One of the big questions heading into this offseason for the Los Angeles Kings was Adrian Kempe’s contract situation. It never seemed like a question of if but when and how much he would re-sign for. Friday, after the conclusion of Day 2 of the 2022 Draft, that question was answered with Pierre Lebrun and Darren Dreger breaking news that Kempe had re-signed with the team.
According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the contract is a four-year deal worth $22 million in total, for an average annual value (AAV) of $5.5 million. This is a great deal for Kempe and the team. Looking first at the cost, $5.5 million is excellent value for him, as that price reflects exactly what he was last season. Scoring 35 goals will always command a big pay raise, but he isn’t significantly overpaid with this contract. A big concern from many fans was that he would get paid as a 30-goal scorer, despite only reaching the mark once in his career, and the Kings avoided that risk. Last season, he was excellent, but not without issues, as he was poor defensively and didn’t do much as a playmaker, bringing his cost down from what a traditional 35-goal scorer would command.
The way I view this deal is if he remains the same player next season, a 30-goal plus scorer who doesn’t bring much outside of that, he’s getting paid properly. If his numbers improve playing on a line with the newly acquired Kevin Fiala, then the Kings get him at a slight discount. If he regresses and becomes more of a 20-25 goal scorer and around 45 points, he’s slightly overpaid. I’m sure that the last point scares a lot of fans, particularly people who aren’t Kempe believers, but you have to pay to keep a guy like him on your team.
The risk of Kempe underperforming brings me to the length of the contract. A four-year deal gives the Kings some security in case he does regress and last season was a flash in the pan. You’d still be overpaying someone for four seasons, but that’s a lot better than overpaying someone for six to eight years. It also works for Kempe, as if he does improve and is a consistent 30-goal, 60-point player during this contract, he can cash in at 29 when it expires, either with the Kings or on the open market. If the Kings would be interested in signing him to big money at the end of this deal, they will also have more cap flexibility at that time. By then, Anze Kopitar’s $10 million will be off the books, along with Viktor Arvidsson, Alex Iafallo, and Jonathan Quick’s contracts.
Of course, the team will replace those contracts, but they will have more room to work with, especially after Kopitar’s is up. Overall, general manager Rob Blake knocked it out of the park with this contract, as it’s a deal that works great for both parties. By paying Kempe fair value after his breakout season, it gives the Kings security in case he regresses and him a chance to cash in if he improves further.
How This Impacts the Kings’ Roster
The Kings knocked out their big deal of the offseason early, acquiring Fiala last week and signing him to a seven-year, $55 million contract carrying an AAV of $7.875 million. Fiala’s contract and now Kempe’s give the Kings roughly $6.5 million to re-sign players this summer. Pending restricted free agents (RFAs) include Lias Andersson, Carl Grundstrom, Brendan Lemieux, Gabe Vilardi, Mikey Anderson, and Sean Durzi, while unrestricted free agents (UFAs) include Andreas Athanasiou, Alex Edler, Olli Maatta, and Troy Stecher. With just $6.5 million in cap space available, several of these players will depart before 2022-23 begins.
Anderson established himself as a shut-down, top-pairing defenseman last season and will certainly be back. Likewise, Durzi proved that he was an NHL defenseman worth re-signing. Despite a season of struggles, Vilardi will get re-signed, as the team won’t lose the former 11th overall pick for nothing. There’s a chance they trade his negotiating rights, or he’s traded after being re-signed, but that seems unlikely right now. Grundstrom likely won his spot on the roster with his playoff performance, and I’d expect him to return as well.
On the opposite end, I don’t see any chance Athanasiou is back; the same goes for Maatta, Stecher, and Andersson. This leaves the future of Lemieux and Edler unknown. I would have assumed Edler was gone, but Blake has made comments about re-signing him. I have to imagine the team would like to re-sign Lemieux, as they lack physicality and toughness in their lineup, but it’s hard to see where he fits in.
The deal for Kempe is excellent, but alongside the Fiala trade and signing, it likely locks the Kings out of any big moves until next summer. They could move out cap by trading someone like Iafallo, but I don’t see it happening right now. Outside of some minor moves, I would expect the team’s lineup to look very similar to last season, with Fiala as the only big change. The team will likely kick the can down the road on acquiring a left-shot defenseman, which is fine, as Jakob Chychrun seems to be the only available option that fits the team’s wants, and he’s too expensive.
One interesting thing to keep an eye on is Trevor Moore’s contract situation. He has one year remaining on his current deal, and some reports have suggested the team and Moore are in preliminary discussions about an extension. Given the current cap situation, I would like the team to hold off on these talks. Re-sign who you want to re-sign, then re-evaluate the situation during the season. He is coming off the best season of his career, but giving him a big pay raise now, and paying him like a top-six forward, would be risky. The Kempe signing puts them in a cap crunch moving forward, so Blake needs to be careful with his spending.
Kings Continue Their Strong Offseason
Signing Kempe to a fair deal just one week after acquiring Fiala is an excellent start to this offseason for Blake and his team. I would expect smaller moves to happen over the next few weeks, but nothing major, and that’s okay. The Kings have set themselves up well to be a playoff team again next season, and they can give more opportunities to young players with their current roster. If players like Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Durzi, and more continue to improve, they do not need any new additions to be a solid team in 2022-23.