Some things never change. And at the beginning of each NHL season, every team has at least one key question coming out of training camp as they head toward opening night. Then, as the season wears along, those questions either linger, morph, or completely transition into new questions.
For the Kings, this year’s biggest question early on centered around goaltending. Namely, could they get solid enough play in net to challenge for a Pacific Division title. With veteran netminder Cam Talbot leveraging a .923 save percentage to collect a 7-3-1 record, he’s quickly quieted whispers about his potential play — at least for now. What to make of Pheonix Copley is a different story, yet it’s not the reason we’re here.
Saying that coach Todd McLellan has largely played a consistent lineup through the bulk of LA’s first 14 games would be an understatement. Had it not been for the four-game suspension of Arthur Kaliyev, the Kings may have just iced the same 18 skaters each night. Which leads to a pair of burning questions we’ve been asked about quite a bit lately… What’s going on with Jaret Anderson-Dolan? Will he or Toby Bjornfot suit up for another game anytime soon?
Explaining the JAD Situation
For starters, the Kings aren’t doing Anderson-Dolan wrong by not playing him. When he wasn’t qualified at the end of June, the 24-year-old forward became an unrestricted free agent. He was free to sign with any of the league’s 32 teams. Soon thereafter, he opted to re-sign in Los Angeles on a one-year deal with intriguing financial terms.
Typically, for a player who hasn’t yet established himself as a full-time NHL player, a contract at this stage is referred to as a two-way contract because it has different salary structure for games played in the NHL vs. AHL. For example, Anderson-Dolan’s contract last year paid him at the annual rate of $750,000 when he was in the NHL and $100,000 in the AHL.
Putting waivers aside for a moment (we’ll get to that in a bit), a scenario like this means every time the Kings do the now familiar ‘paper transaction’ with a player on a two-way contract — where a guy is up with the NHL, but sent to the AHL for a day or two in-between games — the big club is not only saving money toward the salary cap, but the player is also actually receiving less money per day.
Fast forward to this year, Anderson-Dolan is on a one-way deal. JAD is making $775k, regardless of which roster he is on. We can only assume that was an attractive option when he chose to re-sign with the Kings in July. Sure, as a UFA, he could have signed with a different team, one where some may have believed he’d have an easier path to the NHL. However, those type of contracts with new teams are typically two-way deals. For example, the Kings have Mikhail Maltsev on a deal like that right now. He was originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils and has 56 games of NHL experience, yet he’s playing with AHL Ontario (on a two-way contract) — where he’s making less than 60% of what he would make if called up to the NHL.
So in the case of Anderson-Dolan, he’s making his full $775k either way.
Again, it’s important to note that none of this has anything to do with waivers either. The terms one-way and two-way deals only have to do with money. That’s it.
Now, there are a few more intricate rules when it comes to waiver eligibility, yet let’s just focus on a rather generic guideline — once a player is off their Entry Level Contract (ELC), they can’t be sent to the AHL without first passing through waivers. This was the case with JAD entering opening night of last season and that’s largely why he didn’t play for the Ontario Reign last season, despite only getting into 46 games for McLellan and the Kings. Simply put, management didn’t want to risk losing him to waivers.
Why did they re-sign him if they aren’t going to play him very much?
Even though LA brass knew they likely didn’t have a spot for him on the NHL roster coming out of camp — because there was only room to carry 21 players — JAD is still a versatile depth guy, capable of playing any of the three forward positions and can be used on several different lines when needed.
Here’s where things get tricky.
Last month, the Kings put him on waivers prior to opening night and he cleared. If for no other reason, even if another team liked his game, they likely didn’t want to take on the one-way contract. Unless they had an immediate spot for him on their NHL roster, that other club would essentially be paying Anderson-Dolan NHL money to play in the AHL.
He cleared waivers at that time, so now what?
Because of the Kaliyev suspension and injury to Viktor Arvidsson, the Kings created some extra cap/roster room, and JAD has been up on the NHL roster most of the season.
Here’s the key. Because he cleared waivers initially, they can send him up and down as many times as they want until he hits either 30 days on the NHL roster or 10 games played. Once he crosses one of those thresholds, he would have to go back on waivers before being assigned to the AHL.
With all the recent paper transactions, where he’s gone down only to be recalled fairly quickly, Anderson-Dolan has now accumulated 26 days on the NHL roster. Meaning, in just a few more days, he’s either with the Kings to stay or he’ll need to pass through waivers again. In theory, it will be more difficult for teams to pass on him as the season wears along because injuries create NHL roster openings. So, even with the financial aspect of the contract discussed above, making a move like that in November or December comes with some risk.
From all indications, it feels like McLellan is getting ready to give him some NHL playing time soon. Perhaps as early as Thursday vs. the visiting Florida Panthers.
For his part, Anderson-Dolan is coming off the high of a First Star performance with the Reign. He went down and played for coach Marco Sturm twice over the weekend, scoring two goals in the Sunday matinee.
If he does draw in for the Kings, JAD’s playing time will most likely come at the expense of rookie Alex Laferriere. The latter could easily be a healthy scratch or even ultimately be sent down to Ontario. Laferriere is still on his ELC, so the Kings are free to send him up/down as often as they so chose this season.
What’s Next for Bjornfot
Meanwhile, defenseman Toby Bjornfot is in a somewhat similar, yet slightly different situation than Anderson-Dolan.
While not a UFA this past summer, the 22-year-old rearguard also signed a new deal with the Kings. He inked a two-year contract, again as a one-way deal for both seasons, paying him $775K regardless of whether he is on the NHL or AHL roster.
Bjornfot is also out of waivers. Thus, his contract could also potentially be a deterrent from another team claiming him, as they’d essentially be committing to two years of the 2019 first rounder.
Unlike JAD, Bjornfot has not seen a bunch of paper transactions this season. In fact, he’s been on the NHL roster now for 36 days. Thus, he can’t be sent to the AHL like Anderson-Dolan was last week.
Except… because he hasn’t played an NHL game since Oct. 11, the Kings can ask for a two-week conditioning assignment for Bjornfot. As we recently reported, Kings management has already begun discussing the timing of such a move and it could be happening soon. The trick is, this card can’t be played repeatedly, so if the plan is to avoid putting him on waivers, yet still get him some playing time with the Reign, it all comes down to timing.
Of course, another option is to simply allow him to draw in for a few Kings games here and there to keep him fresh. With the team winning most nights this year (especially on the road), that hasn’t been something McLellan has opted to do. Which is why an AHL conditioning assignment is likely in Bjornfot’s near future.
When that happens, the Kings could opt to call up Jacob Moverare in his place, as he’s the next left shot D on the depth chart. They could also elect to call-up Brandt Clarke, who has 10 points in 12 games with the Reign thus far.
For more thoughts on Anderson-Dolan, be sure to check out the interview we did with him earlier this week — linked below for your reference.
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