Heading into this season, the LA Kings still have a crowded roster, particularly the forwards group. With the acquisition of Kevin Fiala, the Swiss-born forward is expected to play on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe.
The latter missed the entire postseason and underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc at the start of the offseason. Arvidsson’s expected recovery time is estimated to take three to five months, which could offer some flexibility in the lineup should he not be ready for Opening Night.
For this purpose, let’s assume he’s there for Game 1 of the regular season.
The bottom six is likely where we will see the majority of lineup changes this season. How will the Kings make it all work? Which prospects might play a full season? And who might be on the outside looking in?
We’ll start by going back to the Kings lineup from the end of the 2021-22 season and compare the club to what it looks like today.
End of 2021-22 season
The Kings took the ice in Game 7 against the Oilers with the lineup below. A number of injuries allowed Carl Grundstrom time on the second line in place of the injured Arvidsson, and the former made the most of it. Grundstrom had four points (3-1=4) in six games.
With two players departing, you would think there would be some roster clarity, right? Not quite.
The Kings brought Brendan Lemieux, Gabe Vilardi, Lias Andersson, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan back into the fold. Lemieux found a home on the team’s fourth line, developing tremendous chemistry with Blake Lizotte and Arthur Kaliyev in what was named “The Energy Line.”
Anderson-Dolan played in 41 NHL games over the last two seasons, including 34 games in 2020-21, and posted 47 points (24-23=47) in 54 games with the Ontario Reign last year. He was re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract, but he is not waiver exempt, meaning if the Kings want him to begin the year in Ontario, he would need to clear waivers first. Not impossible by any means, but there is certainly some risk involved.
Vilardi’s contract situation is a little bit different than JAD’s. He was re-signed to a one-year, one-way contract, meaning this could be his last shot with the Kings before they decide to move on from the former first-round pick. The Kingston, Ontario native had seven points in 25 games with the big league club last year but was sent back down to Ontario after the first seven games. He was nearly a point per game player in the AHL, 38 points (15-23=38) in 39 games, but he hasn’t shown the consistency needed at the NHL level.
Bringing Lias Andersson back into the mix surprised me a bit. Not from a dollars perspective — he’ll make just $750,000 — but it’s another body that needs playing time. While he was terrific on the forecheck, Andersson hasn’t produced like a former seventh overall pick should be at this point in his development.
Projected lineup for 2022-23
With almost the same team coming back this year, minus the previously noted departures, here’s my projected lineup for Opening Night.
Already touched on it, but the top-six forwards are pretty much set in stone at this point. We’ll see how Arvidsson continues to progress from offseason surgery, but he will eventually slot back into his spot on the second line.
If up with the NHL club, that leaves Rasmus Kupari, Vilardi, Andersson, and JAD as the extra skaters. However, the Kings likely won’t carry that many extras, meaning a couple of those guys could begin the year in Ontario.
It’s important to understand who is waiver exempt, though.
According to CapFriendly, the following forwards are waiver exempt:
- Quinton Byfield
- Martin Chromiak
- Aidan Dudas
- Samuel Fagemo
- Samuel Helenius
- Arthur Kaliyev
- Rasmus Kupari
- Andre Lee
- Tyler Madden
- Francesco Pinelli
- Akil Thomas
- Alex Turcotte
- Taylor Ward
Among those expected to compete for a roster spot in Los Angeles, only Kupari is waiver-exempt. Vilardi, Andersson, and JAD would need to clear waivers first if optioned to Ontario to begin the year.
Andersson cleared waivers last year when the LA Kings sent him to the AHL for a conditioning loan, and he would likely clear again. However, Anderson-Dolan could generate some interest around the league, especially as injuries occur on other rosters.
Vilardi could be optioned to Ontario, but because he’s on a one-way contract, the Kings would be paying him an NHL salary to play in the AHL. Similarly, he, too, would need to clear waivers first, but his contract could be a creative way to prevent other teams from putting a claim in on him.
What are Blake’s options?
LA Kings GM Rob Blake has a few options leading up to the start of the 2022-23 regular season. The first one could solve a few issues.
1. Trade Iafallo
When the Kings acquired and extended Kevin Fiala, I think we all knew the salary cap would be tight. Per CapFriendly, the Kings have just over $1.5 million in cap space but still need to re-sign defensemen Sean Durzi and Mikey Anderson.
One option that could clear a roster spot and salary cap would be moving Alex Iafallo. The Eden, New York native is under contract for another three seasons at $4M AAV. He’s coming off a career-high 17 goals, tying his previous career high in 2019-20.
To this point, Iafallo has been a top-six forward and enjoyed success playing alongside Kopitar for several seasons. However, as the Kings’ roster has gradually improved each year, Iafallo has dropped in the lineup. As noted, I don’t see a way that he’s not within the bottom six going forward.
Will he still be as productive with fewer minutes?
2. Package a few players for a roster need
Over the last two offseasons, the Kings bolstered their forwards group, bringing in Phillip Danault, Arvidsson, and, this summer, Fiala. However, management has yet to address the eye sore on the left side of the defense.
Remember, two seasons ago, there were reports that Blake was looking for a young, dynamic left-shot defenseman. The Kings have been linked to Jakob Chychrun, but nothing has yet to materialize from that.
If the Kings want to create some roster clarity, they could package a few forwards from the NHL roster and their pipeline to swing a deal for a more significant need on the roster.
3. Wait and see
The last option is to simply wait and play this thing out. We knew that with the influx of youth in the organization and high draft picks, there would be logjams all over the roster. We are seeing the same thing on the right side of the defense. Blake alleviated some of the impasse with Brock Faber going to Minnesota in the Fiala deal.
Blake can go into the start of the season with the roster as-is; place the necessary players on waivers and/or option waiver-exempt players to the AHL. It’s risky, and there is the potential of losing a player. However, if all shakes out as planned, the LA Kings could stand pat and go after a big name at the trade deadline.