Recently, I put together a survey to gauge the overall feeling surrounding the Los Angeles Kings after their 2021-22 season ended. There were 181 fans that responded to the survey discussing how they felt the season went, their satisfaction with different parts of the organization, and a few player awards. Here are the results of the survey.
Satisfaction With the Regular Season
The first question asked how satisfied fans were with the regular season, and the majority of fans felt the season was an 8/10, with 39.2 percent of responses. This seems like a fair reflection of the season, as the team defied expectations to make the playoffs. A close second was 9/10, with 26.1 percent of the votes. Overall, fans were more than satisfied with the regular season, and it’s easy to see why.
Satisfaction With Todd McLellan
The second question asked how satisfied fans were with head coach Todd McLellan, this vote also ended with 8/10 receiving the most votes, with 30.5 percent. Early in the season, McLellan would have likely received somewhere closer to a 3/10, but he’s won over the fan base this season.
Satisfaction With the Coaching Staff Overall
I wanted to split McLellan off from the rest of the coaching staff in this survey because I didn’t want the team’s faltering special teams to affect his vote too much. There’s one name in particular who I thought would skew the vote, but I’ll discuss him later. The coaching staff received a similar vote, with the majority of votes giving them a 7/10. There isn’t much for fans to complain about this season, which is great.
Feelings Towards the Front Office
The last question that required a vote out of 10, asked how impressed fans were with the front office. The majority once again gave an 8/10 vote here. Personally, I would have given them a 10/10 after the offseason acquisitions, but I still think the 8/10 is a more-than-fair vote. Fans are clearly more than satisfied with the organization’s staff right now.
The first of the player awards is the team MVP. To no one’s surprise, Phillip Danault won with a commanding 74.6 percent of the votes. He was the obvious choice for this award, having an immediate impact in his first season. He finished with 27 goals and 24 assists for 51 points. Known as a defense-first, shut-down center, it was his offensive impact that stood out this season. He finished in the 99th percentile for offensive impact according to TopDownHockey’s model and was an elite passer according to AllThreeZones tracking data. He was an offensive force this season and proved to be the best free-agent signing of last summer.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Danault’s season was his impact on his linemates. Trevor Moore struggled at the beginning of the season, then would lead the team in points after moving onto Danault’s line, Viktor Arvidsson couldn’t find chemistry on the top line with Anze Kopitar, but looked like a star once again on Danault’s line. Alex Iafallo also experienced his most productive spell on Danault’s line, scoring at a 30-goal pace to start the season. They say great players make everyone around them better and that’s true of Danault.
Coming in second was Adrian Kempe with 9.6 percent of the votes, and while there’s no world where he wins the award over Danault, I’m happy to see him get credit for his incredible season. Still divisive amongst some fans, his 35 goals this season were a massive reason the Kings made the playoffs.
Rookie of the Year
Like the MVP award, there was an obvious choice for this award, and Sean Durzi won with a commanding 82.4 percent of the votes. When injuries ravaged the team’s blue line early in the season, Durzi came in and saved the day, immediately improving the team. His ability to retrieve pucks and turn them into zone exits with possession was huge, and he was a perfect replacement for Sean Walker. He was a big surprise this season and fully deserves recognition as the team’s best rookie. His stellar play also gives the front office a headache, as he only adds to the logjam of excellent right-shot defensemen in the system — a good problem to have.
Like Kempe, I was happy to see that Arthur Kaliyev received a few votes for this award. He finished with 15.9 percent of the votes, with Durzi and Kempe taking nearly 99 percent of the votes between the two of them. His production wasn’t at a level many had hoped for, but he showed a lot of development this season. His defensive game came a long way and even looks like a strength now, and his shot is still deadly. I’m expecting a breakout from him next season, especially if he can improve his skating over the summer. Durzi was the clear winner, but Kaliyev deserves an honorable mention.
Unsung Hero Award
During his time with the Kings, there was a joke that Trevor Lewis should receive the unsung hero award before every season started because it felt like he would win it every year. Blake Lizotte might become that player if he continues his current level of play moving forward. He took 56 percent of the vote for this award and is the exact kind of player you’d expect to win it. He works hard, plays bigger than he is, and is a positive impact. He’s the perfect bottom-six center and earned himself a contract extension with his play. The Kings have several center prospects in their pipeline, but they’ll have a hard time taking a spot from Lizotte.
The two players who challenged Lizotte were Carl Grundstrom and Olli Matta who received 25.7 percent and 13.1 percent of the votes, respectively. I think Grundstrom’s numbers were inflated a bit by his excellent play in the postseason, which is fully deserved. He likely played himself into another contract with the team and is someone who could regularly win this award. Matta is also a great honorable mention for this award; he was the team’s scapegoat for most of last season, but he stepped up and played solid hockey this season. It’s nice to see a player change the negative perception surrounding him, although I do think we’ve seen his last game in a Kings’ jersey.
Danault wins his second award here, taking 96 percent of the votes for this award. It would be hard to imagine someone else winning this, as he was the team’s best player overall, not just amongst new players. You have to feel bad for Arvidsson and Alex Edler, who both put together strong seasons as newcomers, but stood no chance against Danault for this award. It once again shows how great Danault was, and what a fantastic acquisition he’s turned out to be.
Both Arvidsson and Edler missed significant time due to injury this season, which further hurt their chances. Arvidsson will be back next season, and will likely remain on Danault’s line, but it’s still unknown what the future holds for Edler. A pending unrestricted free agent, the team might look to replace him in the trade market with a big name, but he’s a great fallback option. Arvidsson underwent surgery for a herniated disk recently, so it will be interesting to see how he recovers from that.
Most Improved Player
The closest vote of any award, Moore took home the most improved player award with 59.1 percent of the votes. As I mentioned earlier, he led the team in points after his move onto Danault’s line, hitting new heights offensively this season. His .59 points per game was a big improvement from his .41 points per game last season and his role on the team changed a lot. He finished last season in the top six but spent most of the season in the bottom six and that’s where he started this season. After struggling to produce early in the season, he found his offense and finished with career highs in goals, assists, and points. He’s become a fan favorite as a local kid who grew up a Kings fan, and he’s establishing himself as a top-six forward.
Kempe finished with 35.8 percent of the votes and would have been my winner. He saw a similar increase in his points per game, going from .51 points per game last season, to .69 this season and drastically increased his goal total. His 35 goals were 19 more than his previous career high and led the team by eight. I understand why Moore won, as his improvement from a bottom-six role player to a top-six forward was more drastic than Kempe fulfilling the potential we all knew he had, but I still would have gone with Kempe.
Most Disappointing Player
By far the least enjoyable award to vote on, Gabe Vilardi and Iafallo share the award for the most disappointing player. Vilardi would have been my vote, as I expected a breakout season from the former 11th-overall pick, but instead saw him grab just seven points and spend more than half the season in the American Hockey League (AHL). His future is in question, but I want the Kings to stick it out with Vilardi. Iafallo sharing this award is a little harsh. I assume a lot of this comes from the feeling he isn’t good enough for the top line, which I agree with, but it isn’t his fault that he’s put in that situation. He had 37 points and was elite defensively, which is what you should expect from him. I understand the frustrations, but it’s unfair to blame him for his spot in the lineup.
Kopitar and Quinton Byfield shared the second-most votes, which surprised me. Byfield missed the beginning of the season with a broken ankle and had an inconsistent rookie season, but expectations were too high if he was the most disappointing player for you. I think there’s some Kopitar fatigue going on with his inclusion here. If leading the team by 13 points and posting excellent defensive numbers is a disappointing season, then I don’t know what fans want from him. He isn’t the Kopitar of old, but he still put together a strong season and doesn’t deserve that kind of hate.
Most Exciting Prospect
Byfield had the second-most votes for the most disappointing player, but he also won the award for most exciting prospect. Fans haven’t turned on him yet, as he’s still seen as the team’s golden boy. There were flashes of his elite skillset last season and he posted surprisingly good defensive numbers. If he can find more offensive consistency, he will be a force. He now has a taste of the NHL and can train this summer accordingly; I’m expecting a big improvement from him next season.
The only challenger to Byfield for this award was Brandt Clarke, the team’s eighth-overall pick in 2021. He had a fantastic season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and could put the team in a tough position next season with a strong training camp. He is the future of the team’s blue line, and the future looks very bright.
What Should the Kings do With Their 2022 First-Round Pick
This was the question I was most interested in: what do Kings fans think the team should do with their first-round pick? The vote was very tight, but the majority of voters think the team should look to trade the pick for immediate help. This would likely be in the form of a top-line winger or a left-shot defenseman. The team is in a position where they can trade a first-round pick comfortably, knowing it won’t have much impact on their extremely deep prospect pool. If they do make that decision, it will be interesting to see what they go after. We would learn a lot about what the front office sees as the team’s biggest weakness. I’m someone who thinks there is still a lot of value in a 19th-overall pick, and I think there are good options at that spot, something I’ll discuss in future articles. The team has a lot of options with that first-round pick.
Additions This Summer
The last question was asking what the team needs most. The majority voted that a top-six winger is the most needed position this summer. I mentioned in a recent article that I view left-shot defensemen as the biggest need, mainly because of my faith in Kaliyev, but I fully understand the opinion that a top-six winger is desperately needed. General manager Rob Blake mentioned both positional needs in his exit interview, but we’ll have to wait and see what he prioritizes.
Additional Comments and Takeaways
I left a section for additional comments at the bottom and saw two answers come in most frequently. First, I had multiple people bring up some displeasure with the in-arena experience which I found interesting. Fan engagement and poor concessions seemed to be a common theme here. The most common response involved assistant coach Marco Sturm, who has become public enemy No. 1 amongst fans. I separated McLellan and the coaching staff in the earlier vote because of Sturm, but most people expressed their frustrations here. Several comments mentioned firing Sturm. I’ve made my opinions clear on this, the team would be well within their rights to fire him, but I won’t be up in arms if they don’t.
I found the responses very interesting and would like to thank all who responded. It was great to get a feeling of fan perception after the season and this is something I will try and do after every season.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.