Rob Blake and the LA Kings made a big dive in the 2021 free agency as they added a few players to bulk up the squad. The biggest and most important addition over the entire off-season was easily the Phillip Danault signing.
Bringing in a defensive genius and a skilled veteran like Danault was a no-brainer as the LA Kings were analytically one of the worst defensively minded teams in the NHL in 2020-21, so having a player who knew how to defend the D-zone was crucial.
Phillip Danault was signed late-ish into the first day of free agency to a six-year deal that holds a 5.5 million dollar AAV throughout. The first three years of the deal contain a full no-movement clause meaning Danault can’t be traded or sent down to the AHL.
Not like the LA Kings were planning on doing that. The last three years of the deal are listed as a modified no-trade clause, meaning there are some teams that he wouldn’t like to be traded to.
Obviously, the deal is expensive and long-term. It feels a bit risky considering Danault is 28, and the deal will end when he’s 34, but when you’re trying to make your team better, you have to take that risk of getting him for the long term.
Who knows, maybe Danault wanted more money for less years, so in reality, the Kings saved money going with the six years. Not to mention, his model states that his true market value is 7 million AAV, but since he makes 5.5 million, his deal is listed as a great deal.
Danault is undoubtedly one of the best shutdown two-way forwards in the NHL. He’s no Patrice Bergeron, but he’s got the same playing style as him.
He’s definitely a top-five two-way forward and quite obviously a top-20 centerman. His defensive skill, along with his penalty killing, is what makes him such a special and talented player.
We already know how dominant he is analytically, but how useful is he once it comes down to points? Well, his track record of point recording isn’t necessarily worth 5.5 million, but that’s not why he got his money. His career-high of 53 points in 2018-19 proves that he is, in fact, able to hit the 50 point mark.
The following season, Danault recorded 47 points in a shortened 71 game season. Would he have gotten 50 points once again? Who knows? My guess is that he would have.
In 2021, we saw him elevate his defensive game but lose a lot of his point-scoring momentum. What is the true reason as to why he lost all that momentum? Was it the team getting worse? Obviously not, the Habs made the Stanley Cup Finals.
It may have had something to do with him deciding to be more defensively responsible rather than being a high-scoring forward, but the truth is that his minutes went down, and so did he down the lines.
If you look at the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, Danault was given first-line minutes with the Habs. Obviously, when he played on that first line, he recorded two fantastic seasons, getting a high number of points and still being responsible defensively. Then the 2021 season comes around, Nick Suzuki takes Danault’s first line job, and Danault falls to the second line.
What happens when Danault falls to line number two? He starts to suffer offensively. I think it’s obvious that the less Danault plays, the more he starts to regress. Luckily, the LA Kings are giving him a big role and will play him for countless minutes so we could be in for a pleasant surprise.
Another way we could see Danault put up high numbers is if he plays with a pure sniper. Could it be rookie Arthur Kaliyev, or could it be newly acquired forward Viktor Arvidsson? Either way, Danault will have to play with a natural goal scorer. Danault is a great passer, as shown in the clip below.
He’s is a smart player, and as you can see, Danault makes a nifty move on Vegas’ defence, sending the puck across to Artturi Lehkonen. Lehkonen is no sniper, but imagine if he does play with a player like Kaliyev or Arvidsson. He would be getting that sort of assist twice a game rather than once.
Danault is a smart player, and he knows how to make a play, so if he were to play on a line with a sniper, he could be getting assists like crazy. He’s not an elite goal scorer by any means, but assists count as points too, and if he can feed off of a player like Kaliyev or Arvidsson, he could easily hit 50 points.
Evolvinghockey projects Danault to have 41 points in 79 games, which would still be fantastic, but a nine-point difference isn’t too far off. He will play top-line minutes with some really good hockey players that the Kings have, so why won’t he hit the 50 point mark?
We’ve mentioned how goal scoring isn’t his best aspect, and the stats back it up. Danault has only 55 career goals in 392 career games. That’s only 0.14 GPG (goals per game), and it isn’t too crazy. He’s got a decent shot, but it’s not Alex Ovechkin’s shot by any means. He had only five goals in 53 games last year, which isn’t ideal.
His career-high in goals is 13, which he hit twice in his career in 2016-17 and 2019-20. The issue isn’t in his shot or finishing. It’s more of how often he uses his shot. He doesn’t shoot too often, and he needs to work on hitting the net.
The clips linked are proof that when Danault uses his shot, it’s dangerous. So dangerous to the point that it’s a highlight goal, and it goes top corner. Now I’m not pushing Danault to be a sniper, but he will get more than 15 goals in a season if he uses his elite shot way more often.
With a contract like that, you’d hope he hits 20 goals this season. Obviously, because Danault will play a lot of defensive coverage this season, he won’t hit the 20 goal mark. But that doesn’t leave 15 goals out of the question. He’s capable of scoring 15 goals in one season, and it really does feel like he could hit it this season.
So to answer the question, yes, Phillip Danault has all the right tools and has a perfect opportunity to hit the 50 point mark this season. He’s been given the perfect teammates, and if he’s given his well-deserved ice time, 50 points aren’t out of the question.
It feels unrealistic because of his low point number, but he’s hit 50 points before, and he’s shown that he’s more than capable of doing so. If Danault can record 50 points this year while still being a Selke-worthy player, that 5.5 million dollar contract can be the biggest steal of the 2021 free agency class.