The hype was legit for Adrian Kempe back in 2014 when he was drafted 29th overall by the LA Kings. The speedy and quick-minded forward was freshly coming off an 11-point season in the SHL. For an 18-year-old kid playing low minutes in one of the best leagues in the world, 11 points in 45 games is a relatively impressive feat. Not to mention that Kempe had played in twenty J20 Superelit games and notched 19 points throughout as well.
The hype for the youngster continued through the 2014-15 season when Kempe was given a permanent spot on his SHL team, MODO Hockey. He was expected to take on a larger role on his Swedish team, but instead, his coaches kept playing him on the fourth line.
Playing through the challenge, Kempe tallied 5 goals and 17 points in 50 games in the SHL. He also got the luxury of playing for Sweden’s U20 team, and he blew the roof off the tournament when he had 8 points in 6 games. Kempe later got a three-game stint in the AHL, where he was held off the scoresheet.
At this point, Kings fans knew that they were going to get a really skilled and very gratifying forward to help out the team in the long run. The mindset was: “Here’s this young and speedy Swede who can pick up the pace of a game and get a few goals here and there.”
The truth was that Kempe wasn’t quite ready for the NHL, and he was sent down to the Ontario Reign of the AHL for the season. Kempe had a pretty respectable season with Ontario, where he had 28 points in 55 games played. He was once again invited to the U20s to represent his home country of Sweden, and he had 8 points in 7 games.
The 2016-17 season saw Kempe split time between the Reign and the Kings. The hype for the kid was still there, but admittedly, there were some nervous faces around the fanbase. The idea was that Adrian would be up in the NHL by then as a full-time roster playing and being the difference-maker for the LA Kings. There was no panic, but rather just a hope that a breakout season could be happening sometime soon.
The next four seasons (2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20, and 2020-21) could be described with one word, which would be “streaky.” Kempe had on-and-off stretches, which would see him little the scoresheet and then fall in a slump for the next several games. Kempe was never a legitimate top-six player through these difficult stretches, and that’s when people started to lose hope.
Kempe struggled on even strength and wasn’t too great on the powerplay as well. He had a few good looks here and there with his finishing, but he never lived up to his expectation of becoming a serviceable top-six forward.
Until this year.
Adrian Kempe has finally broken out of his shell and has ultimately started to play like a worthy first-line NHL player. He finally figured out how to stop being a streaky player and has started to score consistently. Thanks to consistent play, he’s now the leading goal-scorer for the Kings this season.
He’s up to 14 goals, 6 assists, and 20 points in 33 games played. Kempe’s powerplay has also exploded this season, making him look like one of the better PP players for the Kings this season.
His play may not be perfect, but the truth is that he has been one of LA’s best offensive players this season, and his shooting and shot contributions have been at an all-time high for him. He’s been given a difficult role and has managed to create countless chances to score.
This step-up has been nothing but great for the Kings and Kempe himself, but it raises the big question: What will his next contract look like?
For a little bit of backstory, Kempe signed a three-year contract extension on September 4th, 2019, which carried a total of $6 million, or rather $2 million AAV. That was the “prove-it” deal that the sports world calls a “bridge deal.”
It basically means it’s the bridge of his contract trajectory in his career onto the way for a bigger and more hefty contract. It’s a little bit funny how Kempe finally breaks out in his contract year, but money is a heck of a motivator for athletes.
The Kings should absolutely extend Adrian Kempe, especially after the season he has had so far. LA opens up over $22 million in cap this upcoming off-season, and that doesn’t include the additional $1 million that each NHL team will receive from the league in cap space.
So, extending Kempe shouldn’t be too much of an issue, considering the Kings have a bulked-up amount of cash freed up next summer.
Although we know what Kempe’s capable of now, we don’t have a general idea of what his asking price could be. So the next best thing we can do is compare. Let’s start with some of the more obvious things. For example, Kempe’s going to want to get paid.
He’s deserved it. But let’s not forget that this is Kempe’s first consistent season of his career, which means we can’t just throw $7 million and eight years at him and call it a day. He’s a proven scorer now, but he isn’t a proven season-by-season scorer. That will decrease his contract by a little, obviously.
The second thing we must do is look at the contract comparables. What other players in the league had big step-ups in their contract year, and what type of contracts did those players receive from their teams?
A good comparison sits right in front of us, Alex Iafallo.
Iafallo had a good trend throughout his career, and during the trade deadline last year, Iafallo comfortably signed a 4 year, $4 million AAV contract extension with the LA Kings. This year, the contract has worked out fantastically as Iafallo looks like one of the most underrated players in the entire NHL.
Giving out four years at $4 million per year for Kempe doesn’t seem too difficult, but it can’t be that simple. As pointed out earlier, this is Kempe’s first year where he has remained consistent and looked like a legitimate first-liner. The years prior haven’t been great, making a long-term deal at a robust price very risky.
The Kings have countless young guys who will need contracts after their entry-level deals, and signing an unproven (speaking strictly long-term) player to a lengthy deal at a large price range is a risk the team can’t take.
Now it’s time to figure out how long the extension could be. We’ve already said that a long-term deal is out of place, and it won’t work. But what if the Kings were to extend Kempe to a two or three-year deal at a price that he could continue to prove himself?
Once again, we face an issue.
If Kempe signs a one-year deal, he will be a UFA. Basically, no matter what length Kempe get’s on his new contract, it would end in UFA status. So signing him to a one-year deal could have the risk of him walking the summer after 2022.
In my opinion, a three-year deal would be the best decision. It gives the LA Kings flexibility between juggling his contract, the ELC’s, and signing other players that can help the team win. It’s not too short of a deal, nor is it a long-term deal that can hurt the team.
If the Kings feel happy with how Kempe played over the course of those said three years, they could consider signing him to another extension. That would be up to the future to decide, though.
Now that we have the estimated length, we must decide on a price point. Kempe will fetch his well-earned money, and whatever he gets, he deserves it. His camp will most likely look at Iafallo’s deal as a contract comparison. But, he may also look at players like Alex Killorn ($4.45m), Conor Garland ($4.95m), and Alex Wennberg’s deal with Columbus before he was bought out ($4.9m) as contract comparables.
All three of these players signed contracts close to Iafallo’s current price point, and all three had similar point trajectories as Adrian Kempe on a three-year scale prior to signing their extensions.
To simplify the payment decision, we must find out the weighted average between all four contracts to find the cost at what Kempe’s next deal could possibly be. The average price of all four contracts (Iafallo, Killorn, Garland, and Wennberg) is $4,575,000, or, abbreviated, $4.575 million.
Now that we’ve found the weighted average of the contract and the basic term, the contract should look like a three-year deal at just over $4.5 million AAV. In my eyes, that’s risky but worth it for a young player like Adrian Kempe, who’s finally broken out of his shell. If I were the Kings’ front office and Adrian Kempe were to ask for a little more than $4.575 million, moving up to $4.75 million AAV wouldn’t be off the table too.
Kempe’s breakout season has raised some eyebrows on what his next contract may look like, and it sparks up a conversation. The hope is to keep Adrian Kempe in LA to play with the Kings, but having him here for cheaper would be all for the better. Kempe has deserved a big paycheck, and we should be intrigued to see what his new contract will look like.