As we get closer to the NHL trade deadline, rumors start emerging for every team. For the Los Angeles Kings, additions at forward, along with the rumors surrounding Jakob Chychrun on the blue line, have been the hot topic. These rumors started after several reports came out suggesting the Kings were looking to add more offense. While I understand the desire to add offense for a team that sits bottom of the league in finishing, the Kings should not be looking to acquire forwards. They have internal options to improve the team and don’t need to delve into the market. Here’s a dive into the reasons why it doesn’t make sense.
Reports Surrounding the Kings
The first report on the Kings looking to add a forward came from TSN’s Elliotte Friedman, who mentioned this in the Feb. 4 episode of his 32 Thoughts podcast.
“I just think he’s (Rob Blake is) going to go for a left-shot (defensemen) and a scorer. Like, he quoted expected goals to me, that’s a conversation I didn’t think I would’ve had five years ago. That’s one of the first things he said to me actually, was the expected goals.Elliotte Friedman, 32 Thoughts
This was then confirmed in one of Kings’ insider John Hoven’s articles, which I’ll discuss later. So, the reports are suggesting one or two additions at forward. I’d take it a step further and say one of those is, at minimum, a top-nine forward. If we’re assuming the Kings are looking to add a “scorer”, that player will almost certainly be playing on one of the top three lines.
Salary Cap Issues
A big misconception surrounding the Kings is the idea that they will have a ton of cap space to throw around this summer. They’ll have room to make moves for sure, but they won’t have the money to go crazy in the open market. Instead of going into the math of their salary cap, a topic that has been covered at length elsewhere, I’ll urge people to read John Hoven’s recent piece on the topic. In short, the Kings will have roughly $8 million to play with during the offseason. Again, a decent chunk of money, but not enough to pull off multiple big-money moves. One of the more controversial opinions amongst fans is the idea that Dustin Brown returns to the team next season on a short-term deal.
Several fans have been very dismissive of the idea that Brown would return on a contract somewhere in the $2 million range. While I agree it’s in the team’s best interest not to re-sign Brown, that doesn’t matter if Rob Blake and the organization don’t share that opinion. Based on several interviews and comments from Blake, it seems like there is interest from both sides to bring him back next season. Of course, it’s still an unknown, but the idea of Brown returning is far more realistic than several fans think. Even still, I’ll assume Brown isn’t coming back, and the team has $10 million to work with for the offseason, even though $8 million is likely a more realistic number. So, using $10 million as a baseline, let’s look at what the team can do.
There’s one main point that needs to be remembered when looking at a possible addition at forward, that is, the Kings still need a new left-shot defenseman. The $10 million figure is assuming the team does not re-sign Alex Edler or Olli Maatta this offseason, leaving the team with an open spot on the second pairing. The Kings have been in the market for a dynamic left-shot defenseman for a long time now, so it makes sense to fill that need this summer.
But, unless the team can grab a price-controlled player like Chychrun, they’ll likely have to pay big money for this addition. For the sake of this article, we’ll say they replace Edler with someone at Chychrun’s cap hit of $4.6 million, ignoring the assets given up to acquire this player. This leaves the team with $5.4 million to acquire a forward who can improve the team. With this in mind, I’d argue you can remove one of the hottest names in trade rumors, Filip Forsberg. At his current contract, the Kings wouldn’t be able to afford him next season, and we can assume he is re-signed somewhere around an $8 million average annual value (AAV) next season.
What Rob Blake & Todd McLellan Want
While it’s easy and fun for fans to get carried away with possible trade options, it’s important to remember that trades only happen for the Kings if management and the coaching staff want them to happen. Based on what we’ve heard from Blake and coach Todd McLellan directly in recent weeks, I’m not convinced they’re too eager to make big moves. Recently, Pierre Lebrun of The Athletic interviewed Blake, asking questions regarding the upcoming trade deadline. I think there were a few very important quotes in this interview. The first quote I want to highlight is discussing the kind of player they’d look to target, on this topic Blake said,
“You want players who can perform and are trustworthy. They’re just hard to find.”From (LeBrun: Kings GM Rob Blake focused on ‘players we can trust’ as deadline approaches) Feb. 24, 2022, Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic
This quote is very important because it sets the stage for what the team wants. If they add, it will be a more known quantity, not a reclamation project. A name I’ve seen thrown around a lot is Philadelphia Flyer’s forward Travis Konecny, but with comments like these, I don’t see him as a fit. A talented player no doubt, he’s trending downward and wouldn’t be someone you’d consider “trustworthy” at this point. A change of scenery could see Konecny rediscover his game, but it doesn’t seem like the Kings are interested in that kind of deal. The same could be said for someone like Jake Debrusk, who is being shopped around by the Boston Bruins.
Another important quote is regarding the future of any player acquired, Blake said.
“Anything we look at has to have both parts: has to improve the team now and later.”
This gives us an even better idea of what the team would want in any hypothetical trade. Someone who the team can trust to make a guaranteed positive impact, someone who will make that impact for a while, and likely someone with term. Big-time rentals seem to be a no-go, and I’d argue players whose contracts run out after the 2022-23 season will likely not be considered. The last quote from Blake I want to highlight is regarding internal improvements.
“We also have younger players in the AHL (American Hockey League). We have to balance whether those guys would be better suited for us rather than going to get something. We would like to improve the team if possible in the right areas. But we may also be able to do that internally.”-Rob Blake
This quote is perhaps the most important in my eyes, it’s clear that while adding a forward might be an option, Blake has no issue looking internally to improve the forward group. I’ll discuss this more later in the article. There’s also Todd McLellan’s opinion to consider, and it appears he isn’t in favor of big moves. In a conversation with Jess Cohen McLellan of All the Kings Men, he stated the team won’t dismantle or disrupt the team’s forward group, and that the third line was the only one with possible changes coming.
We know that if Blake adds a forward, it needs to be a “trustworthy” player, someone with term on their contract, and someone they feel is definitely better than any prospect. While McLellan is reluctant to make big changes to any line, except the third. It appears both the coaching staff and management are happy with the current roster.
Kings Should Look Internally For Improvements
All of this is set up to say, the Kings should simply look internally to improve their forward group. Realistically, it will be almost impossible for the team to find someone who fits into Blakes’s very defined criteria, entices McLellan to make big lineup changes, and is affordable. Instead, utilizing the team’s prospects, either one in the NHL or the AHL is a better option. Several players can take on a roster spot, move up the lineup, and improve the team next season.
Arthur Kaliyev is a big reason I don’t think the Kings need to acquire another forward. He’s made massive improvements to his game this season and should be ready for top-six minutes next season. When Blake talks about needing “trustworthy” players, Kaliyev fits the description. A surprising development from someone who fell in his draft because of defensive inconsistencies and perceived effort issues, he is now a major player on one of the team’s most reliable lines. He’s proven to be defensively responsible, a solid forechecker, and still has his goal-scoring touch, currently on pace for 14 goals despite playing just 12:33 a night in a bottom-six role.
Several people have expressed concerns over his 7.4% shooting percentage, but it shouldn’t worry anyone. As I’ve said many times, shooting percentage can be a very deceiving stat, as it doesn’t include any context on the type of shot being taken. In a bottom-six role, several of Kaliyev’s shots haven’t been in dangerous areas and are more about “putting pucks on net” to use a hockey cliche. His nine goals, on 10.4 expected goals tells a more accurate story, a player finishing just below where they’re expected to, not uncommon for someone still adjusting to the NHL.
If there’s one thing you should never worry about with Kaliyev, it’s his offensive production. He’s proven his 200-foot game is good enough. Combined with his incredibly high-end skill set, you have a player who will be ready for top-six minutes. Keeping him on his current line for the rest of this season makes sense, as you don’t want to shake up a winning lineup, but he should be a top-six forward next season. He can take either Alex Iafallo or Trevor Moore’s spot in the lineup next season, allowing either player to move onto the third line.
Someone who would feel like an addition at this point, Gabe Vilardi is another great option to improve your forward group. The 2021-22 season has been tough for Vilardi, his early struggles saw him return to the AHL, where he has re-discovered his offense and become a point-per-game player again. One of the most talented individuals in the organization, a rejuvenated Vilardi could be game-changing for the team next season.
Regardless of Brown re-signing or not, the third-line right-wing spot should be open, and Vilardi would be a perfect fit. With Quinton Byfield at center and Moore or Iafallo at left-wing, the Kings could finally have a reliable third-line. Some fans feel the team should move on from Vilardi, and he’s been involved in several trade rumors recently. As of now, he’s still an option. As Hoven pointed out recently, it’s unlikely Vilardi is dealt this season. He should have a spot in the lineup next season.
I’ve been very surprised to see how quickly fans have been to write off Rasmus Kupari because of his rocky 37 games with the team this season. Every prospect doesn’t come in and acclimate to the NHL right away, and it’s okay to be up and down for a while, but the idea that Kupari no longer has a ton of NHL upside because of these struggles is absurd. He is still a very skilled player, who has all the tools to be an effective player at the NHL level. It appears he’ll be somewhat of a late bloomer, similar to Adrian Kempe, but there’s still a solid player in Kupari. If Kaliyev is moved off the fourth line, Kupari could be a perfect replacement, giving another young, skilled player a sheltered role to grow into the NHL.
Unfortunately, Alex Turcotte is day-to-day with another injury, a common occurrence for him since being drafted in 2019. The former fifth-overall pick has developed much slower than many had hoped, but he’s still an option next season. He looked fine in his eight games with the Kings, despite registering zero points, and had begun finding his offense in the AHL before the most recent injury. There’s a lot to like about Turcotte’s game, and his ability to play in any role makes him a candidate for the roster next season.
Blake Lizotte has been fantastic centering the fourth line this season, but it’s still very possible he loses his spot to Jaret Anderson-Dolan. After playing in 34 games with the Kings last season, Anderson-Dolan was sent back to the AHL to rediscover his offense, as it had completely left him in the NHL. Currently third on the Ontario Reign in points, and second in goals, he has exceeded expectations in the AHL, proving to be one of the Reign’s best forwards. Anderson-Dolan could be a very underrated addition to the lineup next season.
Tyler Madden is a player I’ve learned to never count out. A late bloomer in many ways, he has quietly been one of the Reign’s best forwards this season. Sixth on the team in points, and currently playing some great hockey, Madden could play his way onto the roster next season. Like Turcotte, his high motor and hockey IQ would allow him to play in any role, increasing his chances of making the team.
The Kings Don’t Need to Acquire a Forward
While discussing possible trades or free-agent signings is always fun, it seems unnecessary for the Kings to acquire a forward in the coming months. Trading assets to acquire one or spending a large chunk of cap space in the summer is not needed, as the team has players in their system that can step up. The team has spent several years drafting, and developing several fantastic players, and now is the time to begin trusting them. Avoiding a forward also allows them to put more effort into acquiring a left-shot defenseman and possibly a goalie in the future. The Kings are now a playoff-caliber team, but it is not time to go all-in yet, and it’s better to trust the process right now.
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.