dillon, and Jon Merrill, to name a few. Another name that’s been picking up steam is Carolina’s Joel Edmundson, who scored seven goals with 13 assists for 20 points this past year. He is projected to receive a three-year deal this offseason, so the Kings will have to choose wisely.

But might it make some sense to stick with a guy who already knows the system? That being Hutton, obviously, who actually played quite well when paired alongside Matt Roy on the team’s second defensive line. Natural Stat Trick indicates that the duo accounted for nearly 462 minutes of ice time together and a 57.5 percent goal share, broken down into 23 goals scored to 17 goals allowed when they were on the ice.

Going one step further, Matt Roy, without Hutton accounted for a 54.4 goal share, Hutton without Roy account for a 46.5 percent goal share. And with neither of them on the ice, the Kings accounted for a 38.8 percent goal share, broken down into 50 goals scored to 79 goals allowed. In a sense, Hutton made Roy a better player, and vice versa. And obviously, both made the Kings better compared to not having either.

With either Anderson or Bjornfot expected to be paired on the top line with Drew Doughty, a second line pairing of Hutton and Roy makes a ton of sense. And then Sean Walker would be paired with either Clague or Kurtis MacDermid, as the latter duo were frequently paired this past year.

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If the contract projections hold true, five years seems like an awfully long financial commitment, especially considering that the Kings are going to go heavy on defensive prospects after the second overall pick in the upcoming draft. It’ll be interesting to observe how everything fits next year and beyond, but bringing Hutton back on a financially sound deal makes sense.