With Kings GM Rob Blake getting an early start on revamping the LA Kings roster this week, the team’s salary cap picture has started to come into much sharper focus. Early last month, we posted what will be the first in our annual summer series of articles looking at where the math stands at any given point. In that initial article, it was pointed out that defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov was Blake’s top off-season priorty; yet to sign him, they’d need to clear about $5M in cap space via trades from the NHL roster. With Cal Petersen and Sean Walker dealt to Philadelphia earlier this week, those first dominos fell.
Gavrikov was then signed to a two-year contract extension, further advancing the plans.
Now, we have a myriad of corresponding news, notes and tidbits to pass along, so let’s get started.
First Things First
There is a lot of math involved when looking at a team’s salary cap situation. We laid out in great detail how some of this works and the assumptions being made in our ‘First Look: Kings 2023-24 Roster and Salary Cap‘ article in early May. Be sure to read that if you’re looking for additional context and commentary regarding the information below, as we’re going to do our best to shorthand the comments this time around in an effort to save space and not be too repetitive.
LA Kings 2023-24 Roster and Salary Cap — JUNE 7 UPDATE
The Dilemma at Forward
The extensions for Gavrikov, Mikey Anderson, Trevor Moore, Pheonix Copley, etc. are already included above. To gain a complete picture on what Blake has to work with, though, we had to drop in a few assumptions (highlighted in orange on our spreadsheet).
Gabe Vilardi is the biggest name left who still needs a new contract. He’s a Restricted Free Agent with arbitration rights and we’re currently projecting a two-year bridge deal at around $3M per season. Also projected above are new contracts for Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Rasmus Kupari and Sammy Fagemo. Also of note, the latter two are sharing the same box on the sheet because there simply isn’t enough room for everybody. The team is going to carry 14 forwards at most. To get to that number, only one of the aforementioned trio can stay. Kupari, Fagemo, and Anderson-Dolan are all out of waivers. Either one of them is getting traded over the summer to get this group down to 14 or somebody is hitting the waiver wire in October.
Of course, that’s assuming that Arthur Kaliyev — who is in the final year of his Entry Level Contract, so he’s still waiver exempt — isn’t sent to AHL Ontario to start the season. They wouldn’t do that, would they?
Finally, there are several additional players who will also 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 has another year of waiver exemption. Thus, he’s targeted to start 2023-24 in AHL Ontario, as his overall health remains a higher priority than getting him time in the NHL as soon as possible.
Even if Blake sorts out the 14 forwards he wants to keep, that still doesn’t address Zack MacEwen and/or the lack of sandpaper in the Kings lineup. Both issues will be tough to solve because they don’t presently have room to add either. LA could certainly use some size and sandpaper in their bottom-6 forward group. He’s a restricted free agent, so LA could qualify him and re-sign him, then let it all sort itself out in camp. That just doesn’t feel like a smart move at the present time. It’s just kicking the can a little further down the street.
Byfield’s Immediate Future
Although anything can change with an additional trade at forward this summer or as other options may reveal themselves during training camp in September, our sources indicate the current plan is to play Quinton Byfield at left wing on the top line for another season. Ultimately, the idea is to get him back to center. However, he’s still just 20 years old and is developing as an NHL player, not to mention growing into his 6-foot-5 frame. For starters, the most productive the Kings have seen Byfield at the NHL level has come with him at wing. Add in the fact that Anze Kopitar thoroughly enjoys playing with him — something the team captain has stated both publicly and privately — and it’s a good spot for young Byfield to continue his maturation process.
It also gives the Kings a lot of size on their top line, something that can be a real handful for opponents.
Conversely, it does create a trickle-down issue among the bottom-6 forwards. On one hand, the Kings best option to fill their 3C role for now is Blake Lizotte; he’s going to be penciled in to start the season there. More importantly, we’re told the idea is to leave Kevin Fiala and Gabe Vilardi as a pair. They’ve earned very positive reviews from the coaching staff when put together. Both guys complement the other player well and management is said to want to see them get an extended run together next season.
From there, it gets a bit trickier. Anderson-Dolan and Kupari are the two centers left to fight over the 4C role. Once that piece of the puzzle is solved, there are still more than a handful of players vying for time at wing on the fourth line. Again, they have at least one too many forwards while trying to get down to a maximum of 14.
Goalie Applications Now Being Accepted
With less than $1-million in projected cap space, that’s not enough money to sign another goalie to pair with Copley. This leaves Blake with the likely scenario of having to trade either Sean Durzi or one of the three forwards we previously earmarked as trade targets – Alex Iafallo, Trevor Moore, and Viktor Arvidsson. Each makes about $4M and would give LA max flexibility, cap-wise. However, each has their own unique story when evaluating a trade. For example, Arvidsson only has one-year remaining on his contract (and there’s no guarantee he’s coming back after next season, as guys like Vilardi and Kaliyev would project into his spot at that point). Moore has a no-trade clause contract that kicks in July 1. And while Moore-Iafallo seem like somewhat redundant players in the lineup (perhaps making one them expendable), Iafallo sure was a nice insurance policy to have around last season when injuries happened. He’s proved he can play on either wing and is comfortable playing on any line, from one through four. At his age and production level, he’s a nice trade chip should Blake chose to go that route. He’s also a safety blanket for coach Todd McLellan.
Which then circles back to Durzi. Considering the Kings are probably better off keeping him on the right side, that means he’d only play part-time next season due to the emergence of Brandt Clarke. This largely leaves Durzi as the odd-man out and the logical trade chip when evaluating how to come up with some money for a goalie. Moving him also removes from some bite from the Kings lineup, so they’re right back to that lack of sandpaper thought from before.
Conversely, moving Durzi frees things up defensively, as it allows McLellan to put Toby Bjornfot at LD3 and rotate Clarke and Jordan Spence on the right side. Keeping Durzi would most likely mean Spence stays another year in the AHL. That’s not the end of the world, just not ideal.
Trading Iafallo instead doesn’t come with the assurances of having a ready-to-go replacement in the wings. In that scenario, it could be argued the Kings are actually weaker at forward.
Assuming it’s Durzi, that gives Blake and the Kings about $2M to bring in a bridge goalie for one-year. In a perfect world, they likely wouldn’t want to sign somebody to much longer term, as the salary cap is expected to rise significantly in summer 2024, so they’d be in a much better position to take a big swing at goalie. Then again, maybe somebody like Erik Portillo has a meteoric rise and is ready to go by then. There’s a lot to sort out.
Where the Kings go in net remains a bit cloudy at best. They’re most likely out on some of the bigger names being mentioned in trade rumors — guys like John Gibson, Connor Hellebuyck, or Juuse Saros — simply because making the cap dollars work would be tricky. Plus, they’d have to ask themselves, are they just robbing Peter to pay Paul. Meaning, moving out an Iafallo to create extra cap space weakens their depth at forward. A deal for Saros, as an example, would also cost quite a few more assets, which reduces the war chest of assets to make other moves. There are only so many draft picks and prospects to trade away before the cupboards are totally empty again.
What does $2M get you for a one-year bridge goalie?
Maybe Connor Ingram, Cam Talbot, Laurent Brossoit, Martin Jones, or Jaroslav Halak. Dustin Wolf will get a shot in Calgary, which probably makes Daniel Vladar available. Might need a little more money/term for somebody like Tristan Jarry or Adin Hill. Just some food for thought. It will all play out in the weeks ahead.
What about Joonas Korpisalo? He’s an unrestricted free agent and therein lies the challenge. He’s said to be interested in testing the waters on July 1. As noted above, the Kings will have limited money to play with. They’ll most likely sign their bridge goalie early and want to be done. If Korpisalo doesn’t find what he’s looking for on the open market and then circles back to the Kings, it could be too late.
Additional Gavrikov Notes
In yesterday’s report, we mentioned Gavrikov wanting to bet on himself with a two-year deal. He’ll be 29 in the summer of 2025, an unrestricted free agent at a time when the salary cap is expected to be much, much higher than it is right now.
Sure, LA would have preferred more term. They have him for two years, though, and that gives them plenty to work with. For starters, it solidifies their top-4 defensemen for the next two seasons — years in which they expect to go on deep playoff runs.
Second, keep something else in mind. The Kings and Gavrikov can work on a longer-term extension as early as next summer. When a player is in the final year of his contract (like Kopitar is now), they can negotiate with their existing club on an extension. Thus, there’s no guarantee that they have to wait until 2025 to address things again. File that note away and we’ll circle back to it next summer.
Last month, we said getting a deal done with Gavrikov before June 28 was of paramount importance. Blake did just that, and stayed cap compliant, which means he won’t be dealing from a position of weakness when he sees all of the other GMs in person at the NHL Draft.
What happens next will largely be determined by what the market presents. Maybe something great falls into their lap. Stranger things have happened.
For more 2023-24 roster and potential trade analysis, be sure to check out the links below.
Lead graphic via ALo Images
Note to webmasters/reporters: When recapping news or interviews from this site please remember to include a link to www.MayorsManor.com