With one of the NHL’s best prospects pools and a couple of high-profile acquisitions, the LA Kings must be an improved team this season.
Experience winning the Stanley Cup: check.
Make questionable moves in an attempt to keep the Stanley Cup window open: check.
Endure a fall from grace and into a dreaded rebuild: check.
Re-stock the prospect pipeline into one of the best in the NHL: check.
Put it all together and become a playoff contender this season: to be determined.
It has been a long past three seasons for the LA Kings and their fanbase. Not only has the team missed the playoffs the past three seasons, but they have actually finished near the bottom of the league standings.
To add insult to injury, the nosedive to the bottom necessitated trading several popular players from the glory days so that the team could acquire prospects and draft picks to build a better future.
That future is now.
This is not to say the LA Kings need to be favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season — far from it. However, it is to say that the team must show noticeable improvement on the ice and in the standings this season. A bevy of high-profile prospects is either ready or nearly ready to graduate from Ontario to Los Angeles.
Names like Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Rasmus Kupari, Alex Turcotte, Samuel Fagemo, and more should be joining the roster for part or even all of this season. Combine this with the continued development of Gabe Vilardi, Lias Andersson, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Mikey Anderson, and Cal Petersen means the youth will soon be served in the City of Angels.
But, don’t forget the wildcard that is Vladimir Tkachev.
General Manager Rob Blake is not just counting on the youth to get the Kings over the top. He started the offseason by acquiring winger Viktor Arvidsson from the Nashville Predators for a pair of draft picks. In Arvidsson, the Kings get someone who could score 25 to 30 goals per season and finally give them a legitimate scoring threat they have been so desperate to find.
Blake was not done. The day unrestricted free agency opened, he inked the defensive specialist Phillip Danault to a six-year contract. Then, it was veteran defenseman Alexander Edler‘s turn as he was brought in on a one-year contract. The signings of Danult and Edler stabilizes the LA Kings lineup while also giving the younger players more room to get further acclimated to the NHL.
All of these changes will certainly bring excitement into the LA lineup this season. The excitement, however, needs to translate into wins. The NHL returns to its pre-pandemic playoff format of the top three teams in each division and two wildcard spots from each conference making the playoffs, and the Kings should make a serious run at getting into the playoffs.
It is no secret that the Pacific Division is considered by many to be the weakest division in the NHL. The Vegas Golden Knights and the Edmonton Oilers are the favorites to lock up playoff spots, so that leaves the third playoff spot completely up for grabs.
The LA Kings, Vancouver Canucks, and Calgary Flames all took steps to improve their teams this offseason, while the Anaheim Ducks and Arizona Coyotes are clearly still rebuilding. I don’t buy the hype of the Seattle Kraken making the playoffs this season with their roster constructed as it currently is.
Assuming it is Vegas and Edmonton that take the top two spots in the Pacific Division, it really becomes a three-team race between the Kings, Canucks, and Flames for that third and final playoff spot from the division. Yes, there are also two wildcard spots available, but with as strong as the Central Division is once again, I would not count on any Pacific Division clubs grabbing either wildcard spot.
This season will also mark the third of Kings coach Todd McLellan‘s five-year contract. The standings didn’t reflect it, as the team was still in a rebuild for his first two years, but McLellan has done a great job implementing his systems and preparing the team to exit its rebuild. On paper, the LA Kings now have the talent on their roster to make the playoffs this season, which in all fairness to Coach McLellan, he has not had yet during his tenure in Los Angeles.
At the very least, the Kings need to be in contention for a playoff spot right up until the end of the season. Another season where it is essentially over for the silver-and-black by March could potentially mean it will get hotter than usual next offseason in Southern California.