With the Los Angeles Kings turning the page on their rebuild and looking to be a competitive team again, now is the time to begin adding quality to the roster. Usually, adding that quality comes at the cost of current players going the other way, and pending free agents can often be seen as expendable in these scenarios. The team will have some tough decisions to make over the next six months and here are four players I wouldn’t expect back with the team next season.
I was surprised that Andreas Athanasiou returned to the team this season, so I’d be shocked to see him still with the Kings for the 2022-23 season. With Athanasiou, it’s less about him not playing well enough, and more that the team needs to make room for their young players. He’s been a good player for the team since signing a one-year contract before last season, and was even one of their most productive players 5v5 during that season. He was brought in to bring an offensive spark to a rebuilding team, and after settling into a middle-six role, he did enough to earn himself another contract.
This season has been tough for him, as he’s featured in just 11 games so far. A wrist injury, COVID protocol, and then a lower-body injury has killed most of this season for him. He’s reportedly healthy now and might draw into the lineup on Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche though. In his 58 games with the Kings, he’s done one thing really well, generate shots. Last season, he was well above league average in both shots and shot assists per 60 minutes, and we saw more of the same in his 11 games this season.
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With the team in desperate need of a left-shot defenseman, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Athanasiou used as trade bait at the deadline. If he can stay healthy between now and March, that will be a great window for him to show off his trade value and increase the team’s return for him. He can be involved in a rental swap with another team or be used as a sweetener in a larger deal. It’s also possible that the team keeps him to try and help with their playoff push, it’s yet to be seen what their plan is for Athanasiou. Be it a trade before this year’s deadline, or simply letting him walk to free agency, it’s unlikely we see him in a Kings jersey after this season.
Like Athanasiou, it’s more about the team needing to make room than Carl Grundstrom’s poor play, which makes me think he won’t return. Currently in COVID protocol, Grundstrom has put together a decent season, with five goals and eight points in 26 games. Unfortunately, he likely hasn’t done enough to keep his spot in the lineup past this season. Samuel Fagemo and Alex Turcotte are proving right now that they can compete at the NHL level, and you have to assume they will improve before next season. The team will also have Quinton Byfield and Gabe Vilardi on the roster next season, likely by the end of this season too, leaving little room for Grundstrom.
He’s a decent player, physical, with a good shot. But in the grand scheme of things, he’s very expendable for the Kings. I’d expect him to finish this season on the team, before being allowed to test free agency during the summer. He will be a restricted free agent, making re-signing him easier, but I don’t think there will be much interest from the Kings.
When the Kings acquired Lias Andersson at the 2020 draft, it seemed like a good low risk, high reward trade. They gave up a second-round pick they didn’t need for a former seventh overall pick who had fallen out with the New York Rangers. The team decided to move Andersson to the wing, giving him time to develop with the Ontario Reign, and it seemed to work, as he looked to be turning the corner at the end of last season. This was further reinforced during the preseason, as his play alongside Vilardi and newcomer Vladimir Tkachev was the most exciting part of preseason. Unfortunately, an injury caused him to miss the start of the season, and by the time he came back, the line he had found success with had been dismantled.
Like Athanasiou, recurring injuries have stunted this season for him, but unlike Athanasiou, he has not been impressive in his limited games. With just one point in 13 games, poor possession stats, and poor defensive play, it’s hard to find a spot for Andersson on this team. If the team was still in the middle of their rebuild, the team might be more willing to give him extra time to develop, but with spots disappearing fast, his time with the Kings might be ending soon. Like Grundstrom, he’s a restricted free agent, but there’s a good chance the team doesn’t re-sign, or qualify him.
The only player on this list who isn’t a victim of dwindling roster spots, most fans will be happy to see Olli Maatta leave the team. I do think his poor play was overexaggerated at times last season, and he was used as a scapegoat at times, but he has been awful this season. Victor Hedman’s first goal last night sums up Maatta’s season so far well.
When things can go wrong, they’ve gone wrong for him. The fact that he consistently gets into games ahead of both Christian Wolanin and Jacob Moverare at this point is a mystery to me, and most others. With his trade value being less than zero at this point, it’s unlikely the team looks to deal him before the deadline, so the team will let him walk this summer. There is a small possibility he is included in a big deal at the deadline for cap space purposes, but that seems unlikely to me. After watching Maatta play this season, it makes sense why the Chicago Blackhawks traded him for a player who has only played in the ECHL since the trade happened.
Freeing up Cap Space
With these four players likely leaving, Dustin Brown taking a massive pay cut, and Jeff Carter’s $2.6 million coming off the books, the Kings are looking at roughly $13.5 million to play with before re-signing Adrian Kempe. With players going the other way, the team should have the cap space to acquire a big-time player during the offseason. There are some good players on this list, but sometimes you have to give up a solid player to gain a superstar, and that’s what the Kings should be looking to do this summer, if not sooner.