Where Do The Kings Go From Here?


LA Kings Insider

After multiple moves in the offseason, the Kings still fell short in the playoffs, so what do they do now?

Justin T., Writer

The Los Angeles Kings were knocked out of the NHL playoffs on May 14. After multiple moves last offseason, they were able to take the Edmonton Oilers to Game 7 in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs. So what can the Kings take from their playoff run? 

“I can summarize it all up for it. We weren’t any good,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said.

As they entered the offseason, L.A. was reportedly looking to make a big addition to the roster. Whether through the free agency or trade market, Rob Blake was going to make a splash. On July 28, the Kings made a huge signing with the addition of center Phillip Danault. The former Canadian signed a 6-year deal worth $33 million. By adding Danault, the Kings have now increased their depth at center. With their star captain Anze Kopiatar on the first line, Danault will slide into the second line and lead the way. His ability to be the two-way player every team loves caught the Kings’ attention. Danault has been known to be elite on either side of the line, both defensively and offensively. 

“I want to be a big part of their team as well. I really like the love the L.A. Kings showed me. The way they were talking about me was high and they believed in me. So it’s definitely a lot of emotion, but I’m really happy,” said Danault after the signing

Yet again, the Kings hunt for a return to the playoffs, their odds increased with the acquisition of Viktor Arvidson. As the draft loomed, the Kings were willing to send off some of their draft capital for a proven star. General manager Rob Blake traded 2021 second and third-round picks to the Nashville Predators for the 29-year-old winger.

“My first reaction was my teammates that I’ve been with for seven years. I was thinking about them and the fun I’ve had with them,” Arvidsson said. “After a while, I kind of looked to what I’m coming to and I’m really excited. I feel like it’s a great opportunity for me and for the team. We have something really up and coming with young and older players who really want to win and are hungry to win. I’m really, really excited to be a part of it.”

As the season began, L.A. was looking decent. The team may not have been reaching expectations, however the hopes for a playoff run at the time were not high. As the trade deadline loomed, the Kings front office wanted to make changes to the team and start a late-season run. The main problem throughout the season was the defensive line. They still had Drew Doughty, but the 32-year-old should not have to carry the load defensively as if he were 27. The addition of defensmen Oli Maata in the offseason was not as amazing as fans expected. While the market was not strong on defnsemen, there were some under-the-radar options. At the deadline, the Kings made a trade for Red Wings’ defenseman Troy Stecher.

As the season came to a close, injuries started to pile up for L.A. star defenseman Drew Doughty. The former All-Star suffered a wrist injury back in March in a faceoff against the Boston Bruins. This season, the 32-year-old only played 39 games. As the Kings entered the season, expectations were high. But the injury to Doughty hurt their hopes. Also, Doughty is a big part of the team both on the ice and in the locker room. His status was up in the air for a while. However, on April 11, the two-time champion got surgery which put him out for the rest of the year.

“We know we’re not going to see him until training camp next year and there’s no hope of him coming back,” McClellan said. “So, the cavalry’s not coming there. It would’ve been nice to have him, we could really use his skills all over the ice but also his veteran presence, plays 27, 28 minutes a night and right now, our defensive game isn’t where it needs to be and that’s his specialty.” 

With one of the league’s best defensemen in Drew Doughty, L.A. looked to call up someone to fill the role. While no rookie can replace Doughty, 23-year-old Sean Durzi was called up to help L.A with their struggles. With multiple defenseman injured, Durzi took advantage of the opportunity. In 64 games for the Kings, the former second round pick had 27 points. He averaged about 20 minutes per game on the ice, which is what L.A needed. Drew Doughty was a player who would easily compete about 25 minutes a night. And without him in the lineup, someone needed to fill those minutes, and Durzi did just that. 

“There’s a real good chance that Sean will play,” McLellan said. “He’s been a real good student of the game since he’s been with the organization, he’s put his time in and done real good things as far as development goes at the American League level, he’s off to a good start there. He’s had some good practices with us and there’s a good chance he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow.”

Also, towards the end of the year, veteran forward Dustin Brown was placed on the injured reserve list due to an upper-body injury. On March 13, Brown was placed on the IR with an upper body injury. While the 37-year-old may not be the same player he was during the Kings two Stanley Cups, he still brings the leadership and veteran presence for these younger players coming into the Kings system. As the Kings were making their playoff push, this was the last thing they wished would happen.

“For myself, my career is winding down and I want to play meaningful hockey. This is all I could ask for as a player,” Brown said on being a part of a younger team. 

A main reason the Kings were having a great end to the season was the breakout performance from Adrian Kempe. The 25-year-old left winger had a total of 54 points with a team-leading 35 goals, which also ranked 25th in the league. The former first round pick was due for a year like this. Kempe had a career-high in goals, plus-minus, shooting percentage, blocks and hits, making a strong case for being an All-Star in the coming years. 

“He’s entering the prime of his game, so we better see it now, and we’re beginning to. It’s the evolution of development. Not everybody is Auston Matthews. It takes time for some individuals to eventually get there, and Adrian’s getting there,” said Todd McLellan. 

As the season concluded, the L.A. Kings had clinched a playoff spot. For the first time since 2018, Anze Kopitar and his squad were on their way to another chance for a championship. In the first round, they faced the Edmonton Oilers led by superstar Connor McDavid. 

“[I’m] fascinated to see how two young Kings defensemen (Sean Durzi and Jordan Spence) handle potentially tough Oilers playoff assignments,” said James O’Brien.

Facing Connor McDavid, Evandeer Kane and Leon Draisaitl was no easy feat for the Kings. However, they were able to force a Game Seven. Great performances throughout the series from Jonathan Quick is what saved the Kings from being embarrassed in this series. The 36-year-old showed flashes of his old self with incredible saves and had his first postseason shutout since 2014 in game four. But ultimately, the better team in Game Seven was the Edmonton OIlers. The Los Angeles Kings were officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a 2-0 loss.

“Right now it’s very frustrating, obviously. The series was hard-fought. We gave it all. We should be proud of that,” Kopitar said. “I think there’s certainly an element of growth within the group throughout the season, even throughout the playoffs. It didn’t go today and it’s extremely frustrating because we came in here believing that we can get it done, and we didn’t.”

As their season ends, the Kings have many needs. Dustin Brown, the captain of the Kings’ two Stanley Cup championships, will be retiring this offseason. However, with a deep farm system including promising 2020 first round pick Quinton Byfield, options will certainly be available. But, the Kings need to spend. Younger players on the team means smaller contracts, so with the cap space provided, Rob Blake and the front office should use it wisely. 

“To be able to be a captain of the team that you’re drafted by, developed by, and to celebrate two Stanley Cups, and to decide on your own when it was time to go out, it’s special,” Brown said.

So what direction does L.A’s front office go: all-in for a title push or do they slowly continue the rebuild? With restricted free agents Sean Durzi and Adrian Kempe heading into the market, it will not be any easy for the Kings this offseason. However, big name free agents such as Filip Forsberg are heavily linked to the Kings, so chances to make another push for the playoffs are high. The ultimate question remains: are the L.A Kings ready to solidify themselves as true contenders.