2021 Los Angeles Kings Offseason Primer

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As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. 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. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Los Angeles Kings offseason.

Los Angeles Kings Offseason Primer

Pending Free Agents

After falling short of the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division, the Los Angeles Kings found themselves on the outside looking in on the playoffs once again.  They finished their season with a 21-28-7  record. Although they missed the postseason, the team still showed some positive progress. They were able to give some of their young players more NHL experience and began further implementing coach Todd McLellan‘s system of play. Additionally, as the Kings transition out of their rebuild, they will need players to plug into their roster until their prospects are ready to make the jump to the NHL full time. These players’ spots are not quite solidified though, as the spots have been a revolving door for the past few years.

NHL free agent frenzy

The Kings organization has a few pending free agents to look at this offseason, many of which were being used as transitional players. The list includes: Andreas Athanasiou, Trevor Moore, Lias Andersson, Blake Lizotte, Christian Wolanin, Matt Luff, Kale Clague, Austin Strand, Daniel Brickley, Michael Eyssimont, Bokondji Imama, Drake RymshaJacob Moverare, Mark Alt, and Troy Grosenick. The team’s only unrestricted free agents are Wolanin, Brickley, Alt, and Grosenick. This means the rest of the players mentioned are restricted.

Salary Cap Outlook

After many years and offseasons of being tightly pressed against the salary cap, the Kings will be in a different scenario this summer. They are projected to have just under $20.5 million in cap space heading into next season according to CapFriendly. This gives them plenty of room and flexibility to essentially make as many signings or trades as they would like. A luxury that most teams in the NHL would do just about anything to have.

Major Likely Departures

Christian Wolanin

Acquired from the Ottawa Senators for Michael Amadio, Christian Wolanin played just a few games for the Kings this season. While the team did not have any big issues with his play, he was not outstanding enough to get a new contract from them. Realistically, Wolanin just doesn’t fit into the Kings roster with the players they have and might get edged out due to Kings general manager Rob Blake‘s plans.

Blake has made it clear that he is on the hunt for a left-shot defenceman. With Mikey Anderson, Tobias Bjornfot, and Olli Maatta regulars on the Kings blueline ahead of Wolanin, adding another player to the left side won’t help his cause. This move would likely push Maatta to the seventh-D spot as well. As a result, there wouldn’t be room for Wolanin on the Kings roster. Signing him simply wouldn’t make sense with Blake’s plans.

Matt Luff

Matt Luff is capable of being a bottom six NHL player. For whatever reason, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen in Los Angeles. After continuously scoring at a productive rate for the Ontario Reign, Luff still wasn’t rewarded a spot on the Kings roster. He did everything a player is asked to do and played every role he was asked to play.

At the end of the day though, the Kings organization kept him to just 13 NHL games played and gave no real explanation as to why. Even when the Kings were struggling to find offence, they still refrained from consistently putting Matt Luff, a scorer at every other level, into the lineup. Matt Luff is more than deserving of an NHL contract. He’ll likely get one too, it just doesn’t appear as if it will be from the Kings.

Major Likely Re-Signings

Andreas Athanasiou

After signing Athanasiou late in the off-season last year, the Kings were hoping he would rebound. In the 2018-19 season, he put up 30 goals and 24 assists for 54 points in 76 games with the Detroit Red Wings. The following year, however, he scored just 11 goals and 26 points in 55 games. His points-per-game average dropped by 0.24, which is about a 20 point difference in a full 82 game season. This year, however, the Kings were hoping they could re-spark some of Athanasiou’s old 30 goal production.

While he wasn’t quite at that calibre of offence, he was still more productive than the year prior, which is a win in the Kings book. This season, Athanasiou scored 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 47 games. This gave him a points-per-game average of 0.49. That put him on pace to score about 17 goals and 40 points in a full season. Playing for a team that struggles to find offence, those types of numbers were good enough to likely get Athanasiou a spot in the Los Angeles Kings offseason plans.

Trevor Moore

Coming into the season, Moore was expected to be a depth player for the Kings. It wasn’t entirely clear if he would get very many games. The expectation was more that he would rotate in and out of the lineup and maybe sit on the taxi squad for some time. This was not the case, however, as Mclellan quickly developed a liking for Moore, and rightfully so. Moore ended up playing up and down the lineup, seeing time on the second, third, and fourth lines. He was sneakily productive, scoring 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 56 games. This put him on pace to score about 15 goals and 34 points in a full 82 game season. Furthermore, later into the year, Moore was also productive at the IIHF World Championships. There he scored five goals and four assists for nine points in 10 games.

After the somewhat surprising success he had, it would be hard to imagine Rob Blake not offering Moore a contract extension. While Moore’s short-term future is fairly predictable, his long-term outlook might be a little different. Don’t be surprised to see Moore sign a short one or two year deal. He fits into LA’s lineup nicely now, but as Kings prospects develop and gain NHL experience, they might begin to edge him out of the bottom six.

Lias Andersson

It was a bit surprising to see the Kings trade for Lias Andersson during the 2020 draft with the New York Rangers. The team has a plethora of centre prospects, and adding another seemed unneeded. Nevertheless, they made the trade, and so far it has seemed to work out. First of all, Andersson was moved primarily to the wing during the season, helping the logjam a centre. He spent quite a bit of time this season sitting on the taxi squad. When he was off the taxi squad, Andersson split time in both Ontario and LA.

For the Reign, Andersson was very reliable, scoring at over a point-per-game pace. When on the Kings at first, Andersson struggled to find offence, and did not see very much success. It wasn’t until later in the season, when he was on a line with Gabriel Vilardi and Alex Iafallo that Andersson found his scoring touch. The trio really clicked, and Andersson was a big part in sparking Vilaridi’s offence once again. Because of this, the team will likely bring Andersson back for at least another season.

Kale Clague

The Kale Clague situation is somewhat complicated in the Los Angeles Kings offseason plans. In a perfect world, the Kings would be re-signing him to play on their blueline next season. This may not be the case, however. Due to the upcoming expansion draft, there is a chance Clague may be taken by Seattle. With the way the expansion draft is formatted, the Kings will likely only be protecting three defencemen, and Clague will probably be one of the odd men out. Should Seattle elect to pass on Clague, there would be no reason for the Kings not to re-sign him. If he does get taken though, then his contract is no longer LA’s problem.

Los Angeles Kings Offseason Potential Free Agent Additions

With all of their free agents being relatively cheap and the excess of cap space the Kings have, they should be looking to be very aggressive in free agency. The team is looking to add both offence and defence, so Blake should be looking all over. While the team obviously won’t be able to afford all of the following players mentioned, Blake should be expected to be at least make calls on all of them.

Gabriel Landeskog

While it’s unclear how likely it is for Gabriel Landeskog to hit the free-agent market, if he does, the Kings should be the first to call. The Colorado Avalanche captain is coming off of yet another productive season. In 54 games played, he scored 20 goals and 32 assists for a total of 52 points. This gave him a pace of 30 goals and 79 points. That is exactly the kind of production the Kings need in their lineup. Even during their cup runs, the Kings still could have used one more top-line winger to pair with Anze Kopitar. Almost a decade later, the team still has the exact same need, and Landeskog would fill it perfectly.

Taylor Hall

Similar to Landeskog, the likelihood of Taylor Hall hitting the free-agent market is still unknown, as he seemed to have enjoyed his stint in Boston. Ever since Hall left Edmonton, he has really been struggling to find a place to settle down in. His team seems to change just about every season. Regardless, this year, Hall’s season had its ups and downs. He struggled to score with the Buffalo Sabres, but all of the underlying numbers show he still generated a good amount of offence. For example, in Buffalo, he had a career-low 2.2 percent shooting percentage. This is obviously unsustainable and is bound to regress to the league mean at some point. He proved this in Boston, posting a 16.7 percent shooting percentage and scoring eight goals in 16 games.

Overall, Hall’s market value is probably not as high as it would have been a few years ago. Paying him a hefty contract is a risk that should still be worth taking, and if given the chance, Rob Blake should take it.

Brandon Saad

On top of the big fish like Landeskog and Hall, the Kings should be in on some of the mid-tier free agents as well. Just like either Landeskog or Hall, Brandon Saad would be a perfect fit on Kopitar’s wing heading into the 2021-22 season. Saad paced for about 44 points this year which would be a welcome addition to this Kings roster. If Blake happens to miss out on some of the bigger names, Saad would be a great plan B for him. Saad shouldn’t and probably won’t be the only backup plan for Blake though. Realistically, Blake will likely be making calls on any one of Saad, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jaden Schwartz, Blake Coleman, or Zach Hyman.

Ryan Murray

Rob Blake continues to emphasize wanting to add on the left side of the Kings D-core for the Los Angeles Kings offseason. While the big free-agent defencemen this season are primarily right-handed, it doesn’t leave Blake with a lot of options. He wants to add a young, dynamic left-handed defenseman to this team, which he probably won’t find in this year’s free-agent class. Until he does find that specific kind of player, whether that be via trade or free agency another year, he can still add some depth.

This is where Ryan Murray comes in. Murry would be a great temporary player on the Kings left-side until Blake finds his guy. He has more NHL experience than the Kings other left-handers like Bjornfot and Anderson, making him an attractive option to play with Drew Doughty for the time being.

This Los Angeles Kings offseason could be a turning point for their team, and Blake will have many difficult decisions upcoming.

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