It was an expansion-draft commerce. As a staff rumored to be defending 4 or 5 defensemen from the Seattle Kraken later this month, the Nashville Predators knew they had been in place to lose a helpful ahead. They shipped proper winger Viktor Arvidsson to the Los Angeles Kings for a 2021 second-round choose and a 2022 third-round choose reasonably than lose him for nothing.
Nashville’s intentions had been apparent. The subtext was way more attention-grabbing from the Kings’ perspective, nevertheless. What did the commerce signify for them? The Kings have spent the previous a number of seasons mendacity within the weeds, with Rob Blake behaving as conservatively as any GM within the NHL, piling up picks and prospects. Did the Arvidsson deal sign the tip of the rebuild section? It actually seems that manner when you look at the circumstantial proof.
Blake took over as GM in 2017 following a season through which the Kings missed the playoffs and ended their mini-dynasty period by axing the coach and GM that helped them to Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014: Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi. Blake started his tenure pretty modestly. He employed coach John Stevens in hopes of eschewing the staff’s lumbering, heavy type underneath Sutter. After L.A. responded properly in Blake’s first season, returning to the playoffs with a 98-point marketing campaign, there was a blip of false hope. He signed left winger Ilya Kovalchuk to an ill-fated three-year pact and handed star blueliner Drew Doughty an eight-year, $88-million contract that was destined to age poorly given he was already 28 on the time. Blake obtained a new-GM actuality test because the Kings sunk within the standings the following season and had been compelled into correct rebuild mode.
That’s when Blake properly retreated to an imaginary bunker and commenced planning for the longer term. From 2018-19 to current day, a run through which the Kings missed three straight post-seasons, Blake offered off championship-team stalwarts in defenseman Jake Muzzin, left winger Tanner Pearson, proper winger Tyler Toffoli, defenseman Alec Martinez and heart Jeff Carter. In Blake’s first 4 drafts, spanning 2017 to 2020, the Kings drafted 32 gamers. With every staff having the best to select seven instances per draft, meaning Blake was plus-four on picks over than span, an additional choose per draft. The Kings picked 11 instances within the first two rounds throughout these 4 drafts, together with 5 instances within the first spherical. Additionally they made no important free-agent signings throughout the 2019 and 2020 off-seasons, with their highest-profile spend being a one-year, $1.2-million deal for left winger Andreas Athanasiou.
Throughout the previous few seasons, the Kings’ prospect arsenal has swollen into one thing important. In The Hockey Information’ Future Watch 2021 journal, our panel of energetic NHL scouts and executives graded the Kings’ crop of 21-and-younger expertise as an ‘A,’ good for the third-overall rank. The Kings positioned six gamers inside the general prime 100 NHL affiliated prospects: heart Quinton Byfield (2nd), heart Alex Turcotte (13th), defenseman Tobias Bjornfot (46th), left winger Arthur Kaliyev (51st), left winger Samuel Fagemo (75th) and defenseman Brock Faber (78th). Every of these gamers was chosen up to now two drafts alone, and that checklist doesn’t even embody potential constructing blocks corresponding to defenseman Helge Grans, proper winger Akil Thomas, heart Rasmus Kupari and, having graduated to the NHL stage, facilities Gabe Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan and defenseman Mikey Anderson. Given the Kings will add one more prospect to their crop with the eighth-overall choose within the 2021 draft, the concept they’ve achieved a vital mass of younger expertise is plausible.
The Arvidsson acquisition begins to make sense when considered by the lens of a staff that feels it’s prepared to begin pushing. The Kings evidently now consider second- and third-round picks are expendable. They’re maxed out on younger property. Vilardi’s again has healed to the purpose he’s able to sink or swim with a bigger position within the NHL. We should always see Byfield make the staff from Day 1 subsequent season as a full-time large leaguer. Kaliyev confirmed properly within the AHL and particularly on the 2021 world juniors and appears able to compete for a everlasting NHL gig. Turcotte will or must be anticipated to push for a spot out of camp subsequent season, albeit he didn’t gentle up the AHL in his professional debut this season. Goaltender Cal Petersen established himself because the staff’s No. 1 and, regardless of some late-season stumbles, nonetheless graded out as an above-average stopper at 5-on-5 regardless of going through one of many league’s more durable workloads. The younger items are there and, contemplating Doughty and prime heart Anze Kopitar delivered resurgent performances in 2020-21 suggesting they nonetheless have some good hockey left, it’s time for L.A. to throttle up.
Step one was buying a dependable top-six winger to (most likely) pair with Kopitar. That’s Arvidsson. The Kings nonetheless have roughly $15 million in cap area – with zero UFAs to re-sign amongst their 2020-21 regulars and simply three low-impact RFAs to “fear” about in Athanasiou, left winger Trevor Moore and proper winger Matt Luff. The Kings can have some reliable cash to play with, particularly as soon as the growth draft passes. Certain, the Kraken are most certainly to make use of their declare on an reasonably priced participant from an unprotected group that I project to include Athanasiou, Brendan Lemieux and defenseman Kale Clague. However would possibly the Kings additionally pursue a aspect deal through which the Kraken tackle goaltender Jonathan Fast, who has two seasons left at a $5.8-million AAV? It’s a pipe-dream concept, particularly if the Kings nonetheless like having Fast as an skilled 1B. Then once more, he is an “outdated” 35 given his taxing, athletic type of play, and he simply had shoulder surgical procedure. If the Kings really feel able to be aggressive, they’ve the additional draft capital to dangle if obligatory, together with that 2021 first-rounder in a draft class that doesn’t undertaking to be epically nice and was additionally probably the most difficult to scout in a technology because of COVID-19. If there’s ever a draft through which first-round picks are cube rolls and thus may very well be sacrificed, it’s this one.
And if the Kings release further cash – maybe even when they don’t – they might turn out to be consumers in a strong defenseman market this summer time. The Kings reportedly need to purchase a left-shot associate to play with Doughty. The very best free-agent choices on the left aspect are mid-tier sorts corresponding to Mike Reilly, Alex Goligoski, Ryan Murray, Jamie Oleskiask and, oddly sufficient, Martinez. The best-shot choices are significantly attention-grabbing. Dougie Hamilton tops the checklist, after all, with the Carolina Hurricanes making his early-negotiating rights obtainable through commerce, however different righties slated to hit the market embody Adam Larsson, Tyson Barrie and David Savard. The Kings could be an enchanting vacation spot for Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, who’s prone to be traded within the subsequent week or two, although his teammate Zach Werenski could be a greater match for L.A. on the left aspect.
What issues right here when you’re a Kings fan is the concept, for the primary time in a number of seasons, Blake is in place to pursue some important upgrades. Arvidsson shouldn’t be the one one. With the NHL anticipated to return to its conventional divisional alignment for 2021-22, the Kings ought to discover themselves in place to make a run within the Pacific. The Vegas Golden Knights would be the class of the division, and we will most likely concede the No. 2 spot to Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers, however the Kings appear to be they will dangle with Calgary, San Jose, Vancouver, Anaheim and the growth Kraken. With one or two extra main additions? The Kings may have a ceiling of a top-two staff within the Pacific subsequent season. Assuming their administration feels this manner – and the Arvidsson deal suggests as a lot – they form up as one of the attention-grabbing groups to observe this low season.