As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look toward the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The fourth and final segment of Offseason Primers sticks to the Western Conference, featuring the Pacific Division. Today, the Los Angeles Kings offseason will go under the microscope.
Los Angeles Kings Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
After two Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014, general manager Rob Blake is in the midst of leading the Kings through a rebuild. One of the worst teams in the league this year, the Kings will pick second overall in this year’s draft to add to an already stout prospect pool. The Kings know help is on the way from their young talent, so this offseason will be important in terms of retaining those pieces. Their list of restricted free agents includes Nikolai Prokhorkin, Austin Wagner, Sean Walker, Carl Grundstrom, Sheldon Rempal, Michael Eyssimont, Austin Strand, Cole Kehler, Chaz Reddekopp, Bokondji Imama, and Matt Luff.
Salary Cap Outlook
The Kings have a wealth of cap space, as any rebuilding team should. Entering the 2020 offseason, L.A. has approximately $20.74 million in space (via the team’s CapFriendly page). Blake will have all the space he needs and/or wants this summer to modify the team.
Major Likely Departures
A disappointing season in Los Angeles has likely cost Hutton a contract extension. After a 2018-19 campaign with the Vancouver Canucks in which he was relied upon heavily, Hutton wasn’t as impressive this year. His offensive totals barely took a dip (16 points this year as compared to 20 points last year), but his average time on ice decreased by almost four minutes a game.
While Hutton likely doesn’t have a clear fit with the Kings, he’s a capable third-pairing defender at the NHL level who can jump up and play top-four minutes if need be. A team will likely snap him up on the open market, but he doesn’t factor in long-term with the Kings.
After three NHL seasons, Ryan has failed to make a splash at the NHL level. Now 27-years- old, he’s suited for either AHL play or being a team’s extra defenceman, at best. He provided little benefit to the Kings this year, and the team will want to leave his spot open for their youngsters to compete.
As the Kings move toward a youth movement, players like Ryan won’t be desirable assets. Expect the Kings to let him walk this fall.
Major Likely Re-Signings
In his second NHL season, the 25-year-old Walker showed he could be a solid depth defender. While not swallowing huge minutes, Walker had some offensive upside this year with 24 points in 70 games. Walker was also one of the Kings’ better possession players, posting a 54.8 percent Corsi For. Walker can likely handle top-four minutes, an enviable quality for a young, undrafted defenceman.
Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) notates a four-year extension for Walker worth $3.78 million a season. Los Angeles is left with $16.96 million in cap room.
Coming out of nowhere, the 2015 fifth-round pick has made an impact at the NHL level in recent years. Now having played in over 100 NHL contests, Wagner has a respectable 18 goals and 32 points. While the 23-year-old will never be a star at the NHL level, he has a chance to be a long-term member of Los Angeles’ bottom-six forward group. Retaining cheap, affordable depth early is a stellar management strategy.
Wagner’s projected contract extension via Evolving-Hockey is two years at $1.64 million a season. It’s a reasonable price and leaves the Kings with $15.32 million in cap space.
While the 33-year-old Lewis is far from a young, intriguing prospect, he brings a different benefit from this LA squad. Having won Stanley Cups with the team in both 2012 and 2014, Lewis is part of a veteran core that still includes Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty, among others. His on-and off-ice leadership has always been beneficial to the team, even if his offensive totals aren’t stellar.
Given Lewis’ history and impact on the squad, it’s unlikely the Kings let him walk. He should be cheap to retain as well, as Evolving-Hockey projects a one-year contract extension worth $1.03 million. The Kings would still have $14.29 million in cap space.
Potential Free Agent Additions
While the Los Angeles Kings offseason won’t have any big splashes, they will need to acquire some depth in order to best support their young prospects. Nowhere do they need it more than on the back end, where multiple free agents are expected to walk. As the Kings will be looking for a player who can play third-pairing minutes and serve as an extra, they have a multitude of options on the open market to consider. Names like Michael Del Zotto, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Christian Folin, and Jan Rutta are all names that could be on the Kings’ shortlist this offseason.
If you’re interested in the Kings’ crosstown rival, you can check out the Anaheim Ducks’ offseason primer here.
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