Los Angeles Kings Free Agent Hits and Misses
Best Signing: Willie Mitchell
On August 25th, 2010, the Kings picked up in-demand free agent Willie Mitchell. The veteran defenceman carried a lot of risk in his signing, having spent a lot of time off the ice after a concussion ended his season early. And at 33 years old it was a reasonable question. But when he was on the ice, Mitchell was an absolute rock on the left side. Mitchell’s first goal with the Kings was a short-handed marker. It was the second of his career, and perhaps a sign of his future with LA.
LA Kings’ Willie Mitchell says watching playoffs last year was ‘like sticking a knife in you.’ http://t.co/9dezDbutjw pic.twitter.com/HTKxSYpRsC
— theScore (@theScore) June 8, 2014
It was certainly a better sign than the raft of injuries that accompanied his opening season with his new team. Mitchell only played 57 games in year one. He had more luck in his second year, playing over 22 minutes per game and ending with a career-high in points with 24. The team kept him on with an extension, but before it came into effect he led the Kings to their first Stanley Cup win in team history.
Playing over 25 minutes a night in the playoffs, Mitchell scored once and had three points in 20 games. But he was also the first player captain Doughty handed the Cup to. That could well have been Mitchell’s last game without that extension, as knee problems hounded him in the 2012-13 lockout. He had surgery early, missing the entire season in hopes of a return in 2013-14.
Then in 2013-14 he and the Kings won the Stanley Cup again. In 18 games he scored once and had four(!) total points. He was trusted with over 22 minutes of ice time per night during this second winning run. The Kings took a chance on an old veteran who didn’t score, and they reaped the benefits.
Best Signing Honourable Mentions
The only reason Pavol Demitra isn’t in the top spot is the briefness of his stay. Signed to a three-year, $4.5 million per deal, the Kings traded him after just one year. Even when he was moved out, though, the Kings got a first – turned into Trevor Lewis – and Patrick O’Sullivan. That’s a lot of games for the veteran winger, though neither matched Demitra’s skill.
Over the one year in LA, Demitra scored 25 goals and 62 points in just 58 games. Not bad at all.
Darcy Kuemper needed a reset. He broke into the league in typical fashion for a star. The Minnesota Wild pick had a six-game trial in 2012-13, starting three. His .916 save percentage raised eyebrows, and he lived up to it the next year. He got 25 starts the next year and kept a high standard, ending the season at .915. He couldn’t keep it up, though, and up-and-down seasons followed, and his one-year deal in 2016-17 was a disaster.
Kuemper went West, and the Kings welcomed him with a one-year, $650,000 deal. He got into 19 games behind Jonathan Quick, going 10-1-3 with a .932 save percentage and a 2.10 goals against average. He was eventually flipped to Arizona Coyotes where he continued to rebuild his reputation until finally he won the Stanley Cup in 2021-22. But for one season, he was the best value contract in the league, and it was with the Kings.
Worst Signing: Simon Gagné
Simon Gagné was one of the Philadelphia Flyers home-grown leaders, destined to bring the team back to glory. It didn’t quite work out that way. Now, that obviously isn’t entirely on Gagné’s shoulders. But that was the thinking behind both the no-movement clause the Flyers gave him and when they convinced him to waive the clause to go to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the last year of that deal.
Gagné produced in the playoffs, too. With Philly, he scored 32 goals ad 47 points in 90 playoff games. That’s not nothing. In his one year with Tampa, Gangé scored 17 goals and 40 points in 63 regular-season games and five goals and 12 points in 15 playoff games. The Lightning didn’t win the Cup that year, but his production was solid – especially as a middle-six winger.
Signing Gagné to a two-year, $3.5 million per deal was a low-risk contract. Unfortunately, he appeared in just 34 games in his first season, scoring seven goals and 17 points. Chronic neck pain and a concussion limited his play, but he did get into four playoff games. He got no points and averaged eight minutes a night, but still got a ring in their win. He played eleven games for the Kings the next year, scoring five assists before being sent back to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick.
Worst Signing Honourable Mention
Looking to shore up their defence, the Kings took a flyer on veteran Tom Gilbert. The 34-year old played 45 games for the Montréal Canadiens the previous season, so he knew how to wait. He started off with perfectly good results, scoring once and getting five points in 17 games. Then he got suspended for the season for boarding Nick Ritchie.
Losing players to injury is one thing. Losing a player because he caused an injury is another. That was the last game Gilbert played in the NHL, retiring at the season’s end. He wasn’t the worst of the Kings free agent signings, but taking $1.4 million and throwing it away wouldn’t have been any different.