View Original Notice ? Kings face these key offseason decisions
The Zamboni hadn’t even finished its final turns on the ice after Saturday’s Game 7 defeat in Edmonton when the Kings already began looking ahead to next season.
On one hand, their loss marked the final game for franchise icon Dustin Brown, but on the other, 10 different Kings made their postseason debuts in the first-round series, with more reinforcements and some cap space on the way.
Coach Todd McLellan said that he saw growth not only in the team’s rookies and second-year players, but also among some of its veterans. That seemed to be intended less as a congratulatory comment than as a reminder that there was still much work to be done.
“Experience is only good if you do something with it. If you’re just gonna go throw it in the closet when you go home, whether you’re old or young, it’s useless,” McLellan said after the game. “It’s (all about) what are you going to do with it now. That’s why next year, starting tomorrow, is going to be one tough year, based on experience that I have.”
The team traveled back from Canada Sunday with exit interviews to follow on an unspecified date. In the meantime, here is a glimpse of the work that lies ahead for the organization this summer.
It would be something of a shock if McLellan and General Manager Rob Blake were not both back next season, given how they exceeded near-term expectations and how well the franchise appears to be situated moving forward.
In prior stops, McLellan lost in the first round in his first head coaching job in San Jose, then made the conference finals in back-to-back seasons. In Edmonton, an injury to 2016 Calder Trophy frontrunner Connor McDavid derailed the Oilers’ campaign in McLellan’s first season, but they came within one win of the conference finals the following year.
For Blake’s part, he’s had something of a Midas touch as the team has worked its way into shape from an aging roster at the bottom of the standings with a bare cupboard in its farm system to assembling one of the NHL’s deepest pools of prospects while becoming competitive at the top level.
Acquisitions from earlier trades such as forward Trevor Moore and defenseman Sean Durzi have already justified their costs. More experienced additions over last summer also paid off famously: center Phillip Danault was the team’s regular-season MVP, defenseman Alex Edler steadied a very young group on the blue line and winger Viktor Arvidsson recaptured 20-goal form before sustaining an injury just as the playoffs were about to begin.
“The organization, four years ago, came up with a plan about transforming the team,” McLellan said. “Changing the way we play, the identity of the group, bringing younger players in, relying on the older, veteran players, and that was a positive throughout the year.”
Brown already announced his retirement before the playoffs and even in the unlikely event that he were to change his mind, he would be an unrestricted free agent in line for a significant pay cut from his $5.875 million cap hit. Winger Andreas Athanasiou, who showed flashes of brilliance but struggled both to stay healthy and play consistently, is also an unrestricted free agent.
Winger Adrian Kempe, who led the Kings in goals this season and in points during the playoffs, took a major step forward during his contract year. As an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent, the Kings have some leeway in terms of negotiation, but Kempe could see his $2 million salary triple, especially if he signs a deal of significant length. The Kings’ other RFA forwards were either bottom-six or depth players this season, and the Kings will likely focus on adding a top-six caliber winger.
The Kings will once again have $10.8 million in cap space committed to goalies, which was more than all but two other teams had tied up in net this season (Montreal and Florida, both of whom featured one goalie earning $10 million or more). That’s a hefty figure for a tandem that posted unremarkable numbers this season, though Quick proved his value and then some down the stretch.
On defense, the Kings will have to make decisions on three veterans: trade-deadline pickup Troy Stetcher, 36-year-old Edler and former two-time Stanley Cup champion Olli Maatta.
Stecher performed well in limited duty, particularly in the playoffs. Maatta was originally brought in to play with Drew Doughty on the top pairing, and after struggling there he ultimately settled effectively into a less prominent role. Edler had to battle back from a broken ankle but enjoyed a resurgence prior to the injury and showed resilience after returning. All three could be at the mercy of other acquisition opportunities as well as the salary increase of Mikey Anderson (he is an RFA), the development of Kings’ top prospects and the recovery of veteran Sean Walker from major knee surgery.
The Kings could absolutely use more scoring from their back end: their defenseman combined for 138 points, almost 100 fewer than West-topping Colorado’s total of 234.
While it may seem like the Kings and the Ontario Reign were one continuous entity given all the callups the Kings made in recent years, there are still contributors waiting in the wings. On defense, Brock Faber returned to the Olympics and excelled at the NCAA level, while north of the border Brandt Clarke made himself a favorite for the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the Ontario Hockey League’s top defenseman.
Forward Alex Turcotte, a former fifth overall draft selection, made strides in his development and got his first taste of the NHL this season. Francesco Pinelli impressed at Kings’ rookie camp last summer and scored above a point-per-game clip in the OHL this season.
Perhaps the biggest question of the offseason is whether or not Blake opts to mobilize any prospects for the purposes of a trade.
Up until last summer, the Kings were acquiring futures unilaterally. They signed Danault and Edler as free agents, while trading mid-round and late-draft picks for Arvidsson and Stecher. They had an eerily quiet trade deadline for a playoff contender.
With significant needs and somewhat limited wiggle room to fill them, the Kings will likely focus on targets who have low to moderate salaries and contract terms set for multiple seasons. That type of acquisition usually nets a package of picks and prospects, which Blake has been loath to give up without ideal return.