Tuesday’s LA Kings media call with newly acquired forward Kevin Fiala and GM Rob Blake brought some clarity to the team’s roster situation. Or did it?
Essentially, Blake confirmed two items we reported last week about the defense – right-handed Sean Walker could open the season on the left side and they plan to re-sign Alex Edler.
On today's conference call, LA Kings GM Rob Blake just confirmed a few things in the article below…
— Look for Sean Walker to start the season on the left side
— Kings are working to re-sign Alex Edler
More below on LA's opening night roster and cap implications. https://t.co/LzPPoGGGi7
— The Mayor | John Hoven (@mayorNHL) July 5, 2022
Neither is set in stone, as Blake is expected to continue exploring the idea of acquiring additional help on the left side.
We discussed this idea in detail on Tuesday night’s Kings Of The Podcast episode:
Essentially, here’s the situation…
The Kings are nearing the salary cap ceiling, as we highlighted in the above article following the Fiala trade.
In theory, that would limit their ability to potentially add any more players from outside the organization without a major trade involving somebody like Alex Iafallo or Matt Roy.
Not so fast, though.
As mentioned on the podcast, there is a strong likelihood that the Kings don’t qualify forward Brendan Lemieux. He’s a Restricted Free Agent with arbitration rights, and the team has to be concerned that an arbitrator would award a number higher than they can really afford to pay at this time. Thus, why go through the exercise. If Lemieux was willing to come back on a discounted contract, there may be a path to bringing him back. Even so, for that to happen a lot of pieces (maybe too many pieces) would have to fall into place. First, Blake would have to not qualify him. Which means Lemieux would then become an Unrestricted Free Agent. If that were to happen, it’s certainly plausible that other teams would be willing to pay Lemieux more that what LA can presently afford.
For the record, Qualifying Offers are due by July 11. If a player isn’t qualified, he becomes a UFA on July 13 and he’s able to sign with any team in the league.
With that in mind, let’s play out a scenario that removes from Lemieux from our previous Opening Night roster projection.
Let’s also remove Nic Deslauriers as a possible replacement as the LW4, largely due to (a) the Kings may want to deploy their money elsewhere and (b) he’s likely to cost more than Lemieux.
A side benefit of all this is not only the savings of about $1M at LW4, but it also creates a roster spot for Gabe Vilardi — meaning the Kings don’t have to trade him or send Kupari back to the AHL just to make room for him (originally discussed here).
One problem, though, what about team toughness? Going this route flies in the face of Blake’s stated desire to increase team toughness this summer. Sure, adding Fiala gives them a little bit, but it doesn’t fully check this box.
So, what might they do?
Again, there isn’t much money to work with this summer. Two players who need new contracts at the moment, but don’t have arbitration rights, are Mikey Anderson and Sean Durzi. Unfortunately, the Kings may just have to qualify them (essentially give them a 5% raise) and save any bigger money contracts for either player until next summer. We had previously penciled Anderson in on a $2M bridge deal. Going the qualifying route would save them another $1M. When you start adding up all of these little savings, the Kings cap situation starts to have a different look.
Of course, the above projection includes Adrian Kempe signing a new deal with a $5.5M AAV. We continue to project his new deal will be in this range, and other recent comparisons to players with his age and career production would support these type of numbers.
On the Edler front, he is eligible for an incentive based contract. Because he’s over 35, he can essentially sign a contract for a league minimum salary (i.e. $750k) and have it filled with incentives. In doing so, it gives the Kings a little bit of temporary cap room, as those incentives don’t have to be paid until the end of the season. And the Kings roster likely won’t look the same next April as it does right now. For now, we’ll pencil the base salary in at $1M just to be a little conservative.
Assuming those deals get done soon, then what?
It leaves the Kings with an extra $2.6M in cap room.
If they were to trade picks/prospects for a defenseman, it would most likely mean Toby Bjornfot needs to start next season in the AHL. He’s the only eligible candidate to send down because he doesn’t require waivers. At just 21 years old, maybe it’s not a bad idea. Defensemen typically take a little longer to mature and a little more seasoning wouldn’t be the end of the world. His ceiling his still very high.
This would also mean LA could add his money to the pot. That would leave Blake with about $3.5M to go out and “upgrade” the LHD spot currently held by Bjornfot.
What would they be looking for at that point?
Search for a left shot defenseman, under 30 years old, bigger than 6-foot-2, under contract for three years or less, with an AAV around $3.5M.
Some of the names to potentially target in a trade would be somebody like Joel Edmundson (Montreal) or Carson Soucy (Seattle).
Jacob Chychrun is always a possibility. However, it just doesn’t feel like there is a deal for LA anymore. They’d have to include their 2023 first round pick and one of Quinton Byfield or Brandt Clarke in a package of at least three assets. Plus, they’d likely have to trade Alex Iafallo to make the money work. It sounds awfully expensive when there are probably other cost-efficient options available.
– The line combinations and defensive pairings are for illustrative purposes only. The intent is to directionally look at what this collection of 23 players would total via the salary cap.
– Player contracts highlighted in yellow (i.e. Kempe) are for current RFA/UFAs. These estimates are based on current info, and are subject to change in the weeks ahead.
– Players like Andreas Athanasiou, Olli Maatta, and Troy Stecher are not expected to return next season.
– Jaret Anderson-Dolan will no longer be waiver exempt next season. Thus, it’s either NHL, trade him this summer, or risk losing him to waivers if they try sending him to the AHL at any point, starting in September. We have penciled him in on the opening night roster.
– Prospects like Alex Turcotte and Samuel Fagemo can continue to play in the AHL for another season without the risk of waivers. Hence, they aren’t included in the current roster projection. Obviously, this could change should a trade create roster openings and/or they play their way into a spot during training camp that forces the team to keep them in the NHL. Partial list of other prospects who are exempt from waivers next season: Arthur Kaliyev, Quinton Byfield, Rasmus Kupari, Sammy Fagemo, Akil Thomas, Toby Bjornfot, Jordan Spence, and Helge Grans.
— Spence and fellow defenseman Jacob Moverare proved to be fine fill-ins when the Kings blueline was banged up during LA’s 2021-22 campaign. As things stand today, both players will need to return to the AHL next season and bide their time (while continuing their development). Spence exceeded all expectations as a first-year pro this past season and looks to be somebody who could be pushing for a spot sooner rather than later. Moverare, who was recently signed to a two-year contract extension, is out of waivers. So he’ll need to pass through before being sent down in October.
— Top prospect Brandt Clarke could certainly push for a roster spot during training camp. If he doesn’t make the NHL, he’ll have to go back to the OHL. On the flip side, securing an NHL roster spot (which theoretically would help the power play), only creates more problems on an already crowded blue line.
UPDATE – July 11, 2022
LA Kings contract updates:
Carl Grundstrom inks two year extension with an AAV of $1.3M
Lias Andersson inks one-year contract at $750K
More to come later today on other RFAs.
— The Mayor | John Hoven (@mayorNHL) July 11, 2022
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