LA Kings: Hockey Royalty Monday Mailbag
The trade deadline has come and gone; the race for the top of the Pacific Division is on. Let’s see what’s on the mind of LA Kings fans lately.
There were a lot of great questions; let’s dive in!
“After all these games, how happy are you with any trade deadline acquisitions? If the Kings win the division and a playoff round or two and the new guys Gavy and Korpi contributed would you change your grade? Since our pool is deep, what kinds of prospects would you draft this summer?” – @dirty_harry1
Our good friend Richard Sarabia came in firing, as expected!
So far, so good on the trade acquisitions. They’ve both performed well and, Vladislav Gavrikov especially, beyond my expectations. The reason for my admittedly harsh grade was the players’ roles and if the value they brought really moved the needle. We’re just over a handful of games in, so if, as you say, the Kings make a run behind the strong play of Gavrikov and Joonas Korpisalo, then absolutely, I’d have been wrong, and the grade would have to change!
Admittedly not a draft expert, but a favorite of mine is a highly skilled left-shot defenseman named Tanner Molendyk. Talk him into existence, Kings fans (but not so loud, we don’t want him finding his way into the first round):
Tanner Molendyk wants in on the highlight reel. What a beauty #2023NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/AHLvm9EBf8
— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) January 14, 2023
“What are the odds (Brandt) Clarke makes the team out of camp next year? He’s got nothing left to prove, kid is NHL-ready.” – @kingme124
I’m sure this is something many Kings fans are wondering about these days, especially when Brandt Clarke keeps doing things like this:
#OHL Performer of the Night ⭐️@LAKings pick @brandtclarke55 netted his third hat trick of the season and enjoyed his first-career 5-point game as the @OHLBarrieColts put up a season-high 11 goals in a win over Niagara pic.twitter.com/hfnZVANS1P
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) March 19, 2023
From a production standpoint, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Clarke has 59 points in 30 games. The Kings have slow-played their prospects during this rebuild, but now they’re shifting into a team with expectations. As the roster is currently constructed, there’s no room for Clarke. Could there be a trade in the offseason to ease the logjam? Perhaps, but at least as of now, my money would be on him starting in Ontario.
“Which RHD gets moved in the off-season?” – @Papa_P38
Let’s look into our crystal ball and see what we can come up with (this should go without saying, these are complete guesses).
Every right-shot defenseman is under contract next season, though Matt Roy (UFA), Sean Walker (UFA), Sean Durzi (RFA), and Jordan Spence (RFA) are all on expiring contracts. Surely Drew Doughty isn’t being traded, so logic would point us to one of those four being dealt. Why trade any of them? Well, one of them could be needed in a package for an upgrade elsewhere, or, to the previous question, if the team has Brandt Clarke penciled into the NHL next season, someone has to go.
The popular name is Walker, though I am unsure about his value outside the organization. Are there teams that could use a depth right-shot defenseman? Absolutely, I just don’t know what the return would be. And if it gets either one of Spence or Clarke into the lineup regularly, perhaps that’d be the point. I still think he’s better than most give him credit for, but he could become the odd man out of a crowded field.
Roy is certainly a defenseman who would hold trade value, and from a money standpoint, it makes sense. He is the most expensive of the bunch at $3.15M AAV, but I’d be surprised if LA moved him. He’s been a staple in the Kings’ top four, and I would expect that heading into next season too.
Spence would be one to keep an eye on, though it depends on what LA looks to do. If they make another run at a left-shot defenseman and/or a goaltender, Spence could be a piece that’s a part of that package. It seems he could be the most likely, if only because of this.
Durzi just has that “feel” of a player who will be around for a while. Since he’s come in, he’s been a fantastic fit on and off the ice, and he’s now had a season’s worth of work playing on the left side. His versatility could make him tough for LA to move.
“What do you do with (Alex) Turcotte/(Samuel) Fagemo next year? Do you trade (Viktor) Arvidsson to make room for (Gabriel) Vilardiand (Arthur) Kaliyev to move up?” – @jacobyonan
Here we are again, an offseason with a cupboard full of prospects and nowhere to put them. This isn’t a bad problem to have – if you want to call it a problem. First, on the prospects, I don’t think there’s too much to do right now. Alex Turcotte cannot stay on the ice. It’s unfortunate because he’s a talented player who, by now, would have likely carved himself a role in the NHL. Until he proves he can stay healthy, he’s likely slotted for the AHL.
Samuel Fagemo is in a numbers game. He could be the beneficiary of a depth spot on the Kings’ roster next season if there is a trade of a forward. This leads to the next part of your question.
I don’t know that a player like Viktor Arvidsson (or Alex Iafallo, for that matter) is moved to free up a roster spot for a young player; I think it’d be to free up cap space for positions of need.
The Kings aren’t going to be working with a lot of cap space this offseason, as there isn’t significant money coming off the books. Currently, the only Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) are Vladislav Gavrikov, Alex Edler, and Joonas Korpisalo. Those three account for just under $5 million on the cap. The team will need to re-sign Rasmus Kupari (RFA), Jaret Anderson-Dolan (RFA), and a potentially larger deal for Gabriel Vilardi (RFA).
Also, the only goalies under contract for next season are Pheonix Copley ($1.5M AAV) and Cal Petersen ($5M AAV). Whether the Kings decide to retain Korpisalo or go another route, I’m a little skeptical they will go into next season with a Copley-Petersen tandem.
On the blueline, they’re still going to need a left-shot defenseman. The belief before the deadline was that Gavrikov would prefer to test the open market, which makes sense. He’s likely to get a hefty multi-year deal that I don’t think the Kings should hand out. That said, even if they bring back Gavrikov, there’s likely still a need on that side to be addressed.
So, could Arvidsson go? Perhaps. He’s instrumental to the top six of this team, but the salary cap world means tough decisions have to get made.
“Who will be the 3rd D pair in the playoffs?” – @GeezeFullSleeve
From what we have to go off of, the most likely scenario is Alex Edler and Sean Walker. Once Sean Durzi returns to the lineup, maybe we’ll get a better idea of what Todd McLellan wants to do. He could move Durzi back to the second pair with Roy, and we could see a Gavrikov – Walker/Spence third pair (this is probably my preferred option), or the third pairing could be any combination of Edler/Durzi/Spence/Walker, depending on the game. The verdict is still out on this one.
“What’s your 2023-24 lineup look like?” – @DavidBerkovich
This is a fun one and also a very difficult one. I mentioned above that money has to go out if the Kings are interested in adding pieces to their roster on the blueline or in net. With the cap expected to go up only $1M next season, things are tight.
With the help of CapFriendly, I took a stab at what the roster could look like. First, the transactions that were made to make this happen:
- There’s too much money on the roster. Currently, there is no room to re-sign Gavrikov or Korpisalo, even if the team wanted to. After giving modest raises to the RFAs and a three-year, $3.5M bridge contract to Gabriel Vilardi, it’s very tight.
- Alex Iafallo was traded to his hometown team in Buffalo. The Sabres are on the rise but lack quality on their third line. Iafallo would be a perfect fit for them. The trade brings back a 2023 2nd round pick to LA and frees up $4M.
- Sean Walker was traded to the Ottawa Senators for a 2024 5th-round pick. Like Buffalo, Ottawa is up-and-coming and will look to make playoffs next season. My guess is they’re going to prefer Matt Roy in this trade, so I think that’s a possibility for a team looking for help on the right side of their blueline. For purposes of this, it’s Walker.
- Vladislav Gavrikov was re-signed to a three-year, $3.5M AAV contract. Personally, I think he could get more on the open market, but I don’t think LA should go much higher than that (and given their cap, they can’t).
- Joonas Korpisalo was re-signed to a two-year, $2M AAV extension. Like Gavrikov, he gets a slight raise but would likely fetch more as a free agent.
- Cal Petersen was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for a 2023 5th-round pick. Currently, Chicago has only Petr Mrazek under contract for next season, and there isn’t a prospect goaltender quite ready to make the jump yet.
- UFA left-shot defenseman Erik Gustafsson was signed to a one-year, $2M AAV deal to shore up the left side of the blue line.
- After all of these moves, the Kings are left with less than $1M in cap space ($841,666). As you can see, it’s not an easy exercise, but that’s why Rob Blake gets paid the big bucks.
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Fiala – Lizotte – Vilardi
Grundstrom – Kupari – Kaliyev
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Gustafsson – Durzi
I wouldn’t say this is my preferred roster; I’d like something more impactful on the blue line. But when you hear names like Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, my personal favorite Marcus Pettersson – or Juuse Saros and Thatcher Demko in goal, just remember, there’s not a lot of money to work with to fit those players in.
“Do we let (Joonas Korpisalo) Korpi walk this summer and go after (Thatcher) Demko LOL!” – @Djjazzy99
I guess Thatcher Demko’s performance in LA on Saturday turned some heads! Listen, I don’t hide it; I’m a Demko guy.
Among goalies with at least 5 starts since (future #LAKings netminder) Thatcher Demko's return on February 27th, Demko is 2nd in the NHL in GSAx. #Canucks#GoKingsGo
— Joe W. Patarino (@JWPatarino) March 19, 2023
I think he’s a great goaltender, though his health record is spotty. Demko does have three more years at a $5M AAV, so it would take some cap gymnastics to pull that off. If only the Kings had a young(ish) goaltender who may need a change of scenery and who happens to make $5M…
As far as Korpisalo, it all comes down to the term. If I’m him, I hit the open market, and he’s likely to get a bigger payday than I’d be willing to give him if I’m the Kings. But that could change with continued strong play down the stretch and in playoffs.
“If everyone is healthy, including opposition teams…do you realistically think the Kings can make it out of the West?” – @MakarsCookie
Absolutely. The LA Kings have been one of the league’s best teams since the All-Star Break. During that time, LA is a top-five team in CF%, xGF%, and SCF% in the NHL at 5-on-5 (per Natural Stat Trick). Sure, they’re being helped by a very favorable schedule, but that’s not their problem. They’ve done their job in winning those games. I don’t know that I’d make them the favorites to come out of the West, but they are right there.
“Who is the team that scares you most as a first-round matchup as of today?” – @liontamer18
The team in the West that’s right on the Kings’ heels in those categories I mentioned in the previous question (besides my lowly Calgary Flames) is the Edmonton Oilers. That is the team that scares me the most. Right now, the most likely opponents are the Oilers, Seattle Kraken, or Winnipeg Jets. Of those three, it’s not even close; it’s the Oilers.
The Kraken are a good team; they’re deep and have a good blueline. I think they’d be a much tougher team to meet than most would think, but I think the Kings are a better team with (at least right now) better goaltending.
Winnipeg can be dangerous because of Connor Hellebuyck. Not to take away from the rest of their lineup, they have some high-end players in Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, and Josh Morrissey, among others. But I think LA’s depth would win out in this series.
The Edmonton Oilers have Connor McDavid. They also have Leon Draisaitl. Those two happen to be numbers one and two in points in the NHL. I know there’s also a belief that McDavid only does his work on the power play. He leads the NHL in 5-on-5 goals and 5-on-5 primary points as well. And it’s not just those two; their complimentary pieces are excellent. Evander Kane is healthy and dangerous, Zach Hyman is having a career year, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is living up to his expectations (finally). The addition of Nick Bjugstad is a good one to solidify their third line as well.
People question the blue line for the Oilers, and it’s not totally unfair. Though, the addition of Mattias Ekholm is huge. The pairing of him and Evan Bouchard has been very good since Ekholm has come over, as the veteran has helped unlock Bouchard’s game. I don’t think Codi Ceci is a top-four defenseman. That is their weakness, in my opinion, on the back end. Even their bottom pairing options of Vincent Desharnais and Brett Kulak are passable, though they’re much better off with Evan Broberg in the lineup.
Between the pipes is inconsistent at best. Jack Campbell is the big-money goalie, but Stuart Skinner is the better of the two. Neither present necessarily strong options, but either of them could easily play well enough in a short series.
Can the Kings beat the Oilers? Yes. It’s just a team I’d really prefer to play later in the playoffs if I can.
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions; we’ll do it again!
2 thoughts on “LA Kings: Hockey Royalty Monday Mailbag”
Thanks for great answers to questions, Joe. Love your take on possible lineup next season and cap space-related moves that make sense. I, too, see the Oilers as the biggest threat in the West. You are so knowledgeable about the Kings & the other teams!
Any deal to move Petersen is going to require retaining salary which is not baked into your equation. There is little chance that both Gavrikov and Korpisalo sign under market value unless the Kings go very deep into the playoffs and they taste a shot at the cup. A front line goaltender is the number one need to address in the off-season. If it isn’t Korpisalo then a trade for Hart or signing Demko are the best options. Neither will come cheap.