Elimination Eval: Los Angeles Kings

For the third postseason in a row, the Los Angeles Kings have found themselves victim of a first round exit to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s frustrating enough when a team repeats a certain negative pattern but to lose to the same team three years in a row adds a whole different layer to that. The Kings are in a bit of an interesting situation. They’re like the Capitals in the sense that they’re nearing the end with their core pieces that led them to a pair of Stanley Cup’s, one of which none of us reading this likely want to think of. However, they do have a quality mix of established NHL players in their prime like Kevin Fiala and Adrian Kempe as well as younger promising stars in Quinton Byfield and Alex Laferriere. Is that enough to keep them in the playoff conversation? Let’s break it down. 

The Kings got off to a rough start in the series as a five assist night from Connor McDavid led the Oilers to a dominant 7-4 victory that included four unanswered goals through the first 30 minutes of the game. The Kings showed some level of perseverance as they cut that lead in half going into the third period but a pair of power play goals early in the third quickly put things back out of reach. Before we get into how the rest of the series played out, special teams was without question one of the biggest downfalls to the Los Angeles Kings. Through five games in round one, the Kings’ power play unit did not convert once against the Oilers. Edmonton on the other hand, capitalized on 45% of their power play chances including three out of four across Game 1. 

That in itself was pretty much a recipe for disaster but it was only Game 1, the series was far from over. While it may not sound like it after allowing seven goals (one empty net), goaltending wasn’t an issue at least to start the series as Cam Talbot still came up with close to 40 saves. Sure enough, the Kings bounced back and came out strong against the Oilers in Game 2, actually taking a 3-1 lead into the first intermission. A tough second period including yet another power play goal against tied things up at three and eventually led to the first overtime of the series as the score was still locked up 4-4. Would only take 127 seconds into overtime as Anze Kopitar roofed a quick shot on a partial breakaway past Stuart Skinner to even the series up 1-1. 

The overtime win for the Kings would prove to be the high point of the series but following that up would be just as crucial. Especially considering the fact that the Kings were able to pick up a win on the road, Game 3 should’ve been a series altering moment for the Kings to regain the series but alas, it was another offensive showing for the star-studded Oilers. A tough night for Talbot as all he had to show for was a .850 save percentage but when your team isn’t scoring goals, what more can you really do? He would end up taking a backseat for the rest of the series as the LA Kings turned to “Big Save Dave” Rittich in Game 4. 

Frankly, it wouldn’t matter much who the Kings had in net as they did an outstanding job of limiting the Oilers to just 13 shots on goal throughout the entire game. Only problem with that is you still have to find a way to score goals and that would not happen. A 33-save night from Skinner shut the Kings out which came as a real blow to potentially getting back in the series. That would really become the game changing moment in the series as the Oilers took a 3-1 lead in the series back to home ice where they would eventually take care of business. Had the Kings found a way to score a couple of goals in Game 4, the series easily could have gone on to the seven games I predicted but between that and not managing a single power play goal, it was over for LA yet again. 

So where do you go from there? Three seasons in a row you’ve run into McDavid, Draisaitl and the Oilers and fell short. What can you do aside from hope you luck out and land a different opponent? There’s going to be a lot of questions surrounding the Kings this summer who will absolutely look at this season as an underachievement. They were a part of one of the biggest trades to go down last summer in acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois in exchange for a king's ransom, a trade that’s already aging like milk. The biggest question they’ll face heading into next season will be who is going to tend the goal for this team moving forward? 

As of the time of writing this the Los Angeles Kings do not have a single goaltender under contract for next season. Cam Talbot, Dave Rittich, Aaron Dell and Pheonix Copley are all set to be UFA’s as Erik Portillo and Jacob Ingham are set to be RFA’s. Even if you were to run it back with that crop of netminders, none of them are really quality NHL caliber goalies and the ones that you could make a case for are all well into their mid-late 30’s. Could another blockbuster trade involving the Kings take place this summer? Or will they look to address things in free agency. 

The King’s will have roughly $20 million of salary cap space heading into the off-season but have lots of business to attend to. For starters, Viktor Arvidsson, Trevor Lewis, and Matt Roy join all of their goaltenders in becoming UFA’s. Additionally, they have Blake Lizotte, Carl Grundstrom, Arthur Kaliev, Jordan Spence and most notably, Quinton Byfield as pending RFA’s that will need new contracts. Assuming all RFA’s sign and UFA’s walk, this is what LA would look to build around this summer:

Byfield - Kopitar - Kempe

Fiala - Danault  - ?

Moore - Lizotte - Kaliev 

Grundstrom - Dubois - Laferriere 

Anderson - Doughty

Gavrikov - ?

Englund - Spence


As the Kings go through the traditional exit interview day aka “break up day”, both Matt Roy and Viktor Arvidsson had mentioned interest in staying despite lack of a conversation regarding potential extensions. That may come as good news for the Kings but at the end of the day, it all comes down to how much cap space is available and what the players and agents feel is a fair deal. The real question that these kinds of decisions often come down to is more along the lines of “do you want to stay enough to make the same or less than what we are already paying you?” Which is a bit more of a complicated answer. 

There’s no question that Quinton Byfield’s new contract could take up a good portion of their remaining cap space and once you factor in extensions to the rest of their RFA’s, there might not be a ton of money to go out and get a middle-six winger and another defenseman. The Kings do have options in house that could resolve some of those holes but there is question as to whether they are necessarily NHL ready options. For starters, the Kings still have Brandt Clarke in the system who was among the highest praised defenseman in his draft class. The 8th overall draft pick in 2021 could become a full-time part of the Kings roster next season and if Jordan Spence continues to get better, perhaps your solutions on the back end are already taken care of. 

As far as offense goes, all the attention is going to once again turn to Pierre-Luc Dubois. This is a former third overall pick who ran himself out of town in Columbus, wasn’t happy in Winnipeg and after failed attempts of forcing his hand to Montreal, ended up accepting a trade to Los Angeles where he put pen to paper on an eight year contract extension. After all that trouble, you have to flip that switch and find your game and Dubois just simply hasn’t done that throughout his first season in California. To be fair, this is a team that already has Kopitar and Danault down the middle but come on, to not even finish the season as the team’s third best center is extremely troubling. 

Dubois can not afford another failed outcome and the Kings need him to figure it out. Kopitar and Danault aren’t going to be top-tier guys forever and while they do have Byfield, $8.5 million a year is a ridiculous amount of money to pay someone who can’t even be a mainstay in your top-six forward group. Even if they can find a way to get him going on the third line and build something around him to prepare for him eventually taking on a bigger role it would be better than him essentially settling as the team’s 10th best forward. 

Circling back to the larger concern moving forward, this team’s top priority will undoubtedly be figuring out a goaltending plan. Unless they decide to explore a potential trade, their best bet believe it or not is likely going to be looking to keep some formation of a Talbot/Rittich/Copley duo around for at least another season. Of all the pending UFA goaltenders, only two of them started 40 games or more last season, Ilya Samsonov and Cam Talbot. Perhaps they could pursue an Anthony Stolarz or an Alex Nedelkjovic but again, the pickins’ for this summer are quite slim and LA isn’t the only team in need of an answer in net. 

General Manager Rob Blake is certainly going to have his work cut out for him this summer in what could potentially make or break his legacy as this team’s general manager. He’s done a fine job for the most part but the Dubois trade does raise some question marks. At the end of the day, this team has everything they need to remain competitive, they just need an answer in net, some of their younger guys to take steps, and a little more depth to round out their middle six. Similarly to what I brought up with Winnipeg is applicable to the Kings and that’s do they have what it takes to skate with the big players in the West? They proved this season that the third time was indeed not the charm, but you’re bound to run into these team’s at some point regardless of your first round opponent. Can’t control who you play, can only control how you show up against them.