On September 11, 2020, the Los Angeles Kings signed Sean Walker to a four-year contract extension. The contract is worth $10.6 million; meaning it carries a cap hit and AAV (Average Annual Value) of $2,625,000. This is quite a low cap hit. With this contract lasting for four more years, it could turn out to be a steal for the Kings, due to Walker being one of their most valuable defensemen.
How Walker Played Prior to This Season
Prior to the 2020-21 season, Walker only had 39 career NHL games under his belt, all of which came in the Kings’ 2018-19 campaign. In those 39 games, he averaged 15:25 of ice time per game and put up 10 points, both of which were fourth among Kings defensemen. For a 24-year-old rookie, these were impressive numbers.
Walker Is a Strong, Two-Way Defenseman
This season, Walker’s role improved drastically compared to last season. In his first full season, he averaged 18:50 per game, which is nearly a three-and-a-half-minute increase from the previous campaign. This was good for third among Kings defensemen and fifth on the entire team. Only Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Joakim Ryan, and Alex Iafallo averaged more ice time than Walker. However, his point totals are even more impressive than his ice time. In 70 games played, he scored 5 goals and put up 19 assists for a total of 24 points.
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These totals all ranked second among LA’s defensive corps. The Kings’ only defenseman who managed to beat him in these categories was Doughty, a former Norris Trophy winner. This was a very impressive accomplishment for Walker, and most teams are not able to lock up their second-best offensive defenseman for less than $3 million per year.
Although Walker is good offensively, he doesn’t sacrifice his defensive play to create offense. According to Natural Stat Trick, during the 2019-20 season, when he was skating, the Kings generated 54.71% of the shots. Along with this, the Kings controlled 50.54% of the scoring chances while he was on the ice.
A deeper dive into the Kings’ scoring chances when Walker was playing shows that the Kings split high-danger chances evenly with their opponents (50.00%); however, the Kings controlled the majority of medium- and low-danger chances. This means that while he is playing, the Kings control most of the offense. This is especially impressive considering he had more defensive zone starts than offensive zone starts.
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In 70 games played, Walker blocked 84 shots and threw 81 hits, averaging over a block and a hit per game. More specifically, he averaged 1.2 blocked shots per game and 1.15 hits per game. His 84 blocked shots ranked third on the Kings defense, while his 1.2 blocks per game were fourth on the team among defensemen who skated in 10 or more games. Similarly to his blocks per game, his hits per game were fourth among Kings defensemen who skated in 10 or more games. This means that he is more than serviceable defensively and that he is one of the Kings’ top four blueliners defensively.
Walker Plays on Both Special Teams Units
Another reason why Walker is so valuable to the Kings is his special teams play. He averaged over a minute a game on the penalty kill this season. Killing penalties is very important, and sometimes a botched penalty kill can cost a team the game. He helps the Kings kill penalties, and for that, he gains extra value for them.
But Walker doesn’t just kill penalties, as he is important to the Kings power play too. He plays on LA’s second power-play unit, and this year he put up five power-play points (all of which were assists). He is unlikely to move up from the Kings’ second power-play unit anytime soon because Doughty is still quarterbacking the top unit. Although Walker is stuck on the second unit, he still plays an important role on the power play.
This Contract Will Be a Steal for the Kings
All of these facts point to Walker’s contract being a steal for the Kings. Walker can do it all. He plays good offense and defense. Additionally, he can chip in points on the power play and kill penalties. He is already a key player for the Kings and is only 25 years old. It is hard to find a defenseman who can play on both special teams and put up points without sacrificing their ability to defend. Walker does all of this at a very high level for the Kings, making his contract a steal.