Putting together an NHL team’s opening night roster is quite similar to finishing a complicated jigsaw puzzle — for both the Head Coach and General Manager. In the case of Rob Blake, he moved two of his final pieces into place with contracts for Gabe Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan on Saturday. That leaves two young defensemen in Mikey Anderson and Sean Durzi and he’ll be done with his heavy lifting for the summer.
Meanwhile, Todd McLellan will likely have a few choices to make come training camp. Assuming everybody is healthy and ready to go — we’ll await word next month on how Viktor Arvidsson’s herniated disc is healing after surgery — there should be at least one spot available at forward and on defense.
Hearing the Arvidsson surgery went well today. All good. So, there's some positive news. https://t.co/elnfkpEzND
— The Mayor | John Hoven (@mayorNHL) May 18, 2022
If he’s good to go, Arvidsson is expected to return at RW2. In fact, the top three lines are basically set in place. And with the signings of Brendan Lemieux and Blake Lizotte, two-thirds of the fourth line is also accounted for.
That’s 11 forwards; leaving three open spots. Carl Grundstrom will get one; putting three players in a battle for the final two spots – Vilardi, JAD, and Lias Andersson.
Interestingly enough, all three players are out of waivers, so without a trade (or an injury coming out of camp), one of them would need to be put on waivers to get the roster down to 14 forwards for Opening Night.
In our projection below, we’ve penciled in Vilardi on the NHL roster. As the organization’s first round selection from the 2017 NHL Draft, we just don’t see him going on waivers. Somehow, someway, the team will need to maximize the value of this asset.
This would leave JAD or Andersson as the 14th forward. On one hand, the Andersson signing was a bit curious. He’s an extremely talented player capable of putting up points and plays with a bit of an edge, something the Kings lack at times. However, he wasn’t able to grab a roster spot last season and looked to be squeezed out. Inking him to a one-year deal at $775k was a no-brainer, though. By doing so, the Kings essentially bought insurance against anything going wrong in camp. He’s most likely the odd-man out come Opening Night. Yet, things rarely go as planned.
JAD signing a contract with a $775k AAV makes for an easy projection too, as it’s the same rate as Andersson. Either one or the other will likely be the 14th forward.
With these signings up front, Rasmus Kupari has essentially been pushed back to the AHL for now. He has one more year remaining on his Entry Level Contract; meaning, he can be sent down without waivers.
On the defensive side of things, Alex Edler eventually signed the contract we first discussed several months ago. Being over 35 years old, he was eligible to get an incentive based offer, whereby only the $750k base needs to be factored into the salary cap for now. Yes, he’ll most likely be owed more money at the end of the season, but those monies aren’t factored in until after the season — by which time the Kings will have either traded away some money, saved some money via LTIR, or they’ll have to pay the overage and have it deducted from next year’s cap (note: the Kings are carrying an overage penalty of $637,500 this season for being over the cap in 2021-22).
Blake also recently confirmed our earlier report that Sean Walker would most likely open the season on the left side. Thus, assuming deals with Mikey Anderson and Sean Durzi get wrapped up soon, the seven defensemen to make the Opening Night roster will be all but finalized. Or will they?
Let’s take things in order:
— Our sources indicate talks with the Anderson and Durzi camps are ongoing, with both sides hopeful new deals get wrapped up soon. They will most likely be one-year contracts for both players, coming in around their qualifying offers, with perhaps a slight bump up. There’s an outside chance either player could agree to a two-year term, as Blake has just shy of four million dollars total to work with right now. How is it $4M? Add up the projected amounts below ($950k + $850k) and the remaining cap space available to them.
— Several months ago, we projected Anderson at two years x $2M AAV. Blake and the Kings can still get a deal done similar to that. Will they? We’ll have to wait and see how the next week unfolds.
— Again, the money plugged in for Durzi below is a placeholder based on his qualifying offer. He will more likely be in the same 2-year x $2M AAV range.
— Lurking in the background are Jordan Spence and Brandt Clarke. Both players are looking to challenge for a roster spot. Spence, a first-year pro last season looked every bit like he belonged in the NHL over his 24 games played in Los Angeles. The former QMJHL Rookie of the Year, and later Defenseman of the Year, didn’t seem to skip a beat in his transition to life as a pro player. Despite playing only half the season in the American League, his 42 points in 46 games was enough to earn him a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team. He’s most likely headed back to Ontario to start the season. Yet, with Bjornfot being waiver exempt, he could start the year in the AHL to allow Spence a spot with the big club.
— Having the ability to send Bjornfot to the AHL without first passing through waivers also gives Blake and McLellan another option. If Clarke can impress enough in camp to earn a spot in the NHL — even if it’s just for a few games to start — that’s the countermove needed to get LA’s 2021 first round selection the opportunity he’s looking for. Coming off a season in which he was all-worldly in the OHL, and being unable to play in the AHL due to his age, let the debate start now – ‘What’s better for his development, OHL or NHL next season?’
— If either player pushes Bjornfot to the AHL temporarily, there isn’t really much cap savings to be had. Clarke carries the same AAV and Spence is at $820k, so a savings of around $50k.
LA KINGS 2022-23 PROJECTED OPENING NIGHT ROSTER & SALARY CAP
– 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 are for RFAs. These estimates are based on current info, and are subject to change in the weeks ahead.
– For those who enjoy the numbers side of hockey, here’s a little more context on the Vilardi and JAD contracts. Vilardi’s qualifying offer should have been for a little more than he signed for. However, he likely signed for slightly less because he was able to get a one-way deal. Meaning, he’ll earn the same amount of money, whether he’s in the AHL or NHL. That could end up being a significant difference, as he’d likely be making about $70-90k in the AHL on a normal deal, if he was to somehow slip through the cracks next season. That extra $700k-plus should he end up in the minors is quite the consolation prize.
— JAD was in a similar situation, yet played it differently. He signed a two-way deal, meaning he will earn one amount in the NHL and a lower amount in the AHL. However, by signing for the same NHL base salary that was in his previous contract, he was able to package that with a slightly higher than usual amount on his AHL salary ($100k vs. $70k). Again, should he end up in the minors, that’s a nice little cushion to have in his back pocket and it doesn’t negatively impact the Kings NHL salary cap in any way.
The #Lakings signed 22 y/o Jaret Anderson-Dolan to 1 year deal:
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) July 23, 2022
– 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, Akil Thomas, and Helge Grans.
— Defenseman Jacob Moverare proved to be a fine fill-in when the Kings blueline was banged up during LA’s 2021-22 campaign. As things stand today, he will need to return to the AHL next season and bide his time (while continuing his development). 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. If nothing else, though, the Kings will get a long look at Clarke in the coming months. He’s expected to play for the Kings in September’s NHL Rookie Faceoff tournament, then attend Rookie Camp and Main Camp with the club.
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