The 2021-22 season hasn’t started the way the Los Angeles Kings had hoped. There were higher expectations going into this season with the new additions at forward and more youngsters getting their shot in the lineup. Injuries have changed the direction of the season in a hurry early on. I know it’s only eight games into the season, but the Kings have just two wins.
Despite the performances of Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty early on, the rest of the team just can’t seem to find their form. It doesn’t help them that multiple key players are out due to injuries too.
Injuries to the Kings Stunt Progress
Doughty’s first significant injury of his career couldn’t have come at a worse time after he started the season with seven points in four games. He is an integral part of the success of this young team and will be needed if the Kings look to make any strides in the Western Conference. He will be out for around eight weeks.
At least Doughty will make a return this season, but it may be too late at that point, as a team can take itself out of the playoff picture early. Sean Walker, on the other hand, suffered season-ending torn ACL and MCLs after just six games (“Kings’ Drew Doughty out 8 weeks with knee injury; Sean Walker to miss season”, The Athletic, Oct. 27, 2021). The Kings could look to fill that void for this season or to give the young guys a shot on defense. Either way, the season’s outcome could very well be determined in the coming weeks.
The Kings are deeper at forward, and a season-opening injury to Quinton Byfield only hurts his development since he was due for a second/third-line role. Looking back, it’s good they brought in Phillip Danault, not only for Byfield but for Kopitar as well. Andreas Athanasiou has also been dealing with an injury since training camp and is finally at practice with a no-contact jersey getting back up to speed. He still may be more than a week away, and the Kings would hope to slot him into a middle-6 role to raise his stock.
Upcoming Free Agents the Kings Should Consider Trading
If the Kings don’t turn their season around or things start to get worse, they may have to call this season a wash and sell off assets. The most attractive and least costly players that teams may be interested in are players in the last year of their current deals. This allows them to ask the Kings to retain salary at an increased price, beneficial to the future of the Kings.
The players I had in mind are Brendan Lemieux, Athanasiou, Alexander Edler, and Olli Maatta.
Hard-Hitting Brendan Lemieux
Lemieux is the only restricted free agent here, but the forward depth is fantastic for the Kings, and he could get lots of attention from playoff contenders looking for some grittiness come playoff time. The team will want to start getting him into some more action to display his skills or to at least bring some life to some of the games that the Kings are just falling short in. He should return from the COVID-reserve list shortly.
He has only appeared in one game so far this year, and in Lemieux’s absence, the Kings are giving their young players a chance to play. This could move up the timetable to trade him, as Athanasiou will get into game action again soon, and Vladimir Tkachev was just assigned to the American Hockey League. Tkachev is a player that the Kings would like to get into more action after his performance in preseason and the start of the year.
Lemieux would be able to provide exactly what you’d expect from him every night, energy and physicality. The postseason is a more intense game, and any team could use a player like this on the fourth line to bring this to the game night in and night out. He doesn’t have to provide scoring but will give a team 8-12 minutes of ice time per game in the bottom-6. He has 416 hits and 318 penalty minutes in 181 games. Lemieux would be able to fetch a lower-round draft pick and is under contract at an affordable price with an option to keep him around after this season since he’s a restricted free agent.
Middle-6 Winger Andreas Athanasiou
Athanasiou may not put up the numbers he did in 2018-19 anymore. But he’s still dangerous and can score points, as he’s scored at least 10 goals and 20 points in five consecutive seasons. Along with his goal-scoring ability, his speed also factors into his game, and when utilized correctly, he can burn opponents, allowing him to get into scoring position easily.
On a contender, Athanasiou wouldn’t be given top-6 minutes and would most likely slot in on a line where he is put in a position to be more offensive. His defensive game may scare off potential suitors, as he’s a minus-82 in his career, finishing a season with a positive plus/minus only once in six years, a plus-1 in his rookie season, where he played 37 games.
If he can get back into the lineup and start to put up points, especially goals, which is what he’s more known for, the Kings could get a decent return for Athanasiou. Maybe with a new opportunity, he could find confidence in his game and return to his former self.
Depth Defencemen Alexander Edler & Olli Maatta
The Kings may have to wait a bit before they consider sending any defencemen off to new teams right now with the significant injuries to the back end. But before the deadline, teams may be calling about Edler and Maatta, and the Kings should listen to any offers.
After spending his entire career in Vancouver, Edler signed a 1-year contract with the Kings. At this point in his career, he doesn’t provide much offence and power-play help like he used to. It’s been over two seasons since he has been a key factor on the power play, and last season was a very down year offensively. Edler is still able to contribute defensively, as older players normally do on the back end of their careers. He can provide help on the penalty kill and be a solid third-pairing defenceman on any team. The Kings would have to retain some of his salary, as it’s a bit high for the role he would be playing.
Maatta looks to slot into a bottom-pairing role for the Kings after missing some games with an early injury. He will really need to improve his performance this season after only recording four assists in 41 games in 2020-21, his first with the Kings. Teams won’t be calling about him unless they’re desperate if he doesn’t start to produce a bit more and bring value to the team. He may even lose out on some games to Austin Strand, a young defender who has played in that sixth defensive spot in his absence. If either Edler or Maatta gets dealt at any point in the season, it will only give the Kings’ defencemen of the future more playing time and room to grow.
The Kings have a bright future, and the season is still young. Even if they are hanging around the playoff picture, it still makes sense to move at least one of the forwards. It’s better to get something for assets you own than to give it up for nothing. If they end up being sellers or decide to take action earlier in the season, every one of these names is an option to be traded.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with the NHL Stat Corner and trade talks from around the NHL.