The LA Kings finished tinkering their lineup with the additions of Phillip Danault and Alex Edler.
“We’re running out of time. With all this cap room, we gotta bring some guys in.” That was Drew Doughty during his end-of-season presser. He wasn’t wrong. The LA Kings were the worst team in producing offense during 5v5 play.
Upgrades were necessary.
Rob Blake heard that message from his star defenseman loud and clear.
Not long after the Kings season concluded, Blake made his first move adding a relatively unknown forward out of the KHL in Vladimir Tkachev.
A few days later, the Kings made another move by acquiring Viktor Arvidsson from the Nashville Predators for a couple of draft picks. But even with those two additions, Kings fans were advocating for more.
Enter free agency.
A short while into the opening of free agency, the LA Kings made their biggest signing of the off-season, adding a Selke nominated two-way centerman in Phillip Danault, giving him a six-year deal with an AAV of $5,500,000.
“Why another center?” fans on Twitter asked. With the number of centers in the mix already and some possibly ready to make a permanent jump to the NHL, the question was entirely warranted. But, Phillip Danault is the exact type of player that LA needed.
Fans may not realize it but a legit number-two center is a piece that was missing for this team to be a playoff contender again. While Gabe Vilardi has all the abilities to be a stud center in the NHL, he’s still a project.
Playing him full-time as the number-two center last season, Vilardi found himself catching up to play. With Danault in the mix, Gabe can slide down a line and play in a bit more of a limited role. Letting him compete against other team’s bottom-six instead of matching up against top six lines will give the young center time to acclimate and offer him more opportunity to provide more offense.
For those against LA signing Phillip Danault, look what he was able to do against Mark Stone during the playoffs.
Stone’s average xGF% in the six games against MTL was 34.75.
That’s something Rob Blake would value with Stone in LA’s division for six more years.#GoKingsGo
— Russell Morgan (@NHLRussell) July 25, 2021
Danault not only will help Gabriel Vilardi, but he’ll also relieve Anze Kopitar of many of his defensive responsibilities. That was something he mentioned during his first availability with the LA media.
“He’s a really good model for me, and obviously, I can relieve a little bit of pressure off his shoulders and checking from some big lines and big players every night, so he can focus more on his skill and offense.”
Phillip Danault, signed 6x$5.5M by LA, is a top six shutdown centre who has been elite defensively, a top-end playmaker, and a solid offence driver in very difficult minutes with the Habs. #GoKingsGo pic.twitter.com/WWQWiG3Jln
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 28, 2021
Many were quick to point out Danault’s lack of presence on the score sheet. But as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover. While Phillip may not show up on the box score, he sure does help his linemates. And that was very evident during the 2021 season.
Out of all lines across the NHL, the trio of Gallagher-Danault-Tatar in Montreal led the league with a 69.03 xGF% (expected goals for). Also, in GF/60 (goals for per 60 minutes), the three Canadiens were fourth in the NHL with 4.28, behind only the Mark Stone line in Vegas, the Auston Matthews line in Toronto, and the “Perfection Line” in Boston.
And that’s just last year.
In his career, Phillip Danault has been an absolute BEAST when looking at his advanced stats. Listen to these numbers:
- Since entering the league in 2014, Danault is 20th among ALL skaters, with a 55.96 xGF% ahead of players like Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov, and Mark Stone.
Wait, it gets better.
- Also, since that time, he’s eighth — EIGHTH — among all players with a CF% (Corsi for) of 56.4. Talk about driving play.
So, while fans may not realize it at first, Phillip Danault is the exact type of offensive forward needed for LA.
Danault wasn’t the only big name to be added to the Kings roster. Shortly after his contract was announced, another piece was brought in: Alex Edler.
There’s quite a bit of contrast in the two free-agent signings for the LA Kings. While Danault was added with more long-term aspirations in mind from Kings management, Edler might only be here for a cup of coffee.
The 35-year-old veteran left-shot defenseman signed a one-year deal with LA carrying an AAV of $3,500,000. A nice piece to have on the left side of a young defensive corps.
During the 2021 season, the LA Kings saw rookies Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot playing regular top-four minutes on the left side of the defense. Mikey led all rookie defensemen in ice time, and while Toby may develop into a top-four blueliner, he’s not there yet.
You could say thrusting those players into elevated roles was good for their development while, at times, exhibiting signs of inexperience. But, with Alex Edler now in the fold, that gives those young players the ability to play a more limited role — something that can only help them and the team as they try to transition into playoff contenders.
Edler is being brought in to provide one thing that was desperately needed from LA’s defense: scoring. More importantly, power-play scoring. And that is something Alex excels at.
During the 2021 season, the only other defenseman on the Kings to score a point on the power play, besides Drew Doughty, was Sean Walker, who had one assist.
Alex Edler, signed 2x$3.5M by LA, has slowed down but put up very good two-way results in tough top four minutes for the Canucks last season. Skating decline does lead him to take a lot of penalties. #GoKingsGo pic.twitter.com/esWiHwwgRP
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 28, 2021
Since 2017, Alex Edler scores 5.01 P/60 (points per 60 minutes) while on the power play, just behind Drew Doughty’s 5.02 during that same timeframe.
“I think we’re comfortable with the group [that] we feel we can ice come training camp.” That was Rob Blake after his busy Wednesday of signings. And I feel Kings fans have that same sentiment.
The roster is INDEED much better than what it was at the end of this last year.
Looking at the forward group, there is a lot to like, and the possible line combinations give a sense of optimism. Here’s how I would place the current group of forwards together:
Kempe – Kopitar – Brown
Iafallo – Danault – Arvidsson
Moore – Vilardi – Athanasiou
Tkachev – JAD – Andersson
The ultimate X-factor here is Vladimir Tkachev.
While I firmly believe that he will play a vital role as another scoring option on the left side, he will have to show he can translate his entertaining style of play from the KHL over to the NHL.
Another player that I suspect to be back for a more suitable role is Andreas Athanasiou. Lost in the shuffle of Danault and Edler, AA was re-signed to a one-year deal. Much to my surprise, Athanasiou was the Kings’ most productive forward during 5v5 play, netting 2.04 P/60. Ahead of Anze Kopitar’s 1.77 P/60. So, if placed in a better opportunity, Athanasiou can provide much more offense next season.
On the defensive side, I feel it’s much more straightforward.
Anderson – Doughty
Edler – Roy
Bjornfot – Walker
Although Edler does have much more experience than Mikey Anderson, I thought Anderson and Doughty showed some nice chemistry toward the end of the season.
One player to watch coming up to training camp will be Olli Maatta. With the signing of Edler, it remains to be seen what Maatta’s role will be. Tobias Bjornfot is still waived exempt. So if they decided to keep Maatta around for the last year of his contract, I could see Toby being sent back down to Ontario for another year of development.
All in all, LA Kings fans should be happy with what General Manager Rob Blake has done this offseason. And while at the end of another disappointing season with the playoffs having felt so far away, there should be no reason why this team can’t be a legit playoff contender come 2022.