Tough decisions loom if LA Kings wish to improve
Frustration and disappointment clouded a dim locker room on an eerie Sunday morning where the LA Kings‘ exit interviews took place. Captain Anze Kopitar foreshadowed a somber mood, describing the team’s emotions just 12 hours after a Game 6 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. “Pissed off as we should be, losing is not fun.”
It’s a different vibe exhibited from the 2022 exit. Last year’s surprising Kings team, exceeded expectations turning the page from ‘rebuild’ to ‘playoff contenders’.
The 2022-23 LA hockey club though, envisioned a lengthier postseason run. And if not for running into the NHL’s best team since March as their first-round opponent, they may still be playing.
Yet, it’s no excuse. The Kings had a chance, once again, to vanquish their division rival. Up 2-1 in the series and 3-0 in the first period of Game 4, yet they couldn’t get it done.
Ending their Stanley Cup hopes in another disheartening first-round exit contemplating what could have been. However, even with the abrupt ending, this season shouldn’t be documented as a failure.
The Kings’ 104 points on the year came one shy of their franchise record. Adrian Kempe eclipsed the elusive 40-goal mark, Anze Kopitar showed he’s got plenty left in the tank, Kevin Fiala proved to be a premier addition, young players made great strides, and the power play vastly improved.
But it’s time to take the training wheels off. LA’s Stanley Cup window is open now. And General Manager Rob Blake has some tough decisions to make this summer if they truly are ready to contend.
Up against the cap
The playoff series against Edmonton only amplified the glaring holes in the LA Kings lineup. There’s a need for a left-shot defenseman (maybe two), better goaltending, and some size up front. Unfortunately, money is tight.
Heading into the summer the Kings have around $7.5 million in cap space with 18 players signed on the roster heading into next season, according to CapFriendly.com.
Most of that money will go to re-signing restricted free agent Gabriel Vilardi, whose breakout season will earn him hefty a pay raise.
Evolving Hockey recently released their contract projections and show Vilardi’s new deal to come around the $4 million mark. I expect it to be a two-year bridge deal to preserve his RFA status.
That leaves Rob Blake with roughly $3.5 million in space left to sign any of the remaining restricted free agents including Rasmus Kupari, Zack MacEwen, Jarret Anderson-Dolan, Samuel Fagemo, Tobias Bjornfot, as well as a few others. Although not all will impact the salary cap.
Alex Edler, Joonas Korpisalo, and Vladislav Gavrikov compile the short list of unrestricted free agents for the Kings heading into the summer.
While I don’t expect Edler or Korpisalo to return, Gavrikov fills a vital role in LA’s long-term plans.
With Evolving Hockey projecting Vlad’s next deal around $4.7 million, Rob Blake must get creative to keep a player the Kings desperately need and make it worth the first-round pick traded away.
So what salaries could be dealt away to fill the roster’s needs as we head into the summer? Well, an easy place to start would be the plethora of right-shot defensemen on the roster.
A move from this position would not only alleviate cap space but open up a badly needed roster spot for one of the dynamic young faces in Jordan Spence or Brandt Clarke to become full-time NHLers next season.
One trade that feels inevitable is dealing away Sean Walker who has one year left on his deal at $2.65 million.
He wouldn’t generate much in return, a fifth to seventh-round draft pick, but the cap relief alone is a win for LA. And judging by his comments at the exit availabilities, he sees the writing on the wall.
Sean Walker said he knows about the young prospects coming up on the right side of the defense.
“Organization has got to do what it’s got to do.”#GoKingsGo
— Russell Morgan (@NHLRussell) April 30, 2023
I’ve seen a few people mention trading away Sean Durzi as well. I don’t see it. Even though the defenseman struggled mightily at times toward the end of the season, he brings versatility to the lineup and his cap hit is extremely low at only $1.7 million.
Although, I could see him included in a package deal to acquire a more established left-shot defenseman.
Now the Walker deal alone won’t be enough to fit in Gavrikov’s contract, another move needs to be made. This might be controversial for some, but I’d look at trading Viktor Arvidsson.
Arvidsson has been tremendous in his time with the LA Kings. He’s coming off his best year with LA, posting 59 points in 77 games, and was arguably one of the Kings’ better forwards in the playoffs. But he’s dealt with injuries in the past and with one year left on his deal why not sell high?
Losing Arvy’s production would be tough to replace, but shedding his $4.25 million cap hit to fill more desperately needed holes is something Blake should consider. Young forwards like Arthur Kaliyev, Samuel Fagemo, Alex Laferriere, Alex Turcotte, and Akil Thomas would love a chance to thrive if given the opportunity.
Not only could you re-sign Gavrikov if Viktor is traded, but you could also bring in that veteran gritty forward with the extra space to help out the bottom six. Corey Perry anyone??
A Cal-sized problem
Even though the moves mentioned above are good options, the best thing Rob Blake can do is find a way to get out of Cal Petersen’s contract.
Petersen has two years left on his deal at a cap hit of $5 million. He’s coming off a season that started horribly with the Kings and didn’t get better when demoted to the AHL.
While some have suggested buying out the struggling netminder, the financials don’t make sense in that case. Trading him would be the best option. While the cost would be excessive, likely including a high pick or top prospect for a team to take on the goaltender, the cap space created is worth it.
However, unless he’s playing coy when speaking with Blake at the exit interviews, he made it seem like Kings fans should get accustomed to the idea of Petersen and Copley as the two goalies to start next season. Which…uhh…doesn’t sound like the best idea. But, who knows? Maybe Cal can find his game again representing Team USA at the upcoming World Championships.
Rob Blake on the plan moving forward with Cal Petersen:
“We got to get Cal to be an NHL goalie.”#GoKingsGo
— Russell Morgan (@NHLRussell) April 30, 2023
It’ll be an adventurous offseason for Rob Blake and the LA Kings. While summers of the past have been more straightforward in terms of bringing on new talent, this one should be tougher to navigate.
(Photo Credit: NHL.com)
6 thoughts on “Tough decisions loom if LA Kings wish to improve”
Thanks Russell for another great and timely article as we Kings fans are concerned with how the Kings will navigate the small cap space with needed signings of current players plus needing to sign a goalie and LHD. I like your ideas, including signing Corey Perry whose AAV is only $1m current season. I would like re-signing Gavrikov AND Korpisalo and trading Walker, Durzi & Arvidsson should make that available or might need to trade Iafallo too. I hate to lose Arvy, whom I love but sacrifices have to be made. Blake can’t believe that Cal will be one of the 2 goalies on the Kings which likely would be disastrous. Hope Gavy will take a home team discount & that Kori won’t cost too much. Doubt Kings can trade for Saros, Sorokin or Hellebyuck but would love one of them. The young guys have to improve greatly if Kings are to be playoff bound again & to go farther. GKG!!!
Good read. I don’t think trading arvy will happen although you want to get rid of that money he is too good and has proven himself every year. He has been here. I don’t think Cal Peterson is going to be traded because nobody wants a $5 million goaltender who can’t play goalie they’re in a tough spot. They’re probably gonna have to pick between Korpisalo and Gavrikov, I hope they can keep both, but I think Sean Walker might have to go I think Iafallo would go before Arvidson would go.
Drew Doughty – 3 points.
Not exactly 11 million dollars worthy.
Would he help Buffalo get over the hump? You bet.
Tortorella would love to have him. LD Provorov at 6.5 saves the Kings 5 mil. Roy/Spence/Clarke on the right. Provorov/Gavrikov/Durzi on the left.
Time to start thinking about it, folks. He ain’t worth 11 mil.
Dewy was given a legacy contract for the 2 cups he helped the Kings win and will most likely retire as a King. I cannot dispute the fact that he is not worth 11 million AAV at his age and his contributions have diminished greatly, I think it would be near impossible to move him in this era of teams weaponizing cap space without retaining alot of his salary. I loved the Fiala move by Blake but we messed up big time with Cal getting that contract which would cost us prospects and a high pick to move on from… I think the move will be Walker getting dealt and possbly Roy as well… we have Brandt and Helge waiting in the wings to give us a strong blueline on the right side and both can play bottom pairing by next season… Bjornfot is another guy that needs to step up next year to help the left side but still looks too raw to play anything other than a bottom pair LD… maybe swing a trade for that 6’5″ beast Liam Bichsel from Dallas as they need help on the right side as much as we do from the left side… he could down the line eventually pair with Clarke and give him the freedom to unleash his offensive flair while Bichsel covers for him defensively… just my 2 cents anyways… we dont look good enough right now to get over the 1st round playoff hump.
Trade/ dump: Arvidson, Walker, Lizotte, Durzi, Grundstrom, Edler
DD has a NMC.
Sign Gav and Korpi
Promote youth from AHL
Byfield- Kopi – Kempe
Iafallo – Danault – Moore
Fiala – Vilardi _ Kaliyev
JAD – Kupari – McEwen
Lias – Fagemo
MA – DD
Gav – Roy
Bjornfot – Spence
Where does Clarke fit in to all that?