In this week’s edition of Los Angeles Kings news & rumors, I’ll be discussing some of Gabe Vilardi’s comments about moving to the wing, new players in COVID protocol, the roster transactions that took place on Monday morning, and Garret Sparks emotional debut.
Vilardi Comments on His Move to Wing
After struggling to cement himself as a center to start the season, Vilardi was sent back down to the Ontario Reign with the goal of moving him to the wing full time. Vilardi was asked to comment on this move after the team’s 4-3 overtime loss against the Tucson Roadrunners on Saturday night, and he doesn’t seem too enthused about the move.
There are a few ways you can read this tweet, there’s the more kneejerk pessimistic attitude towards it, one I took immediately upon reading them Saturday. After my first reading of the comment, this seemed like a player intentionally making his grievances known, trying to send a clear message to management about his unhappiness. Something that points to an inevitable ugly divorce between Vilardi and the organization.
After re-reading the comments Sunday morning though, I’m not sure it’s that deep. Of course, he is unhappy with the current situation, I’d be more concerned if wasn’t upset about being sent down for the first time since before COVID shutdown the league in 2020. There would be real concerns if this didn’t light a fire under his belly, and I’d argue that was the goal. This also came after a tough overtime loss against division rivals, in a game where he registered zero points, further piling onto his disappointment at the moment. This could just as easily be a young player venting his frustrations with the overall situation, not a damning indictment of his opinions on the organization.
With seven points in nine games for the Reign, Vilardi has done well in his American Hockey League (AHL) return, although some people might point to his negative four plus-minus as something to worry about. Regardless of any intention he did, or didn’t, have with those comments if he truly thinks his best position is center, he needs to reevaluate his own game. It was abundantly clear to the whole world that he is not an NHL center, and that is fine, but he needs to recognize that as well. I’ll let the readers decide what they think of these comments, is this him voicing his anger out loud to the organization, or is it just a frustrated young player venting his disappointment in the situation? There is also option C, this was a nothing comment and people are reading too much into a short statement he gave after a loss. Regardless, the situation with the young forward is constantly developing and gets more interesting by the day.
New Player in COVID Protocol
After star defenseman, Drew Doughty was added to the COVID protocol list on Thursday, two new players were added over the weekend. Goaltender Cal Petersen and center Phillip Danault were both added to the list. That brings the Kings’ total to three players, a relatively low number when you consider how hard many teams have been hit recently. Still, losing your number one defenseman, second-line center, and backup goalie is never easy.
Trevor Moore replaced Danault on the second line for Sunday’s game against the Washington Capitals and Sparks has replaced Petersen as Jonathan Quick’s backup. COVID is currently running through the league like wildfire, so the Kings can count themselves lucky if these are the only players who enter protocol, but that would likely be wishful thinking.
Byfield Highlights List of Paper Transactions
On Monday morning, the Kings made several roster moves, many of which are simple paper transactions, meant to maximize the team’s cap space for the season. Navigating the cap with players on the COVID list, specifically big earners like Doughty and Danault can be difficult, so moves like this are crucial.
Several of these decisions have off-ice implications and shouldn’t have much effect on the Kings lineup when they face the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday evening. Sean Durzi and Christian Wolanin will certainly still be with the team and I’d be surprised if Samuel Fagemo stayed up with the roster for too long, but there are some interesting moves here. With Phillip Danault out, the team needed to call up a center, they’ve called up two here, with Alex Turcotte and Quinton Byfield. While Byfield would be the front runner to play, I wouldn’t count out Turcotte, who could replace a struggling Rasmus Kupari on the third line.
I do think we’ll see Byfield’s season debut against the Golden Knights on Thursday. Despite zero points in his four games with Ontario, he’s been impressive. When he was sent down for the conditioning stint, it was made clear that the team’s main focus was his 200-foot play and ability to physically impose himself on games. He was able to do both, playing a sound game across all three zones and using his unique blend of size, speed, and skill to be one of the team’s best puck transporters. The team might feel it is too big of a jump, but I would love to see Byfield get a chance in Danault’s spot on Thursday. I think he could thrive with Alex Iafallo and Viktor Arvidsson, two experienced and responsible wingers, playing on either side of him. He’s the future for the Kings, and the future might be now.
Sparks Fly in Washington
With Petersen entering COVID protocol, Sparks quickly got on a plane and flew to Washington DC to jump onto the NHL ice for the first time since 2020. He played a great game, with 33 saves and a .943 save percentage against one of the league’s best teams and one of the league’s greatest ever goal scorers in Alex Ovechkin. Perhaps better than his performance, was his post-game interview. An emotional speech that reminds everyone of the human side of hockey. If you haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favor.
One of the best post-game interviews you’ll see, it made a great night for Sparks even better. He was brought into the organization to be someone who can be called upon if needed, who plays behind Matt Vilalta while the organization develops the young goalie, so seeing a great trooper for the team get rewarded was great. Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford has worked magic on goalies before, see Jack Campbell in Toronto, so maybe he can get Sparks’ career back on track too.
Kings Have One More Game Before Christmas Break
After their Wednesday game against the Edmonton Oilers was postponed, the Kings now have just one game before a short Christmas Break. They’ll be hoping to end this month strong, as this was always going to be a tough stretch of games. Currently 5-2-1 in December, you couldn’t ask for much more during this period, they’ve climbed somewhat back into the playoff picture, and a strong finish to the month could see them climb even higher.
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.