Everybody can breathe a little easier today.
No, the Kings aren’t out of the woods just yet. They’re in a dogfight to secure their spot in the postseason. However, the best thing happening in LA today isn’t the rain, it’s the fact January is over for the Kings. Everybody can chill for a bit and collect themselves, both mentally and physically.
Since GM Rob Blake’s midseason press conference, the results have admittedly been less than desired. During the team’s three-game homestand that followed, things started off on an upbeat note with an emotional 2-1 win over the visiting New York Rangers. That was followed by just one point earned against the Sharks and Sabres — teams that the Kings should have been able to handle.
Their subsequent three-game road trip began with a blowout loss to the Avs. Fine, for a Kings team not playing with confidence in January, that was a tall ask in Colorado. Top prospect Alex Turcotte was recalled following that game and the team earned three out of four points in games against the Blues and Predators.
That’s not to say that Turcotte was the sole reason. It’s simply an important piece of context in a rather complicated narrative surrounding the Kings right now. Are they really as good as they were earlier this season — when they were among the NHL elite and looked like a legit Stanley Cup contender — or are they as bad as they’ve looked over the past month? In a rather remarkable turn of events, they’ve now shown their floor and their ceiling, and we’re really just past the regular season’s midpoint. There’s a lot of hockey left to play.
Coming out of their break next week, the Kings will host the Edmonton Oilers on Sat., Feb. 10. They’ll then head out of town for another tough road trip, one that will see them play four games in six days. They’ll begin in Buffalo and New Jersey, then do a back-to-back set in Boston and Pittsburgh.
From what we’re hearing, injured forwards Viktor Arvidsson and Blake Lizotte will not return until at least that road trip, possibly after.
This news has several impacts, including two key notes.
First, this rules them out of the game vs. Edmonton on Feb. 10. While things can always change, as this type of information is always fluid, that’s the latest update as of this morning.
Second, their return dates — either collectively or separately — have an impact on other players.
As we reported earlier this morning, the Kings have returned a trio of players to AHL Ontario.
Brandt Clarke’s situation is the easiest to understand. He was always scheduled to go back down, so he could participate in the AHL All-Star Game this weekend. It’s an honor he’s more than earned with this play this season.
After that, it’s basically a decision on who they want to bring up as the ‘extra’ defenseman — Clarke or Jacob Moverare. LA only has six blueliners on the roster, so there’s an open spot for one more. In Moverare, they’d have somebody who can play the left side in place of Andreas Englund. In Clarke, they’d have somebody who can platoon with Jordan Spence. The key here is there isn’t roster room for both. It’s one or the other.
On the forward side of things, Sammy Fagemo was recalled before Alex Turcotte last month. Yet, the latter likely did more to stand out in his two games (and not just because he had a goal) than the former did in his four games played with the Kings. Fagemo even saw his ice time increase in his most recent start (in Colorado), as coach Todd McLellan went from giving him about 7-8 minutes per game to 11:25 TOI vs. the Avs.
Further, even if he doesn’t play much, taking Fagemo on the road as an extra forward still made sense, especially considering they had the cap room and roster spot available to carry ‘extra help, if needed.’
Turcotte is a different situation.
With Lizotte not returning in time for the Oilers game in 10 days, that should create an opening for another Turcotte recall. We’re expecting him back on the fourth line against Edmonton.
Once Arvidsson returns, things will quickly get dicey. Going back to the beginning of the season, when Arvidsson was projected on the Kings roster, they only had enough cap room to carry 21 players. The plan at that time was to carry two goalies, seven defensemen, and 12 forwards.
Essentially, it looked like this:
Since then, David Rittich has replaced Copley, which is a savings of $625K. However, that still only projects the Kings to have $721K in cap room — which isn’t enough to add another player because the NHL minimum salary this season is $775K.
Good news, though (from a cap perspective only), Copley is on LTIR for the balance of the season. This will allow the Kings either extra money for a trade — more on that later — or to potentially carry an extra forward.
When purely looking at the forward situation, future decisions come with consequences. If one assumes 11 of the spots are taken by players with the last names of Byfield, Kopitar, Kempe, Fiala, Danault, Moore, Arvidsson, Dubois, Grundstrom, Kaliyev and Lewis, that sets up a pair of rather obvious questions.
(A) Who gets the 12th and final spot — Turcotte, Alex Laferriere, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, or Sammy Fagemo?
(B) If Kings management wants to use some of the Copley LTIR money to carry a 13th forward, who would that be?
The answers to those questions also could involve a decision on Clarke or Moverare on defense.
There are too many permutations of possibilities to go through all scenarios. For example, if Clarke is on the roster (because his cap hit is about $100k higher than Moverare), that prevents LA from using either Turcotte or Laferriere as a 13th forward. If you combine Clarke and Turcotte on the roster at the same time, there isn’t money available for a 13th forward.
This is also where having JAD and Fagemo is helpful. They don’t make as much. If Clarke stays on defense, the Kings could keep both JAD and Fagemo — with one of the forwards slotting into the top-12 and the other serving as an extra player.
There are other considerations to evaluate, as well.
Laferriere is eligible to be assigned to AHL Ontario without going through waivers. Ditto for Turcotte and Fagemo. JAD would need waivers.
There will be a lot of clamoring by fans to keep Turcotte up at any cost. Granted, there is an obvious excitement surrounding LA’s 2019 first rounder finally being healthy and contributing in a positive way. However, keep in mind, the plan was to play him in the AHL this season and get a full productive season under his belt. Yes, the last two games have been encouraging. They’re only two games, though. Very small sample size. Expectations should be tempered accordingly.
Also worth noting, following the aforementioned road trip the Kings will go on after playing Edmonton, the team will only play eight more games before the NHL Trade Deadline.
Moving Kaliyev to another team (a popular conversation on social media this week) won’t really ‘save’ the Kings money this season. His spot on the roster comes with an AAV of $894k. If he’s replaced as one of the 12 forwards by Turcotte, they make the same money. So, the cap money is a wash.
That doesn’t mean Kaliyev isn’t eventually getting moved. It simply points out that trading him doesn’t really help LA’s cap situation. They’ll still have at least 12 forwards on the roster with or without him.
If the Kings are looking for goaltending help — or any other position, for that matter — the three most likely contracts to be in play would be Lizotte ($1.675 million AAV), Grundstrom ($1.3M), and Matt Roy ($3.15M).
The latter will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. However, as of a few weeks ago, Blake didn’t seem to have much interest in moving him; and for obvious reasons. While it would free up some much-needed cap space for the balance of the season, it also would create a huge defensive hole on the blueline. So would they be helping or hurting their chances come playoff time?
Further, when considering what the Kings would be giving up in moving a different player — Do they have a replacement for Lizotte’s energy and tenacity? Who would then bring the strong, physical play currently brought by Grundstrom?
Moving Lizotte would at least have several practical benefits. For starters, it would free up enough cap space for the Kings to keep Clarke, Turcotte, and Laferriere all on the roster… and it would give them nearly $1M in extra space to take on with the player(s) coming back in return.
And exactly what would LA would be getting back in return?
That’s actually where Kaliyev comes into play, as he could potentially be an attractive asset to move in a deal. Lizotte on his own isn’t likely to get the goaltending help they could be seeking. Any trade has to be appealing to both sides, both in terms of the players involved, as well as the contracts. Kaliyev (a 22-year-old player, with 175 games of NHL experience, selected 33rd overall) could make a deal look much better to whatever GM the Kings chat up about a potential trade.
For now, it’s all about rest and relaxation. Next week begins a recalibration for the balance of the season.
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