Red Wings Rebuild Role Models: Los Angeles Kings

Welcome to my Detroit Red Wings Rebuild Role Models series, where over the next couple of weeks, I will be outlining several recent or ongoing team rebuilds across the NHL to begin figuring out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to rebuilding a team. If we can identify some of the strengths and weaknesses of other rebuilds, we can get a better sense for how far along the Red Wings are in their rebuild and what it will take for them to break through their rebuild and become a real contender come playoff time.

Not all rebuilds are built the same; the Buffalo Sabres have been in a constant state of rebuilding for about a decade, give or take a couple of years. The Chicago Blackhawks are in a similar state of limbo after making a handful of win-now decisions last offseason (primarily the Seth Jones trade), which preceded an incredibly disappointing 2021-22 season, positioning them poorly for a rebuild while also remaining far from contending status. 

Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

One team that has recently undergone a rebuild that looks to be as successful as any is the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings qualified for the NHL playoffs in the 2017-18 season, where they lost in the first round to the first-year Vegas Golden Knights team that shocked the league by going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. With an aging core of Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Quick, they decided that undergoing a rebuild was their quickest path back to contending for the Stanley Cup as they did throughout the 2010s. 

After three consecutive losing seasons where they missed the playoffs, the Kings returned to their winning ways in 2021-22, making the playoffs and narrowly losing to the Edmonton Oilers in Round 1. How did they turn around the entire future of a team in only three years, leading them back to the playoffs after such a brief hiatus? And most importantly, what can the Red Wings learn from this super quick and successful rebuild?

Excellent Drafting and Lottery Luck

Kings’ Lesson

Over their three rebuilding seasons, the Kings built one of the league’s greatest prospect pools with depth at nearly every position and some excellent top-end prospects who are likely going to be a big part of this team’s success for the next decade or so. The Kings’ drafting success is in part due to an excellent run of drafts for their amateur scouting staff, as well as their remarkable luck in the draft lottery. 

Quinton Byfield LA Kings
Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In the 2019 Draft Lottery, the Kings dropped the maximum of three spots in the draft order, dropping them to the fifth overall pick despite having the second-best odds of landing first overall. However, the disappointment of losing the draft lottery was short-lived as the Kings were one of the lottery winners in 2020, earning themselves the second overall pick, which they used to select center Quinton Byfield. The 2021 draft was the most recent season that LA had to worry about the draft lottery, and they were lucky enough to not rise or drop in the draft order on lottery day.

Red Wings’ Route

That may not sound like the luckiest few years, but Red Wings fans can attest to the remarkable luck that it requires to drop only one spot in the lottery over a three-year span. In that same time frame, the Red Wings dropped five spots in the draft order, with their greatest victory coming in the form of landing the sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft with the sixth-best odds. 

Related: Red Wings’ Free Agent Moves in 2022

Though the luck might not be there for Detroit, the Red Wings are one of the few teams who have drafted so successfully over the last few years that their prospect pool rivals that of the Kings. The Red Wings have their prospects in place, but what do they have to do to turn a great prospect pool into a great NHL team?

Maintaining Team Identity and Leadership

Kings’ Lesson

The Kings traded away many of their longest-tenured players but identified the players that meant the most to the team’s culture so that they knew who they needed to keep around. They traded away fan-favourites such as Tanner Pearson, Jake Muzzin, and Tyler Toffoli in return for young players and draft capital. However, the Kings kept their leadership group mostly intact so that their proven winning culture could be passed on to the next generation of Kings players. 

Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick are some of the very best players in the franchise’s history, and they won two Stanley Cups for the Kings in 2012 and 2014. Who better for your young prospects to learn from than teammates who know very well what it takes to win the Stanley Cup?

Red Wings’ Route

The Red Wings have taken a similar approach, trading away several of their more valuable players for a variety of young players and draft picks. They haven’t been scared to trade away good players to set the team up better for future success, as seen in the trades that saw the Red Wings move on from Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha. 

Jakub Vrana Detroit Red Wings
Jakub Vrana, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Athanasiou trade saw the Red Wings add a veteran presence in Sam Gagner, as well as two second-round picks that they used in future trades. Mantha was once viewed as a future star, so moving on from him clearly signaled a new direction for the Red Wings, who received Richard Panik, Jakub Vrana, a first-round pick in 2021 and a second-round pick in 2022 from the Washington Capitals. Vrana looks like a long-term fit as a top-six winger in Detroit, and the first-rounder was the biggest asset in the deal that landed the Red Wings the 15th overall pick in the 2021 draft, which they used to add goaltender Sebastian Cossa to their prospect pool. 

Related: Red Wings 2022 Draft Class Recap

Though the Red Wings have traded away a few former members of their core group — they decided that players like Athanasiou and Mantha were not going to be a part of their plans moving forward — they did retain other young players like Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin. Both Larkin and Bertuzzi got the chance to play alongside a few of the members of the Red Wings’ former leadership group, such as Henrik Zetterberg, so they were able to learn what it means to be a leader with the team. Larkin has been granted the captaincy, while Bertuzzi has become an important leader and character presence on the ice for the team. 

Transition From Rebuilding to Winning Again

Kings’ Lesson

Evidently, the Kings strongly believed in the future of their team at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season as they flipped a switch and began taking some big steps toward winning games again after three seasons near the bottom of the league’s standings. They traded a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Viktor Arvidsson, who was fresh off two consecutive seasons with disappointing offensive results. With the Seattle Expansion Draft looming, the Predators decided not to protect Arvidsson and decided to trade him rather than losing him to Seattle for nothing. The Kings took the bet that he would bounce back, and they were correct, as he scored 49 points in 68 games in his first season in Los Angeles. 

Phillip Danault Los Angeles Kings
Phillip Danault, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The next big move they made was signing free-agent defensive center Phillip Danault, who had been tasked with shutting down some of the NHL’s biggest stars in the playoffs just a few weeks prior as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal was not willing to give Danault the raise that he had earned, but the Kings were happy to oblige. These two moves were a huge part of the Kings transitioning from their rebuild and back into being a serious threat to win important games. Danault and Arvidsson were two of their top-six forwards last season and combined to score 100 points. 

The Kings had a points percentage of .438 (49 points in 56 games) in the 2020-21 season, but that improved to .604 (99 points in 82 games) in the 2021-22 season. They made it back to the playoffs last season due to some savvy offseason moves as well as the further development of their prospects. However, they won’t stop with simply making the playoffs. The Kings made another big move this offseason, acquiring pending restricted free agent (RFA) Kevin Fiala for their first-round pick in the 2022 draft and prospect Brock Faber.

Red Wings’ Route

The Red Wings’ decisions so far this offseason remind me a lot of the Kings’ choices last year to finally burst out of their rebuild and take some steps forward. The Red Wings were one of the biggest players on Day 1 of free agency, signing multiple players who project to play big roles for this team, especially over the next year or two. Andrew Copp and David Perron are likely candidates for top-six positions, though likely on the second line, and Dominik Kubalik is a great depth scoring piece for the team’s bottom-six forward group. The Red Wings also solidified their left side of defense, signing both Olli Määtä and Ben Chiarot.

David Perron St. Louis Blues
David Perron with the St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Of course, there is no way to know if these signings will be as impactful as the additions of Danault and Arvidsson were for the Kings, but they are at least a good sign that this team isn’t content to sit around and wait for their young stars to be good enough to carry a sub-par roster to the playoffs. With some of this year’s biggest trade targets and unrestricted free agents (UFAs) still on the market, the Red Wings could still have another big move or two left to make this offseason. 

No Two Rebuilds Are Alike

The Red Wings hope to break their six-year streak of missing the playoffs, and their moves so far this offseason certainly increase their odds of ending that streak. It’s important to mention that while these moves are primarily meant to increase the Red Wings’ point total next season, they are also moves that make sense for the future of this team. The short-term deals for Perron, Kubalik, and Määtä provide the team with depth for the next season or two without forcing them to commit any cap space too far down the road. The longer deals for Copp and Chiarot provide the team with great players who fill needs now and who can slide down the lineup a bit once the Red Wings’ prospect pool graduates a few more players into the NHL.

Related: Red Wings’ Top 25 Prospects

The Red Wings clearly brought in Copp to be a stop-gap player as a second-line center until Marco Kasper, the eighth overall pick from the 2022 draft, is ready to fill that position for the next decade. They signed Chiarot to play as the team’s top left-handed defender next year, which could work out well since he had the best years of his career when paired with Shea Weber on the top pairing in Montreal. In Detroit, he will provide Moritz Seider with a solid linemate as well as insulating the team’s top defensive prospects who are all lefties (Simon Edvinsson, William Wallinder, and Albert Johansson). 

How do you think the Red Wings’ rebuild matches up against the LA Kings’? What are the biggest moves the Wings need to make to get back into the playoffs this year? What wild trade do you see Yzerman pulling off before the season starts in October? Sound off in the comment section below!

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