Only two preseason games separate the Los Angeles Kings from the start of the 2016-17 season. The Kings will play their final two tune-up games against the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
As the Kings wrap things up in the desert let’s take a look at some of the questions waiting for the Kings once they return to California for the start of the regular season.
How Will Pearson and Toffoli Perform in Contract Years?
The Kings’ finances are a bit tight, to say the least. According to General Fanager, the Kings have just under $700,000 in cap space for the 2016-17 season. Actually, tight is putting it nicely. Nine Kings are going into the final year of their contracts in Los Angeles. Among those players is Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.
Toffoli and Pearson have to be the top priority when it comes to who the Kings will pony up the cash for when it comes time to hand out new contracts. The two are the future of the Kings and have already become reliable sources of offense for Los Angeles.
However, there have been players that have seen a dip in production when it comes to playing in a contract year. There’s no scientific reason to it, whether it be the stress of playing for your next paycheck or the off-the-ice issues like contract negotiations, some players under-perform in their contract years.
There’s no question that both forwards are going to get a pay raise. The question is, how much? Toffoli is set to see the bigger pay-day of the two. The 24-year-old set the pace in Los Angeles with 31 goals and a plus-35 rating last season and carried a $3.25 million cap hit. While Pearson had a $1.4 million cap hit tied to his name.
Don’t be surprised if Pearson and Toffoli both double their income coming out of the “bridge contracts” with the Kings, that’s not the question. The question is, will the duo’s production drop at all or will they play better under the pressure and squeeze a couple extra dollars out of the Kings?
What Will the Kings Get From Gaborik?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, Marian Gaborik will miss some time due to injury. Gaborik, who suffered an injury to his foot while playing for Team Europe during the World Cup of Hockey, is expected to be out until mid-November and miss about 20 games for the Kings.
The Kings made it official by placing Gaborik on injured reserve on Thursday.
The salt in the wound that is losing Gaborik to an injury suffered in a tournament that meant little to most is Gaborik was playing well and had Kings fans looking forward to his play in the upcoming season. Gaborik scored two goals, had a plus-two rating and totaled 13 shots on goal in four games at the World Cup. Including the opening goal of Team Europe’s 3-0 win over Team USA. Gaborik finished a 2-on-1 and put the puck past teammate Jonathan Quick, who was in net for Team USA.
Injury problems with Gaborik are nothing new for Kings fans. The winger missed the final 28 regular season games and Game 1 of the Kings’ opening round series against the San Jose Sharks due to a knee injury he sustained in early February.
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter had this to say about Gaborik’s injury, “The toughest part of his injury, you know a lot of times those boot injuries you can start walking. He can’t. It’s got to be non-weight bearing, just the way it’s broke, otherwise, he’s going to move those bones around.”
Overall Gaborik has had a career littered with injury problems and the latest injury might keep him from rebounding from a 2015-16 season where he registered 22 points in 54 games for the Kings. Once the Slovak returns will he be able to build off a promising showing at the World Cup that was unfortunately cut short? Or will the 34-year-old fall victim to another injury plagued season?
Can the Kings Keep up With the Youth?
The NHL has evolved. No longer is the NHL a league dominated by the big man patrolling the blue line. Players can’t hook and slash their way through the neutral zone. The NHL has transformed into a finesse league that promotes speed through the neutral zone and has eliminated a large portion of the physical play of the past.
Teams like the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are built for the new NHL. Laced with world-class talent and young legs, the teams to the north could prove to be a problem for the Kings.
Flames stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan along with Oilers studs Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are fresh off of appearances with Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey where they skated with the best players 23 and under the NHL has to offer.
Coupled with players like Sam Bennett and Dougie Hamilton in Calgary or Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle and Darnell Nurse in Edmonton, the Flames and Oilers are led by the talent and speed that comes with their youth.
The Kings have had trouble keeping up with the speed associated with the new NHL and have a handful of players on the opposite end of the age spectrum. The Kings elite players should have not problem keeping up the next generation of NHL stars. But players like Matt Greene and Rob Scuderi might have trouble keeping up with players like McDavid or Gaudreau operating at full speed.
The Kings need to adapt to a younger and faster NHL or be left in the dust.