Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe is having a breakout season and setting himself up for a massive pay raise this summer. Some are concerned about re-signing the 25-year-old, as this is his first consistent season of offensive production. However, it shouldn’t be a concern, and the Kings need to do everything in their power to re-sign the former first-round pick. Here are a few reasons why.
The obvious reason why the Kings must re-sign Kempe is his 23 goals, which have him on pace for a 38-goal season. That number would give him the most goals by a Kings forward since Ziggy Palffy hit the same number during the 2000-01 season. Having the team’s best goal-scoring season in over 20 years is probably enough to secure a contract, but there is more.
He leads the team by nine goals and has been the most consistent scorer. The emergence of the Trevor Moore-Phillip Danault-Viktor Arvidsson line has helped the team’s scoring issues, but they are still at the bottom of the league in finishing, with 25.6 goals below expected in all situations. Kempe is the only forward on the team who is more than one goal above expected with 4.3; the next closest forward is Brendan Lemieux with 0.8 goals above expected. He isn’t just the team’s best scorer, but he is also their only goal-scorer right now.
He’s also very important to the Kings’ power play. Of course, the power play has been terrible this season, which I’ve argued is due to a personnel problem. That being said, he still performs a very important function on the man advantage. Few players in the league can gain the zone with possession like Kempe, and he is the only one on the Kings who can do it. He gains the zone over 70% of the time and turns that entry into a setup more than 50% of the time, both well over the league average. In the three games he missed due to COVID protocol, he was missed, especially on the power play.
However, playing him off the right half-wall is not the right role for him, but he is still important with the man advantage. When players like Arthur Kaliyev and Quinton Byfield graduate to the top unit, Kempe can then move into a more fitting role, either in front of the net or in the bumper spot. This will allow the team to utilize his zone entries while also giving him a better role in which to succeed. Moving forward, he will be an important cog in a well-oiled machine instead of a square peg in a round hole.
What to Expect from Kempe Next Season
The biggest concern is that Kempe will finish the season with 30-plus goals before falling back to an under-20-goal scorer who takes too many offensive zone penalties. That concern is unwarranted, but it’s important to have realistic expectations for him. If he reaches 35 goals, it would likely be unfair to expect that same level of production next season; only the league’s very best can consistently produce at that level. Scoring 25-goals is probably a more realistic target for him and a fair one, given his projected contract.
I also expect Kempe’s total assists to increase. He’s been fairly unlucky to have only 10 this season, but the Kings are terrible at finishing, which has hurt his game. The underlying numbers show a player who should have more than 10. With 10.60 primary shot assists per 60, 2.77 chance assists per 60, and 1.77 high-danger shot assist per 60, he has been let down by his teammates’ inability to finish.
The Kings are reportedly looking to add another scorer this offseason. Whether they do that or prospect Kaliyev moves up the lineup, the team needs another scorer on Kempe’s line next season, which should see his goals increase. I love this idea, as Kempe’s size and speed would open up so much time and space for his teammates, something Kaliyev can take advantage of – Kaliyev having an extra .5 seconds or an extra half a stick length of space to operate is an exciting thought. A realistic expectation for Kempe next season should be around 25 goals and 35 assists. It’s okay to be cautiously optimistic that he breaks the 30-goal mark again but thinking anything less is a disappointment would be unfair.
Predicting Kempe’s Next Contract
The big question is, what will Kempe’s contract look like? EvolvingHockey.com projects it to be around $5 million, which seems to be an accepted figure by most. If he breaks 30 goals – more so if he breaks 35 – anything under that figure probably isn’t realistic. A lot of people referred to Alex Iafallo’s four-year $16 million contract as a comparable for what Kempe should earn, but that’s no longer possible. The fact is, goals are a more valuable commodity, and his scoring ability will drive Kempe’s price up.
If we accept a $5 million average annual value (AAV), the next question is his term. That’s where this deal gets complicated. If the Kings are confident that Kempe will remain a top-line player, and I’m assuming they are, they’ll want to lock him up long-term. A five- to six-year contract is likely ideal. However, he might be looking for a bridge deal. If he’s confident in remaining a 30-goal scorer, he won’t want to be limited to $5 million long-term. If he signs a two-year deal and scores 30- in both, or even just in the second season, he could get a massive contract on the open market or from the Kings. This comes with a risk, of course, especially if his scoring regresses, he’ll leave a lot of money on the table.
There’s one more factor to consider as well. He is a restricted free agent, giving the team increased power in negotiations. It will also deter other teams because if he signs an offer sheet, that team would have to give up at least two draft picks, including a first-round pick. With all of this, I expect Kempe to earn a bridge deal in the $5 million range for around 2-3 years. Locking him up long-term would be great for the team, but it’s unlikely he’ll agree.
Kempe the Top Priority
General manager Rob Blake will have several difficult decisions to make this summer, but re-signing Kempe isn’t one of them. It’s a no-brainer and must be done. He is the best and only goal-scorer on the roster right now, and the team can’t afford to lose him. What the deal looks like will be the difficult part, but there’s no indication Kempe wants to leave; he’s a restricted free agent, and this was his first fantastic season. It’s unlikely he prices himself out of a contract, and I’m confident the team will re-sign their new first-line left-winger.
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.