There is a lot of buzz surrounding the Los Angeles Kings and the potential for them to make a big splash this summer. I’ve discussed a few times the options for the team this summer and how difficult it will be for general manager Rob Blake. Trade rumors have been heating up recently with some big names potentially on the market. I focused on Filip Forsberg a few weeks ago and wanted to cover a few more big names: who they are, why the Kings shouldn’t chase them, and some other options.
The Big Names
For about a year now, one of the big names on the minds of Kings fans has been Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun, who I don’t think the team should be targeting assuming a bidding war breaks out for him this summer. The aforementioned Forsberg has also been a big name amongst Kings fans, but recently, three more names have surfaced and sent fans into a frenzy. Alex DeBrincat, David Pastrnak, and Kevin Fiala have all been in trade rumors for the last few weeks, and several fans want the Kings to go after them in a big way. DeBrincat has been the most desired player, with Pastrnak and Fiala coming in after. The organization shouldn’t be chasing any of them, though.
So, let’s look at cost, starting with DeBrincat. He is a two-time, 40-goal scorer, with one 30-goal season mixed in. A very late 1997 birthday, he’s just 24 years old and has one year left on a cost-controlled $6.4 million contract. Most rumors indicate that the New Jersey Devils are willing to move their second-overall pick in the upcoming draft for DeBrincat; not only that but there’s also a suggestion that the second-overall pick only starts the trade package. So, the market price will be somewhere around, a second overall pick equivalent and extra pieces. Any trade fans have in their heads that doesn’t include one of Arthur Kaliyev, Quinton Byfield, or Brandt Clarke should now be thrown out of the window, and frankly, Kaliyev as the main piece might not be enough.
Right there, the Kings should be out of the race. Giving up Byfield or Clarke, a future No. 1 center and future top-pairing defensemen, for a first-line winger who’s going to command a massive contract, isn’t worth it. When you consider it would be Byfield or Clarke plus other pieces, it becomes an even worse trade for the Kings.
Let’s say the Chicago Blackhawks do consider Kaliyev the main piece. In that trade, the Kings would be giving up Kaliyev, a first-round pick, and another top prospect from the system. This isn’t worth it, especially for a team who won’t be competing for a Cup next season. If this team was on the cusp of competing or had a top-five pick, it would be worth making the trade, but they don’t. This would also hurt the team’s ability to trade for other players in other positions; the chances of getting the coveted, elite, left-shot defensemen would now be all but gone. DeBrincat is an enticing player because he is a premier goalscorer, but the Kings should sit this one out.
Now, let’s move to Pastrnak. Firstly, it’s very unlikely Boston moves him. The reports about him being unhappy with general manager Don Sweeney and his refusal to re-sign if Sweeney stays were proven false. He’s a player Boston will build their re-tool around, not someone they trade for assets. But, assuming he would be available, look at that price for DeBrincat and add to it. Kaliyev is out the window; Clarke or Byfield would be the minimum required piece to get Pastrnak. This is a top-five player in the league and one of the best goalscorers around. He’s scored 40 goals twice, scored at a 40-goal pace in 2018-19, and scored at a 50-plus-goal pace in 2019-20 when he won the Rocket Richard Trophy. He’s scored at a point-per-game or more pace in each of the last four seasons and is in the middle of his prime.
The idea that he could be acquired for anything less than Byfield or Clarke is unrealistic. Fans want the team to move players like Gabe Vilardi, Alex Turcotte, or Rasmus Kupari for superstars because these prospects haven’t hit their potential ceilings and there are questions about if they ever will. Other teams won’t trade their best player for the Kings’ faltering prospects who “might” turn things around after a trade — they’ll need a more guaranteed return. Even prospects like Sean Durzi or Jordan Spence, who look good, won’t even get the conversation started. The Kings have to give up massive assets to get these players, and the organization shouldn’t be open to trading Byfield or Clarke for them. Keeping the future No. 1 center and top-pairing defensemen is more important that an elite winger for this team.
Fiala is the least talked about player amongst the three but is likely the most realistic. The Minnesota Wild will be entering cap hell next season, as the Zach Parise and Ryan Sutter buyouts kick in, but even still, the price is likely too high. There have been several rumors that the Devils and Ottawa Senators are interested in Fiala. Out of New Jersey, Alexander Holtz, a 2020 seventh-overall pick would be in play. Out of Ottawa, their upcoming seventh-overall pick is apparently in play, meaning somewhere around a seventh-overall pick is the price for Fiala.
Once again, those big three I’ve mentioned before would be required as a necessary trade piece. Yes, Turcotte is a former fifth-overall pick, but he doesn’t hold anywhere near that value anymore. Unless the Kings can get Fiala for Kaliyev, 1-for-1, or Kaliyev and a lower-end prospect, trading for him just doesn’t seem worth it.
Of course, Blake wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t at least call all of these teams to gauge the market on these superstars. However, given the price each player is likely to command, the phone call should be short, with Blake holding onto his assets after each one.
Other External Options
If the Kings are determined to add a forward this offseason, there are still good options out there. In fact, the Bruins and Blackhawks could be good teams to target, as they’ll be looking to offload players for future assets. The two options for today are teammates of Pastrnak and DeBrincat.
The first option is DeBrincat’s linemate, Dylan Strome. The Blackhawks are reportedly entering a scorched-earth style rebuild this summer, with very few names seen as untouchable. DailyFaceoff’s Frank Seravalli mentioned that there are only three untouchables on the Blackhawks roster; Patrick Kane and Seth Jones because of their contracts, and Kirby Dach, leaving Strome available. His numbers from last season don’t stand out, with 48 points in 69 games, but it’s important to remember that he spent the front half of the season in the coach’s doghouse, playing fourth-line minutes and spending some games as a healthy scratch. His numbers picked up in the second half, moving onto the team’s first line next to DeBrincat and Kane, though.
Strome grabbed 41 points in his last 47 games and was strong on both ends of the ice. However, he wouldn’t be acquired to play center, at least not right away. He has experience at wing and would fit in well on the team’s first line next to Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. At 6-foot-3, he would give the team’s top line a lot of size and skill, making Kempe the shortest player at 6-foot-2. A line with that much size and skill would be difficult to match up against. He isn’t the big-time goalscorer most fans want, but he is a well-rounded offensive threat who can easily grab 20-plus goals. He would also aid Kempe in his effort to repeat his 30-goal season.
The other benefit to adding Strome is his versatility. With Turcotte, Vilardi, and Kupari all looking more like wingers than centers, there are question marks surrounding the future behind Byfield for the Kings. Strome could answer this question, he can play wing for now and move back to the middle in the future. The team could kill two birds with one stone, getting a top-line winger for the short-term, and a more long-term, second-line center behind Byfield.
The price of Strome is unknown. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, which should bring his value down a bit. One of the team’s several right-shot defensemen could be the main piece, or one of Vilardi or Kupari. The Blackhawks need prospects in every position, leaving several players to choose from.
If the Kings want a more pure goalscorer, Pastrnak’s teammate Jake DeBrusk would be an option. He requested a trade early in the season, and despite signing a two-year contract extension before the trade deadline, there’s a feeling that DeBrusk is still on his way out. The Bruins might look for a re-tool this summer and trading him could give them assets to help kickstart that. He finished last season with 25 goals and while he isn’t a superstar, he would be a big improvement on Alex Iafallo on the top line. There would be some concern that his goals mostly came from playing on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but he showed the ability to reach 25 goals on another line in 2018-19.
That two-year extension at $4 million would give the Kings a cost-controlled player, who they can use as a stopgap for the next two seasons if they want to or re-sign him at 27 years old. Similar to the trade for Viktor Arvidsson, it would give them a short-term fix for their top six, without locking them into a long-term commitment. Depending on how desperately he wants to leave, DeBrusk could be a cheap option, likely costing a bit more than Arvidsson. A second-round pick and a B-plus prospect like Jaret Anderson-Dolan might get a deal across the line. If the Bruins want more, one of the right-shot defensemen could be on the table.
This is something I’ve discussed before and will continue to do. The Kings don’t need to add a winger to their top six this summer. Now is a great time to give some of the young players a chance higher in the lineup. The team has spent a long time drafting and developing an elite prospect pool and giving up on that plan now would make no sense. For people who would point to a lack of production from those young players as a reason to move on and trade for established stars, I would point to the opportunities provided to these players.
Kempe is the perfect example of what greater opportunities can do. Did he make a massive jump in his development at 25 years old? It’s possible, but it’s more likely that the biggest factor in his breakout season was the increased opportunity he got. He couldn’t produce like a top-six player without top-six minutes and the same idea can be applied to the prospects.
It’s tough to criticize the production of Byfield, Kaliyev, Kupari, or even Vilardi when they’ve played mostly bottom-six minutes. That isn’t to say they’re immune to all criticism; there are legitimate criticisms for all of their games, but burying them in the bottom six won’t always fix them. It isn’t a criticism of the Kings’ coaching staff or front office, either. They’re in a tough spot, trying to compete and develop players isn’t easy. Promoting players into the top six slowly is a good way to do both, though. There is one spot open in the top six right now, and Kaliyev should fill that. If the Kings acquire a forward to fill that spot, is Kaliyev spending another two seasons in the bottom six until Arvidsson’s contract is up? That would be terrible for his development. Play the kids and give them the reps they need to improve, don’t let a one-round playoff experience fool you into thinking this team shouldn’t still be thinking long-term with their decision-making.
Patience Will Pay Off
It’s exciting to think about Pastrnak or DeBrincat in a Kings jersey, but now isn’t the time to trade the farm for these players. Let the prospects the organization has grow into a role on the team. If the Kings take a small step back next season, it isn’t the end of the world. Is it worth jeopardizing the team’s future to maybe win one playoff round, even two? No, it isn’t. Stay on the same path the team has been on, add some grit to the bottom six, add a left-shot defenseman and let the team grow. Having one of the most conservative general managers in hockey leaves me confident the team won’t make any bad trades hunting a superstar this summer. Players like Kaliyev and Byfield are the future of this team, let them start taking the reins 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.