The LA Kings defied all odds when they clinched a playoff berth back in late April, and even though they weren’t completely done rebuilding, they were off to battle for the Stanley Cup.
In Year 4 of the supposed five-year rebuild, general manager Rob Blake stood quiet at the trade deadline despite cashing out greatly in the 2021 offseason. Bringing in Viktor Arvidsson, Phillip Danault, and Alex Edler, it was clear that the Kings were ready to take the leap into playoff hope.
When the Dallas Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights in a shootout to give LA the playoff spot, the Kings would be playing the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were the fear of Kings fans, and that was held accountable when the two combined for countless points against the Kings.
Even though the Kings made a gutsy and impressive push to bring the series to 7 games and even had a 3-2 lead in the series, they were eliminated in a 2-0 loss in Edmonton in the decisive Game 7.
The disappointment was clear, but we all couldn’t help but feel pride. After all, the Kings weren’t expected to make the playoffs, and they took arguably the best two hockey players in the world to seven games.
Even though the memorable, enjoyable, yet stressful season was one we can all remember for quite a long time, it’s now time for the long-awaited offseason.
The Kings have shown the league that they want to win and compete in the playoffs, and this summer, we’ll likely see Blake and the management group cash out with trades and free agency.
Even though we can all sit and wonder which players will come to LA to play at Crypto.com arena wearing the notorious black and silver, quite a few question marks still need to be answered before diving deep into the signings and trades.
Today, we’ll discuss five major question marks that the Los Angeles Kings will have going into the summer of 2022.
1 – Adrian Kempe’s next contract
Adrian Kempe stunned us all this season. He finished the season with 35 goals (a career-high), 19 assists, and 54 points (also a career-high). After multiple inconsistent and slow-paced seasons, Kempe finally found his scoring touch and proved himself as a first-liner.
He was given that opportunity full-time when he played with Anze Kopitar, and the two of them found long-awaited chemistry that felt unbreakable.
Kempe also had his best offensive goals above replacement season in his career, finishing the season with 4.8.
Kempe picked a provocative season to break out, and that’s because the bridge deal that he had signed in 2019 is finally coming to an end. An RFA with arbitration rights, the 25-year-old has mentioned that he’d like to extend a long-term stay in Los Angeles. When asked if he would like to re-sign on a lengthy deal, he replied, “Yes, I would.”
Blake was also asked about Kempe’s contract status, and he replied by saying that signing Juice to a long-term deal is his first priority this summer.
As it’s evident that both sides would like to figure out something that keeps the 30-plus goal-scorer in town, it’s fair to say that we could see Kempe sign a four to six-year contract sometime before the draft. Knowing that both sides know what they want and that they’ve seemed to agree on things so far, all that’s left is to figure out money and conditions, plus exactly how many years Kempe wants.
With that being the priority, we could see it coming down the pike. The major question is, how much will Kempe make?
That’s for us to find out later when the deal is official.
2 – Lack of Physicality
One of the bigger issues that we’ve all witnessed from the Kings is how they’ve admittedly been kicked around on the physical side of things. Of course, having Phillip Danault drop the gloves three times this season was a pleasant surprise, but having Brendan Lemieux as the only player to step up and be the agitator in the regular season was a bit of a red flag.
Carl Grundstrom took the lead as the tough guy and big hitter during the playoffs, and his presence as a grinder type of playmaker was noticeable. Sadly, it wasn’t enough. The Kings were out-hit by the Oilers in the series, and in Games 2 and 3, it felt like the Kings were scared of playing the Oilers.
The point is that the Kings need to get vigorous.
This doesn’t mean going out into free agency or the trade market and finding a player that only fights and hits, but rather finding a scorer or a defenseman who can not only score and defend at an elite level but can also be the guy who stands up for his team and lands a huge hit every game. As Dustin Brown retires, the LA Kings lose a scorer and their energetic power forward. This calls for the Kings to find someone else who is willing to do exactly what Brown did.
In the playoffs, it was Grundstrom who did that. But going down the road and looking at the big picture, the Kings need to do better than get a tougher bottom 6. They need to find a top 6 forward who can not only score and make a huge hit and stand up for the Kings. On defense, preferably a two-way defender who plays shut down defense using force. May I suggest Jakob Chychrun?
Finding grit can also happen through the system, too. There’s the possibility that Todd McLellan pushes his team to become much bulkier and grittier in hockey. It won’t be easy, and it isn’t guaranteed, but that could be an option for the Kings to get scarier while saving a bit of money.
3 – The future of Alex Edler
We could go on thanking veteran Alex Edler ceaselessly for his work with the LA Kings, even though it was one season. He helped Matt Roy elevate his game to another level while bringing the missing offensive touch to the defensive core. He did his job, and he did it well.
Although Edler missed 41 games— or half of the season— with a gruesome injury in December, he played a huge part in the Kings making the playoffs. His undeniable offensive talent pushed the Kings to be better. Edler even finished first on the LA Kings defensive core in xGF/60.
But once the playoffs came around, Edler couldn’t hold up like he did in the regular season.
The 36-year-old didn’t look as fast and took far too many penalties. Holding the Kings back at some points by having 14 PIMs in 7 games (2 minutes, or one penalty a game average), it was clear that Edler wasn’t as competitive as he was a while ago. Sure, he helped out endlessly in the regular season, but he clearly wasn’t playoff-caliber anymore.
The LA Kings want to get younger, and their goal from here on out will be to play in the playoffs and eventually win the cup, but how far will they get if they have defensemen who can’t catch up to the faster players? Even if he does, it leads to a penalty. And as we saw, special teams cost the Kings the series. Taking penalties while having a bad PK isn’t a good mix.
As big of a help Edler was, it may be time for the LA Kings to move on from him. There are younger players ready to take over Edler’s role, and it’s best to let the younger and faster players grab the reins. It’s hard to imagine that Edler retires after the regular season that he just had, but it’s also difficult to see Edler returning to LA in October.
4 – What happens with the defense?
If Edler leaves, it leaves even more question marks on defense. With the abundance of right-handed defensemen that the Kings have, it’ll be interesting to see what the defensive core looks like come training camp. It’s fair to assume that there will be young players who will surprise us and will make a push for a spot on the NHL team. But it’s also noteworthy that the Kings’ defense struggled greatly during the playoffs, and there will be additions.
Having one of the better analytical defensive cores during the regular season, everyone thought that the Kings would hold up well defensively during the playoffs. During the series, Mikey Anderson and Troy Stecher were the standouts, but everyone else didn’t feel as comfortable, and it was noticeable.
Now that we know that the defense isn’t stable enough when the playoffs roll around, Blake will have to add to the current core to make it a stronger, physical, yet effective back end. Nikita Zadorov is a free agent who had a fantastic season defensively and is also known to throw a massive hit whenever a player comes his way. Having a player like Zadorov on the third pairing to shut down the fortress while playing with an offensive defenseman like Sean Durzi would benefit the Kings greatly.
There are so many defensemen available this summer, and we’ll have to watch how the Kings approach this offseason. The defense is missing physicality, offense, and defensive skill. We surely can’t have all three right away, but if the Kings were to acquire a young player like Travis Sanheim, they have the potential to fix the offensive and defensive issues.
Again, this is all speculation. We won’t know for sure until Blake acts upon these issues.
5 – Lack of Scoring
The Kings couldn’t find the back of the net in 2021-22; this is no secret. They finished dead last in the entire league in finishing, per TopDownHockey.
The Kings finished the season eighth in 5v5 xGF/60, with 53.1%. Obviously, something wasn’t clicking and it cost them many wins. This issue can be fixed by bringing in a goal scorer.
Filip Forsberg is a name that has floated around the LA Kings a bit recently, and with his best friend, Viktor Arvidsson, residing in LA and playing for the Kings, it’s totally believable. Forsberg is a UFA starting July 1st, and with the money opening up, the rumor feels convincing.
Forsberg does make the most sense for the Kings, but he isn’t the only option out there for LA. Thanks to the countless picks and prospects that the LA Kings own, you really wonder if they’ll make a push for Chicago Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat.
This year, the 24-year-old scored 41 goals and 78 points in 82 games for the Hawks and is now up to 160 career goals in 368 games. He may be small, but he’s electrifying to watch. His offensive gift and scoring skill will make any team better, and playing on a young team like LA would help him continue his scoring pace and make him even better. There’s no way he doesn’t score 50 goals playing for the Los Angeles Kings. But, we can only wish.
Blake will very likely bring in a top 6 forward with scoring experience to help the Kings acquire some sort of way of netting pucks, and all eyes are on some of the biggest names in free agency. That includes Filip Forsberg, Mason Marchment, and Johnny Gaudreau.
The LA Kings had an incredible season and it was truly memorable. It was so much fun watching the underdogs push the Oilers to seven games, even if it didn’t pan out as hoped. Seeing how the Kings are ready to make a huge push to become contenders and are ready to spend a ton of money (and possibly assets), it’ll be exciting to witness the Kings add skill to their already promising core.