Because of nightmarish salary cap situation, the Los Angeles Kings had no choice but to let Milan Lucic walk in free agency. With Lucic out of the picture general manager Dean Lombardi needed to find affordable depth at wing in free agency. With a “win now” mentality, Teddy Purcell was the player he decided was the best fit.
Purcell started his NHL career with the Kings in the 2007-08 season after going undrafted. He lit up the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs and played parts of three seasons in Los Angeles. Since he last played with the Kings, he has played with the Lightning, Oilers, and most recently the Panthers.
Bringing him back to Los Angeles is something that Lombardi had been considering before this offseason. With Marian Gaborik injured last season, the Kings needed more depth at wing in their playoff hunt. Both Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie reported that the Kings were in the hunt for Purcell at the trade deadline.
Negotiations fell through on the trade and the Kings acquired Kris Versteeg instead and Purcell ended up with the Panthers. In Florida, he impressed with 11 points in 15 regular season games and two goals in six playoff appearances.
So what makes Lombardi think that he will be a fit six years after the Kings traded him?
When Purcell was traded to the Oilers after several successful seasons with the Lightning, his production dropped. It’s a curse that’s not uncommon to players who end up in Edmonton.
Purcell had trouble living up to the expectations that came with a $4.5 million cap hit in Edmonton. Unable to click with the Oilers’ young, talented forwards, Purcell’s counting stats dropped. The 2014-15 season was his worst production year since the Kings traded him to the Lightning.
Despite being a shocking minus-44 over the last two seasons, Purcell was still a useful middle-six forward in Edmonton and Florida. He drove possession and helped to create offense when he was on the ice. Purcell might not score many goals, but he consistently creates shots.
Comparing Purcell to Lucic is unreasonable. They are vastly different players.
He shouldn’t be seen as Lucic’s replacement in the Kings’ lineup. However, if he plays top-six minutes he should help replace the production that the Kings lost with Lucic.
The Kings are an outstanding possession team and Purcell is a puck possession player. Consequently Purcell’s production and possession numbers should get a nice bump in Los Angeles.
Outside of an anomalous 24 goal season in Tampa Bay, Purcell makes his mark in the offensive zone as a playmaker. Over the past four years he has averaged a little over ten primary assists at even strength per season.
With snipers like Gaborik, Jeff Carter, and Tyler Toffoli to feed pucks to, Purcell will fit right in as a set up man.
Next season is a critical one for Purcell’s hockey career, but motivation won’t be an issue. He’ll be a 31-year-old free agent next July. A top-six role in Los Angeles gives him a chance to earn what might be his last big contract in the NHL.
Despite the pressure of performing in a contract year, Purcell returns to Los Angeles with low expectations. He will be the forward with the seventh highest cap hit on the Kings roster next season. It’s a great situation for him after his misadventure in Edmonton.
The Kings needed offensive depth in the short term and Purcell addresses that need perfectly.
There were plenty of bigger names available in free agency, including Lucic, but the Kings couldn’t afford them. Given the amount of cap space that Lombardi had to work with, adding a top-six winger for $1.6 million was a great move.
If Purcell doesn’t work out (or if things go poorly for the Kings) his contract is easy to trade. But if everything goes right in his second time around in Los Angeles, Lombardi might have found one of the best bargains of the 2016 offseason.
(“Hero” chart from Own the Puck, created by @MimicoHero)