Something very rare is currently going on in Los Angeles, as for the first time in many, many summers, management is considering adding to the roster — without any real concerns about the salary cap.
In saying that, it doesn’t imply that Kings GM Rob Blake will be out spending like a drunken sailor in the weeks ahead (ed. note: yes, I used that line a few months back and I loved it so much I’m re-using it here). It simply means that fitting a player’s salary inside the cap ceiling isn’t of the upmost concern because LA’s front office has plenty of room to wiggle on the AAV.
This also doesn’t mean they’ll be signing guys to long-term deals either because length of contracts will be far more important than salary this time around. Knowing they’re still in the midst of a rebuild — even if they’re past the midfield mark and approaching the red zone — there is still an overall air of cautiousness. Inside the Kings front office, they’re keenly aware that signing or acquiring the wrong player(s) from outside can derail the ‘something pretty special’ thing they believe they’re building.
Finding balance right now is key. Everybody admits, they need to add some offensive and defensive depth before training camp opens in September for the 2021-22 NHL season.
Trading for forward Viktor Arvidsson was step one in that direction. There’s still more work to do, though.
We’ve been writing about all of the maneuvering and considerations in various articles of late and highly encourage Kings fans to read these two very important pieces for additional context on what we’re about the get into below:
The first article looks at the overall roster and Opening Night lineup projection, while the latter article dives into the fact LA simply has too many forwards right now. Even with Kurtis MacDermid taken in the Seattle Expansion Draft, they could end up with about five players on waivers come camp.
So let’s look at how Blake can still add another forward, perhaps as early as this week, and make it all work.
Swerve — LA has qualified Athanasiou. Word is they're very close to a new deal and didn't want to muddy the waters by letting other teams jump into UFA conversations. As we've said all along, Kings remained very interested in bringing him back. Sounds likely to wrap-up soon. https://t.co/uuVRjlKAVy
— John Hoven | The Mayor (@mayorNHL) July 26, 2021
The decision to qualify Athanasiou today is largely semantics to the casual fan. As we’ve noted for the past six weeks, LA was interested in bringing him back on a one or two-year contract and they appear to be very close to doing just that. For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume it’s completed and signed.
Rough Draft 1 – LA Kings projected lineup for 2021-22 Opening Night
Iafallo – Kopitar – Arvidsson
Kempe – Vilardi – (Forward 11)
Andersson – Byfield – Brown
Moore – JAD – (Forward 12)
Outside of Byfield, we see it as highly unlikely (at this time) that any of the Kings top prospects make the NHL roster out of camp – this includes: Turcotte, Kaliyev, Fagemo, etc. Now, could they, sure. It only further clouds some already intense roster decisions, making things more difficult. An easier decision would see those prospects return to the AHL and get a little more seasoning. They’ll be up next season when timing is right, and that doesn’t have to be October 14.
If the Kings did absolutely nothing between now and the start of training camp, they’d have seven players (again, not including Kupari or any other prospects) competing for the four ‘open’ roster spots highlighted above — Athanasiou, Frk, Grundstrom, Lemieux, Lizotte, Wagner, and newly signed Vladimir Tkachyov.
Right out of the gate, that leaves too many forwards. This is a problem.
How could they even acquire another forward and still make it all work?
(a) A potential trade for a forward could send draft picks or a prospect back the other way. It could potentially include a current roster player. As an example, if it included Adrian Kempe, that’s just a swap of players in the lineup and still leaves four spots to be filled by the Super Seven.
(b) In a normal year, the only choice for Byfield next season would be OHL or NHL; he wouldn’t be eligible to play in the AHL (see rules here). Using that scenario, the Kings had planned to keep Byfield in Los Angeles, rather than send him back to junior hockey.
However, there has been significant discussions of late to allow a one-time exception for the 2021-22 season; a scenario that would severely help the Kings. Under the idea, players who skated in 20 or more AHL games in 2021 (largely due to the WHL and OHL not being available to them), will be allowed to remain in the AHL this coming season. Thus, Byfield doesn’t have to be rushed to the NHL in October. He can start the year in AHL Ontario and continue to refine his game and join the Kings later in the season.
Rough Draft 2 – LA Kings projected lineup for 2021-22 Opening Night
On Monday’s all new Kings Of The Podcast episode we discussed 10 different names the Kings could be looking to add via free agency or trade. One of those acquisitions was riffing off a tweet from Elliotte Friedman talking about LA’s GM potentially being interested in Montreal Canadiens center Phillip Danault.
Building on that discussion, if — and we can’t stress that word enough right now — it was to happen, Kings coach Todd McLellan could do something like this:
Iafallo – Kopitar – Arvidsson
Kempe – Danault – Brown
Athanasiou – Vilardi – Andersson
Moore – JAD – (Forward 12)
This puts Byfield in the AHL most likely and if/when he pushes for a spot, Viardi can also move to wing.
It also leaves six of the aforementioned Super Seven to fight it out for the final three spots.
If Wagner gets assigned to the AHL (after clearing waivers), that would trim the list to only five guys in contention.
We would assume Grundstrom takes one of the three spots, so that really leaves two openings.
Frk, Lemieux, and Lizotte would most likely be the trio at that point… leaving one of them as the odd man out, headed to waivers.
And then there’s Tkachyov. He’s the total x-factor in all of this. What if he comes over from Russia and lights things up in camp? He didn’t leave money on the table in the KHL to come join the Reign. He thinks he’s making the NHL roster. If he’s impressive to do so, that only further puts the squeeze on other guys.
It’s all possible, though.
For a look at how LA’s 2021-22 defense is shaping up at the moment, see here or some of the articles linked below.
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