Coming out of last week’s exit interviews with LA Kings players and management, the page has officially been turned. It’s time for General Manager Rob Blake to begin working on his summer to-do list.
Everything ultimately hinges on defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov. There’s no need for a 6,000 word essay on the importance of signing him. Here on Mayor’s Manor and on Kings Of The Podcast, we’ve spent the last few years talking about the need for Blake to acquire a big, stay-at-home, left shot defender. As coach Todd McLellan recently said, it was a ‘home run’ from day one with Gavrikov. He checked all the boxes on and off the ice — even if Mikey Anderson wasn’t the best driver when chauffeuring the 6-foot-4 Russian around Los Angeles.
In short, the reality is this… Originally drafted in the sixth round by Columbus, Gavrikov will become an Unrestricted Free Agent on July 1. Following his two-year ELC, he signed a three-year extension with the Blue Jackets that carried an AAV of $2.8 million. Now 27 years old, with around 300 games of combined NHL experience, he’s looking to get paid – and rightfully so. The question is how much the Kings can afford to pay him vs. what the open market might offer.
For comparable purposes, here are three contracts recently signed by players of a similar age with a somewhat similar amount of NHL experience:
Nikita Zadorov (2022): 2 years, $3.75M AAV
Jamie Oleksiak (2021): 4 years, $4.6M AAV
Jake McCabe (2021): 4 years, $4M AAV
There really isn’t a perfect comp available, as those players were all first or second round selections and had slightly more games played. Perhaps the best comp is MacKenzie Weegar. Originally a seventh round selection by Florida, he signed an 8-year contract with Calgary last summer that has a $6.25M AAV.
To get started on the larger math puzzle here, we’re going to use a place holder of $5,500,000 for a potential new Gavrikov contract. Term will come into play here. If he’s willing to sign a long-term contract in LA, the total value of the deal could be rather large. And remember, NHL deals are guaranteed for the full amount of the contract, unlike NFL contracts. For Gavrikov, we previously predicted a contract in the range of $30M total, either 5x6M or 6x5M. We’ll split the difference to start with and project him at $5.5M AAV below.
Dead Money and the Salary Cap Increase
Overall, the Kings are set to pick up about $2.2M in “additional” cap space for next season compared to what they were working with in 2022-23. The first million is the easiest. Per the current agreement between the NHL and NHLPA, the salary cap will go up about $1M next season. Then, provided the players have paid down the escrow money they owe back from the pandemic season (which is currently scheduled to be fully paid back over the next year), all parties are expecting the salary cap to go up significantly in the summer of 2024.
Where the Kings will also benefit is from their ‘dead money’ contracts. Dion Phaneuf’s buyout reduced LA’s salary cap by $1,062,000 last season. Thus, they technically weren’t able to spend the full amount of cap dollars on active players. Also, they’re still paying a penalty on Mike Richards (and will be until 2031-32… yes, you read that right). For the past two seasons the Richards penalty was $900K each season. Next year and the year after, it drops to $700K each. That’s a savings of $200k, and when combined with the Phaneuf penalty coming off the books, LA will pick up a total of $1.26M to go along with the aforementioned $1M in cap increase.
Player Raises Already Agreed To
While Gavrikov and Gabe Vilardi are two of the bigger names needing new contracts this summer, there are a handful of players who have already agreed to new deals. Even if the Kings tried to return every player from their 2022-23 campaign, the total value of all the contracts would make it impossible to fit all 23 players in under the cap.
Trevor Moore is scheduled to go from $1.875M this season to having an AAV of $4.2M for each of the next five seasons. That’s an increase of more than double.
As an RFA last summer, Mikey Anderson initially signed a one-year, $1M contract for 2022-23 and then eventually inked a max-term, eight-year deal that kicks in for 2023-24 at $4.125M AAV.
Those two contracts alone add about $5M in additional cap spend compared to what was used this past season.
Of far lesser impact, goaltender Pheonix Copley has also signed a contract extension for next season. It too comes with a raise, moving him from $825K to $1.5M. For those who love the details, one interesting aspect of Copley’s new deal is that he’s getting nearly half of that money ($725K) up front as a signing bonus. Meaning, his actual cash ‘cost’ to the Kings — or any team that acquires him via trade or claims him off waivers (more on that later) – would be $775K. Because cap calculations use the AAV of a deal, his AAV stays at $1.5M.
To help round out a first draft of the LA Kings 2023-24 roster and salary cap situation, we needed to make a handful of assumptions (highlighted in orange on our spreadsheet):
1. As noted above, Vilardi is due a new contract this summer. He’s a Restricted Free Agent with arbitration rights – which basically means, if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, an arbitrator will decide a new contract amount. Nobody wants that. Both parties will likely look for a bridge deal in the two-year range and then look to sign a larger, long-term agreement later, provided Vilardi continues to progress as he has over the past two years.
— The Mayor | Team MM (@mayorNHL) March 19, 2023
Vilardi is coming off a one-year contract signed before last season, paying him $825K. He’s definitely getting a raise. We’ll conservatively plug in $3M below just to get started.
2. Jaret Anderson-Dolan is out of waivers and is arbitration eligible. We’re estimating a new contract at about $1.3M. He’s in a really tough spot. He probably needs to get more than fourth line minutes to be effective. Yet, in LA, there is no room for him outside the fourth line, and even that may be a stretch next season. In the salary cap era, when a team doesn’t have a lot of money to spend, it’s tough keeping a guy around who is making north of $1M just to be the 13th forward most nights. JAD is a nice insurance policy to have around, but it’s getting harder and harder for him to keep making the cut for an NHL roster spot with the Kings. Guys ahead of him in the lineup have all secured their spots. And there is a plethora of young forwards pushing up from behind.
3. Rasmus Kupari and Sammy Fagemo are sharing the same box below because both players are RFAs without arbitration rights, so we’re not expecting them to get much of a raise. More importantly, they are out of waivers; meaning they have to be on the NHL roster come opening night. Basically, when all is said and done, the Kings simply have too many forwards right now. At least one player from the group of 15 names included below needs to be traded over the summer to get this group down to 14 or somebody is hitting the waiver wire in October.
4. There is another option nobody is talking about, though. Arthur Kaliyev and Quinton Byfield will be in the final year of their ELCs, which allows them to go to AHL Ontario next season without waivers. In this scenario, Kaliyev would be far more likely to see time with the Reign than Byfield in 2023-24, and even that seems a bit crazy at the moment. He’s been an NHL player for the past two seasons and the Kings have much bigger expectations for him. Just see Todd McLellan’s comments here.
I think Arty can be an impact forward in the NHL. And we need him to be. It's our job, as a coaching staff and development staff, to get him there. — McLellan on Kaliyev
— The Mayor | Team MM (@mayorNHL) April 30, 2023
It’s at least an option, if not a popular one. Again, though, if Byfield and Kaliyev are expected to be on the opening night roster, somebody will need to be traded or somebody is going to end up on the waiver wire.
5. There are some additional players who will be out of waivers (i.e. Tyler Madden, Akil Thomas, Aidan Dudas, etc.). For various reasons, we’re not factoring any of them into this conversation. Alex Turcotte’s name often comes up at this point too. However, he has one more season remaining on his ELC, so can be assigned to the AHL for next year without having to clear waivers. Should the Kings make a plethora of trades that opened up a potential spot, could he fight for an NHL job in training camp? It’s possible, even if not very probable at the moment. Turcotte has proven to be a difference maker when in the Reign lineup and he will someday help the Kings win. How and when remains to be determined. For now, his overall health remains the organization’s primary focus.
6. What about Alex Edler and Zack MacEwen? The former wasn’t sure what his future may look like when asked if he’s ready to retire during last week’s exit interviews. Regardless of his upcoming decision, the 37-year-old rearguard is not expected back with the Kings. As for MacEwen, that’s a great question. LA needs size and sandpaper in their bottom-6 forward group. He’s a restricted free agent, leaving his future in LA murky at best. Whether it’s him or somebody else that gets added to the mix for 2023-24, the Kings would need to trade more forwards to make room for MacEwen or a similar player.
7. What about Joonas Korpisalo? He’s an unrestricted free agent. We’ll get to him in just a minute.
LA Kings 2023-24 Roster and Salary Cap — FIRST DRAFT
Using the above data, the Kings have a serious problem. They would be projected at more than $5M OVER the cap limit.
Sure, Blake has some work to do this summer to make this puzzle all fit together nicely. There is at least one interesting option that could lead to a Korpisalo signing, though.
As mentioned on our most recent Kings Of The Podcast episode, if the team was looking for another goaltending option, the most advantageous time for a Petersen buyout would be summer 2024, not this summer. So, what are some other options right now? Option A would be to sign a third goalie (Player X) and let all three netminders come to training camp in a competition for the two NHL spots. In this situation, they’ll need to make sure they have enough money for the worst-case scenario from a cap perspective (i.e. most expensive combination). For example, if the NHL goalies ended up being Copley and Player X, with Petersen going to the AHL again, any money paid to Player X that was more than $1.15M would need to be cleared from the above cap numbers. Petersen going to the AHL next season comes with a cap hit of $3.85M, thus they would only be ‘freeing up’ $1.15M for Player X.
There is a much easier alternative, cap-wise. If they trade Petersen and retain half of his contract (the max allowed per CBA rules), the Kings would eat $2.5M of the $5M allocated in our salary cap worksheet above. That would leave $2.5M to sign Korpisalo as Player X and have a net-zero impact on the salary cap.
Now, if you’ve made it this far in the article, you’re probably also waiting for information on two other players – Brandt Clarke and Jordan Spence.
Assuming Gavrikov or a player outside the organization slots in at LD2, that leaves a full roster of seven defensive spots filled. Again, because Bjornfot is out of waivers, he’s in the mix. Therefore, getting Clarke or Spence onto the NHL roster means one of Durzi, Walker, or Bjornfot would need to be traded. To get both young defensemen onto the roster, two of the current seven blueliners would need to be traded. There simply isn’t enough room for everybody.
Where does that leave Jacob Moverare? Well, he’s out of waivers too.
The log jam continues.
Blake has some heavy lifting to do in the months ahead to get his club under the salary cap.
An extension for Anze Kopitar and/or Viktor Arvidsson would help give clarity to future years, sure. That would be nice from a big picture standpoint, but it won’t help in 2023-24.
Getting a deal done with Gavrikov before June 28 is of paramount importance because the ideal time to do some wheeling and dealing is at the NHL Draft. If Gavrikov isn’t signed by then, it significantly impacts all other potential moves needed for cap compliance, Clarke, etc.
Here’s one last little tidbit. Moore has a modified No Trade Clause for one season that kicks in on July 1. He can be freely moved before then. After that date, he can submit a list of 10 teams he can’t be traded to for one year. This is important, as he is among a group of forwards — along with Arvidsson, and Alex Iafallo — who could be on the move for cap reasons.
For more 2023-24 roster and potential trade analysis, be sure to check out the latest Kings Of The Podcast episode linked below.
Lead graphic via ALo Images
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