Here’s the latest file in THN.com’s continuing analyzes of off-season plans for every NHL team. Today, we’re examining the Los Angeles Kings.
2021-22 Record: 44-27-11
Finish In The Pacific Division: 3rd
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $2.3 million
Restricted Free Agents: Gabe Vilardi, F; Michael Anderson, D; Sean Durzi, D
What Los Angeles Has: A great balance of veteran, Stanley Cup-winning experience and exuberant youth; a new weapon on offense in winger Kevin Fiala; an elite two-way presence in Phillip Danault; above-average young defensemen in Sean Durzi and Michael Anderson; proven goal-scorers in Adrian Kempe and Viktor Arvidsson; a patient-but-expectant GM in Rob Blake; an excellent group of prospects to include in any in-season trades
What Los Angeles Needs: More offense in general, and more patience for their youngsters – including center Quinton Byfield and blueliner Sean Durzi; a return to good health for cornerstone D-man Drew Doughty, who played only 39 games last season before a wrist injury sidelined him for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs; goaltending depth beyond veterans Jonathan Quick and Cal Pedersen
What’s Realistic For Los Angeles Next Season: The Kings nearly knocked off the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the 2022 playoffs, taking the Oilers to seven games in the opening round before bowing out. The absence of Doughty may have been the difference between LA winning that series and losing to Edmonton, but the organization expects Doughty to be back at 100 percent by the time the 2022-23 regular season begins. They’re crossing their fingers that Doughty can return to peak form, and that 34-year-old captain Anze Kopitar continues to produce the way he did last season (48 assists and 67 points in 81 games). If their oldest players stay in the lineup, and their youngsters continue to blossom, the Kings could challenge for second spot in the Pacific and get past the first round for the first time since they won a Cup in 2013-14.
Kings GM Rob Blake didn’t wait until the league’s unrestricted free agency period opened to make his big move of this off-season, landing high-scoring winger Kevin Fiala from Minnesota in exchange for their first-round pick in the 2022 draft as well as prospect defenseman Brock Faber, then signing Fiala to a seven-year, $55.125 million contract extension. The 25-year-old Fiala had a career year on offense last season, amassing 33 goals and 85 points in 82 games, and he’ll likely thrive on the Kings’ top line (alongside Kopitar and winger Adrian Kempe, who scored 33 goals for LA in 2021-22).
Fiala’s talents should improve the Kings’ offense, which at a total of 239 goals-for was the second-weakest of any team that made the playoffs last year. Head coach Todd McLellan guided LA to the second-best goals-against total (236 goals) despite not having the league’s best defense corps, and being without Doughty for much of the year. If there is a major concern for the Kings, it’s their goaltending: longtime star Jonathan Quick will be entering the final season of his 10-year, $58 million contract, and although he had his best season since the 2016-17 campaign by posting a 2.59 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, he’s now 36 years old, and could be an injury victim.
The other half of LA’s goaltending tandem, 27-year-old Cal Petersen, is entering the first year of a three-year, $15-million contract extension, but his save percentage dropped significantly – from .911 in 2020-21 to .895 last season – and the Kings need him to be better this coming year.
Blake has only $2.3 million in salary cap space with which to address any in-season issues, and he still has to sign RFAs Michael Anderson, Sean Durzi, and Gabe Vilardi, so he likely will have to tweak the lineup before next season begins. But Blake also has a deep pool of prospects, and the future is no longer far away for this franchise. The future is now for LA, and with Calgary taking a big hit after Johnny Gaudreau’s departure, there’s a chance the Kings could rise to the No. 2 spot in the Pacific and do real damage in the playoffs.