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Christian Ehrhoff Signing Creates Blue Line Battle for Kings

We don’t typically see names like Christian Ehrhoff last late into August as free agents. Especially not when the market is as thin as it was this summer. But the veteran defenseman took his time, weighed his options and settled on the L.A. Kings on a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

Ehrhoff isn’t going to join the Kings and take on a ton of responsibility. Drew Doughty is the anchor on the blue line and will continue to skate alongside Jake Muzzin on the team’s top pairing. That isn’t going to change now.

Alec Martinez will take up a spot on the second unit now that he’s healthy. It’s here that Ehrhoff makes a difference on the team’s depth chart and creates battles for the rest of the defensive group.

Matt Greene might be pushed down to the third pairing to make room for the incoming defender, which creates a logjam for the sixth spot –This is still the case even if Ehrhoff is slated for third-pairing duty. That leaves Brayden McNabb, Jamie McBain, Jeff Schultz and Derek Forbort left to battle for ice time in the NHL.

Forbort is likely the odd man out because of his age and two-way deal. The Kings won’t be strapped for cash (depending on how things shake out with Slava Voynov and Mike Richards), but they can save a bit of money by demoting Forbort for one more season. He also wouldn’t have to clear waivers in a cup-of-coffee situation.

That might be the best course of action with the 23-year-old anyway. He’s the only player that was selected in 2010’s first round that has yet to play an NHL game, and there’s are a handful of factors working against that changing this October. The Kings seem stocked on left-handed shooters and Ehrhoff gives them another lefty.

Forbort is noted for his size (6’4″, 220-ish pounds) and could still live up to his pedigree, but L.A. doesn’t need another player of his ilk. They’ll likely give him a third year of seasoning in AHL before promoting him to the top-six next year. At that point, Ehrhoff, McNabb, McBain and Schultz will all be in need of new deals and the King will have plenty of options.

Forbort’s entry-level contract will also be expiring, which leaves the door open for him to secure a spot in Los Angeles.

Unless he has an incredible camp, look for Forbort to play monster minutes in the minors for one more season. That narrows the battle down to three. Schultz had a strong run with a Manchester Monarchs team that won the Calder Cup last year, but do the Kings seem him as a permanent part of the organization’s blue line? If so, are they willing to take ice time away from McBain and McNabb to get Schultz reps on the third pairing?

That doesn’t seem like good asset management. Schultz is 29 and is a great veteran to have at the minor league level. He’s spent most of the last two years in the AHL, and he isn’t likely to challenge one of the younger options for the No. 6 spot. He’s also a left-handed shooter. If that is going to work against Forbort, it’ll definitely work against Schultz. That leaves McBain and McNabb to scrap for time on the third pairing.

The former is a right-handed shooter that brings some offense to the table, while the latter was the team’s seventh defenseman before Voynov as suspended. McBain is on a two-way deal, but he’s arguably the most dynamic option the Kings have for their No. 6 slot. He needs to play sheltered minutes, but skating alongside Greene could help McBain out of jams when he oversteps offensively.

Back in July, Jason Lewis explained McBain’s game this way for

This style of change trading play is not familiar to the Kings, although it could work on a third pairing. You have to protect McBain in a number of ways, much like the Kings protected Brayden McNabb last season… He gives the Kings a nice added boost to offense from the blueline, but is also a proverbial hockey version of a glass cannon.

In the right situations, players like McBain can thrive. The Kings need more offense from their blue line in 2015-16, and the 27-year-old would provide some extra punch. With a more defensive-minded partner like Greene and sheltered minutes, McBain could see time on the second power-play unit while getting offensive-zone starts more often than not.

That would leave McNabb as the seventh man, which is the role he held prior to the the Voynov suspension. He filled in admirably last year and really seemed to settle in as the campaign went on, but something has to give with Ehrhoff heading to the Kings. The top-six could look different next summer, but for now it seems like L.A. is trying to insulate itself against icing too many young defensemen in 2015-16.

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  • easez1

    This is a ‘show me’ contract for Ehrhoff, and it’s only available because RR retired and Voynov hasn’t been cleared by the league yet. Even with RR gone, if Voynov returns to the lineup and Forbort has a strong camp, Ehrhoff probably doesn’t make the team. Ehrhoff, under any circumstance, does not bump Greene to the third pairing considering the size and aggression of forwards in the western conference.

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