NEW YORK -- The 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 is hanging over the Los Angeles Kings, impacting what many players are thinking, how they're feeling, and certainly the way they're playing, according to coach Todd McLellan and general manager Rob Blake.
McLellan, in his first year as Kings coach, and Blake watched their team lose its fifth game in a row on Sunday, 4-1 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Kings are 4-15-1 in 20 games since Dec. 21.
"We're obviously a team that's in transition right now so it's really easy to pick certain players on our team and you speculate about them," McLellan said before the game against the Rangers. "They'll tell you, I'll tell you, 'We don't listen to that [stuff], we don't read your newspaper, listen to your show.' We hear it all, so don't let them tell you that. They know what's going on and it affects them. I think we're carrying that around a little bit with us right now."
Blake said he saw the same thing happen to the Kings last season, when they went 0-5-2 in the seven games prior to the trade deadline.
They were sellers last season, and Blake has made no secrets about the Kings being sellers again, having already made one trade, sending goalie Jack Campbell and forward Kyle Clifford, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Kings, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Trevor Moore, a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on Wednesday.
Pending unrestricted free agent forwards Tyler Toffoli and Trevor Lewis, and defensemen Joakim Ryan, Ben Hutton and Derek Forbort could all be traded. Defenseman Alec Martinez, who has one year remaining on his contract, knows he could be moved as well.
"I mean, it's no secret," Martinez said following the loss against the Rangers. "There's plenty of talk about a lot of guys in this room, myself included, but that's the way the business works. We all know what we signed up for. I'm no dummy. Everyone knows what's going on and what happens when you don't perform on the ice that changes are made. We saw it [five] days ago with Cliffy and Jack. We're all human beings, you think about it, but at the end of the day it's my job to go out there and play as hard as I can, just like it's everyone's job in this room. You've got to be professional about things."
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Martinez said he doesn't feel the looming trade deadline is affecting the Kings' play and fellow defenseman Drew Doughty, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, said they can't use the unknown immediate future for many of the players as an excuse.
"It's going to happen and that's the bottom line," Doughty said. "So I don't think it's lingering. I don't think that that's why we're getting the results we're getting. … We're just not playing good enough hockey."
McLellan, though, said the trade Wednesday affected many of the Kings players because it involved Clifford.
He played 715 games with the Kings, including 55 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, across 10 seasons, and won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 with Doughty, Martinez, Lewis, goalie Jonathan Quick, and forwards Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter.
"It's easy for people outside of the game to say, 'Hey, they get paid a lot of money, they should be prepared for that,' but they are human beings, there are families involved and there's guys that have been here for a long, long time," McLellan said. "When Cliffy walked out of the room the other day and jumped on the plane the next morning, not that it was unexpected, but it happened, and it was a solemn day for us. You win two Cups with a guy, spend 10 years with him, your kids are going to the playground, your wives are friends. Manhattan Beach, or the South Bay, where we live, it's a pretty tight group and a lot of guys stay there in the summer, so they're year-round teammates and year-round families. A lot of that gets uprooted."
There will be more uprooting to come. It's the cold, stark reality facing the Kings in the next two weeks because of their position at the bottom of the standings, 19 points out of position for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.
Not even the excitement of getting to play in the 2020 Navy Federal Credit Union Stadium Series game against the Colorado Avalanche at Air Force Academy on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, TVAS2) can change feelings about what will happen before the deadline passes.
"The sooner we get past the 24th, the better off we are," McLellan said.