At the end of the 2020-21 NHL season, the Los Angeles Kings missed out on the postseason for the third straight year. It was another tough season for fans and players. Star defenseman Drew Doughty made his feeling known during his end of the season exit interview, bluntly saying that the team needs to improve its roster this summer. With management clearly committed to the rebuilding process, many fans were curious to see their response. Fans were delighted to hear, in his exit interview, that general manager Rob Blake shares these feeling and intended to improve the roster. Some fans were worried about Blake delivering empty words in his exit interview. However, less than a week into free agency, he has proven to be a man of his word, as fans are looking at a much improved Kings team.
The Promises Made
As I mentioned previously, it’s in their respective interviews that Doughty demanded roster improvements and Blake echoed Doughty’s words. Blake went on record to say:
We want to get better… We will take necessary steps to get better. We need to add to this roster to get better.Rob Blake
He would go on to state that it is the teams goal to make the playoffs for the upcoming season. While he did make a point that the team would continue phasing in prospects next season, this interview was a clear indication that management was ready to turn the page on rebuilding. They aren’t going all-in on the “win now” mentality, but the team is certainly done tanking for draft picks. How did the management team address this need to improve?
Trading For Viktor Arvidsson
The first step in improving the roster came on July 1, when the team traded a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick to the Nashville Predators for goal scorer, Viktor Arvidsson. This early move made it obvious that the team was serious about improving, and done stockpiling draft picks. Grabbing a two-time 30-goal scorer crossed one item off the teams summer shopping list heading into the offseason. It was a low-risk, high-reward acquisition that drastically improved the top six and brought in a much needed goal threat.
With only three years left on his contract, this deal also did little to harm the team’s long-term finances. He truly is the ideal “bridge player” who can improve the team in short term, without harming the development of prospects. This trade was a fantastic start for an offseason filled with improvements.
Free Agent Frenzy
After adding Arvidsson and putting together another strong draft, the Kings were ready to make a big splash on the first day of free agency. Like the draft, it was a case of quality over quantity, as the team made just two NHL signings on July 28. However, those signing could prove crucial for the team’s success this year.
Phillip Danault: In perhaps LA’s biggest move this offseason, the team went out and signed former Montreal Canadiens center, Phillip Danault. After playing a pivotal role in the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, he was one of the most sought-after free agents this summer. A six-year, $33 million offer was enough to get the shut-down center to ink his name on a contract with LA.
With the team’s prospects still developing, this gives the Kings a true second-line center for the next few seasons. It also gives them a player who, after Quinton Byfield takes the second-line center spot, can seamlessly drop down to a third-line role. When this happens, the team will have, arguably, the best center depth in all of hockey. It is a deal that improves the team in the short term, and gives them long-term stability up the middle.
Alex Edler: The team’s second signing was veteran defenseman, Alex Edler. The longtime Vancouver Canuck was handed a one-year contract worth $3.5 million. Heading into his 16th NHL season, he isn’t the, elite, mobile, left-shot defensemen fans have been hoping for, but he still improves this roster. Despite him slowing down with age, leading to a significant increase in penalties, he posted very good defensive metrics last year and should walk onto the team’s blue line. If nothing else, he’ll be an improvement on Olli Maatta.
Another important piece to this signing is Edler’s leadership qualities. He has played in this league for a long time and knows what it takes to win. Outside of Doughty, this Kings’ blue line has zero veteran leadership and with a young core, specifically Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot, Edler’s experience will be crucial. I’m specifically looking for him to have a positive impact on compatriot Bjornfot. Edler will take some minutes off the shoulders of Anderson and Bjornfot, allowing them to develop in more sheltered roles and will provide some much needed experience. This was a solid signing, even if it lacks the star power some fans were hoping for.
A Wild Card
There was one more free agent signing I wanted to mention, and that’s Vladimir Tkachyov. The Kings signed the Russian forward to a one-year, entry-level contract worth $832,500 back in May. After some impressive seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, the team is hoping he can translate his scoring to the NHL level. He is a massive wild card for the team, as he could prove to be a fantastic addition that forces himself onto the roster after training camp — or he could not make the team and head back to Russia. It’s impossible to tell what’s going to happen with this player, but the consistent addition of NHL ready forwards makes me think the team isn’t hopeful that he’ll make the roster. Regardless, he’s someone to keep an eye on.
The Kings also did well to keep their players from last season. With Kurtis MacDermid being the only player, who dressed for more than 13 games, leaving so far. They re-signed forwards Trevor Moore, Andreas Athanasiou, Lias Andersson, and Blake Lizzote, while also re-signing defenseman Christian Wolanin, who I imagine will split time between LA and Ontario next season. Moore and Athanasiou headlined the offseason re-signings, with both players likely to see significant time on the team’s bottom six next season.
Re-signing Andersson is also a positive, as he looked great on the second line to end last season. The team will be hoping that he brings that form into next season and he continues developing on the wing. Lizotte and Wolanin are depth signings that won’t excite anyone; however, depth is key and it certainly won’t make the team worse.
Blake ensuring fans that he was looking to improve the roster this summer was great to hear, but seeing him actually do it is even better. This team should compete for a playoff spot next season and will likely see the introduction of more highly rated prospects. Even if these were not the exact additions you were hoping for this summer, even the most pessimistic Kings fan can’t claim that this roster isn’t better heading into the 2021-22 season. Blake and his team are continuing to make the right moves during this rebuild and I think there’s a good chance fans will have something to cheer for when the upcoming regular season ends.
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.