Zackary Weiner The Hockey Writers
Kings Need to Target Offense in Free Agency
As a team slowly coming out of their rebuild, this offseason for the Los Angeles Kings will be a crucial one. It can either fast track their rebuild, or, if management is unassertive, the time it will take to get back to the playoffs can be extended.
A big part of having a good offseason is free agency, and the Kings have some areas of improvement that could start to be solved this summer by signing a few key UFAs. Scoring for LA was an issue this season, coming in 30th in goals scored per game at 2.53. If the front office can sign some solid forwards, specifically wingers, and offensive defensemen, this number could be drastically improved next season.
One key point to note about LA’s free agency prospects is that they shouldn’t be too old. Although many free agents are in the latter half of their career, Los Angeles is still going to want to stay relatively young. The reason for this is if they sign too many older guys, they will find themselves needing to restructure the roster not much longer after they have completed their rebuild. Luckily for LA, there are a number of candidates in free agency that are in their late 20s and can fill some of the holes in the team’s lineup, in addition to some re-signing.
Kings Are in Desperate Need of Wingers
With the exception of Alex Iafallo, Dustin Brown, and Adrian Kempe, the Kings don’t have a whole lot going down the wing. The team clearly needs a winger, as they have the center position filled. Anze Kopitar and Blake Lizotte are solid centers, and with Gabriel Vilardi, Alex Turcotte, and Akil Thomas coming up, another center would be a waste of cap space. This years’ free agency pool has a number of guys that could fill the winger position, so Rob Blake will have his choice of players.
When Mikael Granlund was traded to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Kevin Fiala, many considered it a close trade, but if there had to be a winner, it would have been the Nashville Predators. However, with Fiala taking off this season for the Wild, and Granlund having a down year, Minnesota has emerged as the team that got the better half of this transaction. Granlund recorded just 30 points in his first full season with Nashville in 63 games. This was a poor year considering he put up 54 points in the year prior, albeit in a longer season.
Considering that in his best season Granlund recorded 69 points, he could be a valuable piece going forward if the Kings can land him. The winger is even more of a target when taking into account the changes that Nashville wants to make this summer after their early playoff exit.
After getting moved twice this season, first from the New York Rangers to the Ottawa Senators, then to the Colorado Avalanche, Vladislav Namestnikov has finally found his way onto a playoff roster. The 27-year-old put up 31 points in 65 games this season. He could be a good fit for the Kings next season as he showed he can be a solid player for a rebuilding team. Most of the points he scored this season came in Ottawa, another team that is restructuring, so he showed that being on a club that is not competing for a championship won’t be an issue.
Another positive about Namestnikov is his ability to play multiple positions. He has played both in the center position and on the wing throughout his career. Although the Kings mainly need a winger, it never hurts to have an extra guy that can play down the middle. If LA can sign him, hopefully he can have just as good of a season as his 2019-20 season, if not a better one. Keeping him in one location throughout the season could do wonders for his game, as he showed he has the potential to be a 50 point player which he almost was in the 2017-18 season.
Similarly to Granlund, Jimmy Vesey was not a great fit for the team he played on this season. In Buffalo, Vesey saw a 0.12 decrease in his points per game, for a total of 20 points in 64 games. The left-winger could provide some scoring next season if he is able to return to the 35 points he put on the board in the 2018-19 season.
If Vesey goes to the Kings, he could see a jump in his production as he would be one of the better players on the team. This sort of confidence and boost in ice time could bring him back to the game he played as a Ranger, making him an offseason success for Los Angeles.
Alex Galchenyuk is a young player who can play center or on the wing. 24 points this season was incredibly off for him, considering that he once put up 56 points in a single season. He is a high-risk, high-reward type of player. He could return to his prime in LA, or he could continue to downtrend.
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Another high-risk, high-reward player is Josh Leivo. In the last two seasons, he put up 18 and 19 points, respectively, but only was able to play a total of 85 games due to injury. If he can stay healthy, he could be a good addition, but if not, it would be a waste of cap space.
Matt Nieto, Conor Sheary, Jesper Fast, and Tyler Pitlick all could be good options as well. They are all either 27 or 28 and averaged 23.25 points this season.
During the 2019-20 season, the Kings only saw 117 points from the blue line. This accounted for just 24 percent of the points that were scored by all roster players, and most of these came from Drew Doughty and Sean Walker. If management can sign a defenseman that recorded even average numbers this season, offense in LA could be much better going forward.
Despite having a down season compared to his 2018-19 campaign, Gustafsson still put up solid numbers. Even though a decrease from 60 points to 29 this season could be an indicator, the one big season he had could probably be written off as a fluke at this point. In the two seasons prior to his 60-point campaign, he put up a total of just 30 points, making the 29-point season he had in 2019-20 seem not so bad.
The 28-year-old was moved from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Calgary Flames late this season. Another move for Gustafsson to the Kings could be a good one for both the team and the player. He could play a leadership role on defense for LA next to Doughty, and he would bring more offense, as he is a player who can get the puck to the net from far out.
The September after Edmundson won the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues, he was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Justin Faulk. He ended up having a solid season with the Canes, collecting 20 points in 68 games, the best in his career.
Edmundson could bring a number of things to the Kings’ roster. First off, the obvious factor of scoring. Similarly to Gustafsson, another season similar to his previous one would put him amongst the top scorers on defense for LA. He also brings size to any team, standing at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds.
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For this reason alone, Edmondson could be a target for LA. A player who can be physical is important for an otherwise young and inexperienced roster. Whether this means throwing a big hit or starting a fight to get the team energized, his 72 penalty minutes in the 2019-20 season won’t go to waste in Los Angeles.
Mark Pysyk has played eight seasons in the NHL, only totaling 88 points. 18 of these came this season in just 58 games. The Kings could take on Pysyk both for his experience, as well as the possibility that he could continue to improve.
Key Kings UFAs to Re-Sign
The Kings don’t have a ton of UFAs to re-sign this offseason. As a team that is just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, management shouldn’t want to re-sign older players that were in their primes during the team’s Stanley Cup runs in the mid-2010s.
As a top defenseman amongst a developing group, Hutton will be a key player to keep around. He didn’t have a great first season in LA, putting up 16 points in 65 games.
If the Kings re-sign Hutton, they will hope for him to have a better season and step up as a vital player for the team’s blue line. One positive to take from his season is that it was the first for the 27-year-old where he finished with a positive plus/minus, a plus five. That’s good news considering the team overall was a minus-32 on the season.
The Kings Can’t Have a Passive Offseason
The Kings have to make some moves this offseason if they want to be more competitive next season. With the length of this offseason, Rob Blake and the rest of management will have plenty of time to retool their lineup. If they sit back, on the other hand, LA could return with an even worse 2020-21 season than the one they just finished. It’s completely in the hands of the team. Free agency won’t solve all of the issues in Los Angeles, but a good draft, maybe some trades, and some solid signings could make a dent.
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