Sunday, April 14, 2019

Pool Outlook for Los Angeles

The variables have to be just right for the Los Angeles Kings in the state of salary cap troubles that they're in, just to be competitive in the league, it would seem.  The 2018 season saw those variables come together and they got a massive season from Anze Kopitar and the rebirth of Dustin Brown, among other things, but the variables didn't line up for the 2019 season as well and the team was left in shambles by the final horn on the year, leaving them in last place in the Western Conference, now with more questions than answers.

The Kings didn't get off to the greatest of starts and there was absolutely no recovery available for them, as some sports statistic websites had them already out of the playoff picture by November/December, just given the trend they were on and the teams that they were facing.

The worst is still yet to come, if we're forecasting for the near future, as this team is locked down by a number of tough contracts and the aging process has not been kind to this team either.  All things considered, this could be a pretty dark time coming up for the Kings and unless management has a surefire plan to get themselves out of it all, this rebuild/retool may take much longer than some others.

It's a real shame that Anze Kopitar couldn't follow up his 92-point 2018 campaign with something comparable in the 2019 season.  Kopitar posted 22 goals and 60 points in 81 games for the Kings this season, which was only good enough for 67th among all forwards, 88th overall in the entire hockey pool.  That's a far cry from the 10th overall spot where he finished a year ago and the Kings were actually kind of decent.

The Kings only finished with eight players, including Kopitar, on the pool worthy list for the 2019 season and that was a huge reason why they didn't make it as far as they would have liked, especially in a high-scoring season like it was for everyone else this season.  Dustin Brown, Ilya Kovalchuk, Tyler Toffoli, Alex Iafallo and Jeff Carter rounded out the pool worthy forwards in the season, but Brown was the only forward to finish in the top 100 among all forwards.  Drew Doughty was the only pool worthy defenseman on the team, finishing 19th, thanks to his enormous amounts of ice-time, while Jonathan Quick only played in 46 games for the Kings and still finished 35th among all goalies.  It was certainly a lean year for points from the Kings.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Where does this all lead us? On the one hand, the Kings have shown us that they are a vulnerable team, back in the 2017 season. The 2018 season, with all that talent in their core, they are a team that can get the job done in the regular season. So much is truly dependent on the core group of players and one of the biggest concerns heading into the 2019 season is the contract status of Drew Doughty. Will the Kings be able to extend him in July and if not, how much of a distraction will that be. Spoiler alert... it will be huge! There's a lot riding on this season for the Kings, management has to find depth to move forward again, their stars have to play that way and they have pin some hopes on their youth. All things being equal, the Kings can make the playoffs again, success there will be hard to come by and any injuries or distractions could derail this team in a hurry. Buyer beware.

Did someone say distractions?  Yeah, the Kings had plenty of them and a little bit of everything that could go wrong in the season, came up and bit the Kings on the rear end in the 2019 season.  On paper, they looked like a team that could make the playoffs, they did some additions, they made some subtractions, they got that Drew Doughty extension done (cha-ching!), but it didn't add up on the ice and they fell flat on their face in the overall standings with Ottawa being the only team worse than them in the year.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

Ilya Kovalchuk was certainly one of those distractions in the 2019 season, maybe more so at the end of the year, when the coaching staff opted to start scratching him and leaving him at home for road trips.  Yeah, that was a bit of an issue, but the team had already fallen out of the playoff race by then and Kovalchuk certainly didn't pull his weight from his end.  16 goals and 34 points in 64 games was just not enough, especially not for $6.25 million, which he will make over the next two seasons as well.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Anze Kopitar 10.000 Drew Doughty 11.000 Jonathan Quick 5.800
Ilya Kovalchuk 6.250 Dion Phaneuf 5.250 Jack Campbell 0.675
Dustin Brown 5.875 Alec Martinez 4.000
Jeff Carter 5.273 Derek Forbort 2.525
Tyler Toffoli 4.600 Paul Ladue 0.825
Trevor Lewis 2.000 Sean Walker 0.745
Kyle Clifford 1.600 Kurtis MacDermid 0.675
Rasmus Kupari 0.925
Gabriel Vilardi 0.925
Carl Grundstrom 0.925
Akil Thomas 0.809
Austin Wagner 0.759
Jaret Anderson-Dolan 0.759
Matt Luff 0.677

Other than the big contracts on the blueline, the Kings are still getting pool worthy numbers from their big ticket players, albeit none of those numbers are enough to get anyone truly excited.  The Kings will probably be looking to shift a contract or two out of this list, but it will be hard to find takers in this cap economy, even with the cap ceiling going up again.  I don't think anyone should be in a big hurry to pick Los Angeles players at next season's hockey pool draft, they should just bide their time and see what kind of bargain picks they can get late on.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

As you can see in the projected roster above, there isn't a whole lot to write home about, especially at the forward position, as it's littered with their up-and-coming youth, which will undoubtedly change, since they probably don't want to push all of it at the same time.  This does leave the Kings with some cap room against the projected number of $83 million, currently coming in at $72.9 million, so just a touch over $10 million to play with, in theory.

Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallo are the headlining players for the restricted free agents this summer for the Kings and Kempe will probably look for a decent raise from his entry-level contract, Iafallo may as well, but probably not quite as big.  Unrestricted free agency won't really help this team, as they don't have much heading out the door from this past roster, so the management team may have to nickel and dime their way back this season.

One player signed that isn't on the roster above, 20-year old defenseman Kyle Clague, a 2nd round pick back in 2016, may get a very long look in training camp, if the Kings can't find more help on the blueline from the free agent market.  Clague played in his first pro campaign in the AHL this season and the reports of his development appear to be very positive, so he slides into the post as the one to watch for next season.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

I'm not particularly sold on any of the top prospects the Kings have, besides Clague above, who still hasn't grabbed an elite status for prospects, so I would say the next best player available will be what the Kings are looking for with the 5th pick in the draft.  Adding a player at the centre position is never a bad idea, especially when he's a top rated prospect on a number of lists, looking at Kirby Dach of the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL.  The kid already has size at 6'4" and 198 pounds, so there's a chance a kid like that could make the jump to the NHL on a roster like the Kings'.

I still believe that the Kings are trending downwards, thanks to their aging lineup, but that isn't to say that some of these guys don't have a last hurrah in them, but it's looking more and more improbable at the end of the 2019 regular season.  The Kings need some drastic improvements all around their franchise, starting with their youth system and possibly the way that they're scouting, as they haven't been able to hit many home runs at the draft and that hasn't put a lot of pressure on the larger contracts on the team, leaving some of these veterans content and unmotivated.  Until this team receives a swift kick to their overall philosophy, the trend downwards will continue indefinitely.  I don't see this team doing well in 2020 without sweeping changes.

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