The Los Angeles Kings had yet another disappointing season during the 2016-2017 campaign. After winning Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014, the Kings missed the playoffs again, making it two out of the last three seasons. Despite recent success, enough was enough for ownership and the Kings cleaned house. A busy off-season began right after their last game.
The winning regime was wiped out.
Former general manager Dean Lombardi was eliminated as well as coach Darryl Sutter and most of his assistants. With the firings, former President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille was named club President. Furthermore, Rob Blake, a long-time Kings’ defenseman, was named the General Manager of the club. On top of that, former assistant coach John Stevens was promoted to head coach.
Off-Season Review and 2017 Outlook for the Los Angeles Kings
The Kings made a lot of changes this off-season, but one thing remains constant: the team still views itself as a contender and expects to win. No matter the new management or coaching, this team is full of experienced talent that expects to play like the playoff contender they are next year. Although there are many notable personal changes at the management level, the Kings also were able to do what they could in free agency. Working with a small amount of wiggle room, Blake did all he could to better the roster. Lets take a look at more of these moves and questions for next season that will be answered this off-season.
Securing Key Players
Although the Kings lost defenseman Brayden McNabb in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights, they have otherwise done a good job at retaining players. Heading into free agency the Kings had a slew of contracts expiring. With not a lot of cap space, the objective to keep all important pieces seemed tough. Rob Blake and Luc Robitaille have since done a fantastic job. The Kings locked up two of their best young offensive players in Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. Pearson will be around for at least four more years and Toffoli at least three. These were vital signings as Toffoli scored over 30 goals two years ago and Pearson was second on the team in goals last season. Both of these guys are a big part of LA’s offensive future.
Retaining Role Players
On top of that, the Kings were also able to resign crucial role players. Andy Andreoff, who sees a fair amount of time with the bottom lines, was re-signed for two years. Andreoff is a hard nosed player who plays a physical style the Kings are known for. He is a good possession player who has the ability to play all forward positions. Next, the Kings were able to sign Nick Shore to a one year contract. Shore, in his third season with the club, had 17 points. He is a solid bottom line center the Kings were happy to keep as he is trending upward.
The Kings are not done re-signing their free agents and have already committed to filling up their cap space. With about $6.5 million to play with, the Kings have eight assets remaining to sign. Only a few will have a chance to make the opening day roster. Top priorities should now be Kevin Gravel, Paul Ladue, and Johnny Brodzinski. These guys are young and talented pieces that have shown to be capable of contributing at the NHL level.
New Faces Among Skaters
Keeping familiar players around was and remains a priority of the Kings. However, holes in the roster and performance showed that new ones were needed. Due to cap issues, they could not pursue top players in their prime but there were plenty of solid players the Kings could afford. Offense is lacking on the team so a veteran and proven scorer seemed like the right fit. Cue the signing of former King Mike Cammalleri. He is a little long in the tooth at this point, but he provides a much needed boost to a stagnant Kings offense. Last season at 34 years old he put up 31 points with 10 goals on a poor New Jersey Devils team. With the Kings’ centers, specifically Anze Kopitar, those numbers could increase significantly. The Kings are hoping the player who is only three years removed from a 27-goal season can find offensive energy and score for a team that needs it badly.
As well as gaining more offensive depth, the Kings also grabbed two defeneseman on the first day of free agency. Christian Folin and Stepan Falkovsky provide the Kings with more competition among blue liners fighting for that sixth or seventh defensive position. Folin appeared in 51 games last year with the Wild and could be the answer the Kings are looking for to help fill McNabb’s absence. Falkovsky’s chances of making the NHL roster are slim, but he is a great addition to the prospect pool nonetheless.
Additions Between the Pipes
The Kings not only gained more talent and competition among their defensemen, but grew their crop of talented goalies. Highly touted goalie prospect Cal Petersen signed with the team after failing to sign with the Sabres, who drafted him and owned his rights. Petersen comes in as a top prospect around the league and could blossom into Jonathan Quick‘s successor in the years to come. He will surely find his home in the AHL next season where he should play the role of back-up and even get a handful of starts. Also signed was Canadian goalie Darcy Kuemper. He previously was the back-up in Minnesota and could emerge as the favorite to back up Quick next season. Among goalies who played less than 25 games last year (back-ups), Kuemper held solid numbers. He was top eight in save percentage and wins. These numbers will only improve behind an above-average LA defense.
Questions for Next Season
The Kings made plenty of changes and additions to their team this off-season and do not seem to be done. Cammalleri adds some excitement while the goalies and defensemen provide competition and depth to two all ready talented and crowded areas. However, the Kings still have pertinent questions and roles to be filled for next season. Lets take a look at what those may be and how they can be filled.
Jonathan Quick‘s Back-Up
Last season the Kings found out just how important it is to have multiple quality goalies. Quick was hurt for the majority of last season and the Kings had to find a replacement. Jeff Zatkoff, who was signed prior to last season, started the season serving as Quick’s backup. However, when thrown into the starting role, he was less than desirable. The Kings did eventually get quality netminding by veteran Peter Budaj, but he is no longer there.
Thus the Kings have a competition for who will serve as the number two goalie this season. Zatkoff is still with the Kings, but after last season it seems more likely that he will remain in the AHL or get released by the club. Former AHLer Jack Campbell was believed to be “the guy,” but now Kuemper poses a threat. Although Campbell has minimal NHL experience, he is a very talented goalie who has a lot of experience. He has played well with the Kings AHL affiliate in Ontario, however Kuemper should be backing up Quick come the start of next season.
Kuemper has the experience and the talent the Kings are looking for in their number two goalie. He may not have the most wins in his career, but he has a solid goals against average of 2.60 and has consistently ranked in the top ten in wins and save percentage among backup goalies in recent years. He has an aggressive yet confident and collected style that the Kings defense will greatly help. Also, like Quick, Kuemper is known for his ability to make the spectacular and athletic save. The Kings have many options to choose from, but Kuemper should be their number two because of his experience.
Offensive Sources Have Been Slim
Over the last few years, the Kings’ offense has been anything but special. Even when winning the two cups, the offense was nothing but average. Last year the Kings were 25th out of 30 teams in goals-for per game. Even for a squad who prides itself on possession and defense, that is less than desirable. The Kings need more offense to step up from somewhere. They can no longer rely on Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Pearson and Toffoli. New sources will need to emerge.
The Kings will not get the amount of production they need from one. Instead it will be a combined effort form multiple contributors. Cammalleri will be a veteran presence who will add good scoring while playing with skilled passers. Young players Adrian Kempe and Nic Dowd should also grow upon their solid seasons and chip in with goals and assists to get the Kings out of their offensive rut.