The glow of two Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup Championship victories in 2012 and 2014 has completely faded from Los Angeles Kings fans faces. The franchise promoted from within in current president Luc Robitaille and general manager Rob Blake. Left was an aging core group and an overwhelming amount of dead weight in cap space. The shadow of Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter‘s accomplishments makes one worried if the fresh faces have what it takes to get the team back on the road to another Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup.
The Road to a Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup
Keeping Pace With Cap Space
The pace with which President Luc Robitaille and Vice President/General Manager Rob Blake have been shifting their roster now suggests the team is looking at playing the long game with their current prospects. The Kings have just over 13 million in cap space right now. Even with that and being one of the better suited teams to deal with the league flat cap going into next season, they are not likely to make any big moves. The big move was really already made: the hiring of head coach Todd McLellan. But even his addition highlights the team’s deeper incentive.
Five Years To The Cup?
Todd McLellan‘s hire was following a very disappointing season. McLellan fans know him as the man behind the bench for Pacific Division rival, the San Jose Sharks. Relief was seen by Kings fans, though. Blake sought out and signed the heavyweight head coach in McLellan. For big money in fact at five-years coming in around $5 million a year. Darryl Sutter was let go after the Kings missed the playoffs in 2017. That was the beginning of the teams rebuild. The Kings experimented with their Stanley Cup Champion team’s assistant coach John Stevens. This experiment was followed by the franchise arguably embarrassing themselves with Willie Desjardins. They then redeemed themselves with Todd McLellan. Looking at where the Kings currently stand with the age of their talent and upcoming open cap space, five years seems like a realistic timeline for the Kings to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
What Needs to Happen
The Los Angeles Kings are well known for over paying veterans. Normally in order to obtain a quick fix and stay competitive. It got the team places for some time. Fans may have scratched their head at the agreement of bringing on aging Dion Phaneuf back in 2018. The signing of Ilya Kovalchuk (three years / $18.75 Million) at age 35, after not competing in the NHL since the 2012-2013 season, made most fans lose their minds. The franchise had been preaching “younger and faster” and followed it with this bizarre move. Finally, it seems to be the current direction moving forward.
Will The LA Kings Make Any Moves This Off-Season?
They might make some moves yet, but they’ll be nothing overly exciting. They re-signed some smaller pieces in the rebuild. Promising young players like Austin Wagner and Sean Walker have landed their first real NHL contracts. The team is also handing out entry level deals like candy on Halloween. Fans are antsy to see what players of the luscious LA Kings prospect pool will fall back to Juniors/NCAA, and which will land in Ontario (AHL). With the few free agents left, it would be highly unlikely for the Kings to be late buyers. Even with talks of Mike Hoffman having “no issues” with a one year deal and LA having him within their budget, it is a highly unlikely transaction.
Olli Maatta + Lias Andersson
The Kings addressed their troubles with left handed defensemen with Chicago’s Olli Maatta. After a quiet few years, he showed his elite skill for the Hawks in the 2020 NHL playoff bubble. Maatta still has plenty of gas in the tank. At only 26 it is believed he is capable of being a defenseman who can face top lines. Possibly even skate alongside Drew Doughty. In addition, Los Angeles acquired Rangers prospect Lias Andersson, in exchange for a second round pick in the 2020 draft. Andersson struggled in New York (nine points in 66 games, over three years) despite going seventh-overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. He did seem genuinely enthused to be acquired by Los Angeles. A fresh start with the Kings may put this elite prospect back on track.
Who The Kings Need To Step Up
There are a few names that come to mind. Alex Iafallo is the only LA King who becomes a UFA after the 2020-2021 season. Upper management will try to lock him in an extension at some point. Iafallo will play a key role not only in team’s rebuild, but also whether or not the team will be entertaining to watch. As an undrafted free agent he earned a spot on the top-line following an impressive training camp in 2017. He’s netted an increase of around 10 points in each season since. Iafallo is now crucial in production (17-26-43), finishing behind only Anze Kopitar in points this season.
Kempe, Kempe, Kempe
Adrian Kempe has all-star hands. He has floated under the radar in Los Angeles due to lack of consistent production. Anyone who is unfamiliar with the Kings, but very familiar with hockey, can see this guy is far from hitting his potential. Since his breakout first full season with the club (16-21-37) back in 2017-2018 , the numbers and enthusiasm from LA fans has not been the same. The 2017-2018 season was the last year that Los Angeles has been in the playoffs, and Kempe was a big part of getting them there. He filled big shoes when Jeff Carter went down after only a few weeks into the season. Signs reading “Kempe, don’t get so good we can’t afford you” were seen waving around the stands.
Potential Second Line Chemistry
It is true that if Kempe was traded to a team like Vancouver (like former teammates Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli), fans may have seen him playing with more developed and talented linemates, and therefore putting up more impressive numbers. Fans have also wondered why a first round draft pick is not on the top line (Alex Iafallo seems to have the job on lock). Kempe is still young though; he will likely have the role of centering what the Kings will hope to be a hungry second line (between Martin Frk and rookie Gabriel Vilardi). A confident Martin Frk has already said he expects to score 30 goals next year (I oddly wouldn’t be surprised if that wicked shot surpasses 20 goals). If that is the case, Kempe won’t have a problem tallying up significantly more assists.
Gabriel Vilardi And The Team’s Top Prospects
It is unlikely that Quinton Byfield will skate with Los Angeles next season, whenever that may be. He will get a good look in camp and if he over performs there and combines that with a stellar World Juniors performance, you never know. Gabriel Vilardi’s name, on the other hand, has already been tossed around for the Calder Trophy. After battling with back injuries for what seems to be since Los Angeles acquired him in 11th overall in 2017, Vilardi emerged at the back end of last year looking very strong. He finished with three goals and seven points in 10 games and seemed to have natural chemistry with line-mate Martin Frk.
Youth On The Blue Line
The Kings will be looking for youth on the blue line to fill some of the roles on the blue line as well. Tobias Bjornfot got three NHL games under his belt before being sent down to the teams AHL affiliate. He will have some competition however in training camp. Mikey Anderson will get a good look. On top of that, Helge Grans, and Jordan Spence could also be competing for a roster spot.
What To Expect
Over all the future looks pretty solid for Los Angeles under head coach John McLellan. It will be exciting to see which young guys step up this year. There are so many ceilings yet to be completely analyzed. Yet to even be mentioned are possible roster candidates Tyler Madden and Alex Turcotte. The Kings clearly have depth. Having an experienced and respected coach like McLellan will be crucial in helping the organization not rush the development of these players and the length of his contract seems to express the organization’s time table of when they would like to bring the cup back to Los Angeles.