Kings’ outlook after bold Kevin Fiala trade, signing

Kings' outlook after bold Kevin Fiala trade, signing
Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

On paper, you won’t find many better examples of a team addressing its needs than the Los Angeles Kings trading for (and then extending) speedy winger Kevin Fiala.

Some people are reluctant (bearish?) about Kevin Fiala. If I were a Kings fan, I’d be absolutely delighted, though.

Let’s pick this apart, then. How might Fiala fit with the Kings, and where could things stumble? How does this affect the Kings’ salary cap outlook? Should they start planning parade routes like the Avalanche for next summer?

Mmm, maybe don’t buy confetti in bulk just yet. But there’s reason for optimism and intrigue.

The bad and mostly good: what Kevin Fiala brings to the Kings

During the 2021-22 season (and throughout their seven-game series vs. the Oilers), the Kings massively overachieved. Or, at least, they exceed expectations.

Well, maybe it depends upon how you use/modify the word “expectation.” That’s because the Kings scored fewer goals than you’d expect, given the chances they created.

via Hockey Viz

During the regular season, the Kings were at or near the top-10 in stats such as expected goals percentage and high-danger chance share. Credit Todd McLellan and the rest of the organization for putting together the sort of structure that tilts the ice in the right direction.

The Kings surprised as a playoff team. They deserve credit, however, for playing like a playoff team.

It’s just that the execution wasn’t there to turn scoring chances into goals. Enter Kevin Fiala.

[More on the Fiala trade between Kings and Wild]

Simply put, wingers who can create their own offense — thanks to blazing speed and brilliant skill — are not common. What if Fiala’s skill and finish blends seamlessly with the Kings’ sturdy structure?

Quietly, the Kings were an effective team off the rush this season. It’s one of the factors that made them a nuisance for the Oilers. Fiala adds speed with the extra bonus of impressive finishing touch.

In an episode of “The Hockey PDOcast,” Dimitri Filipovic pondered how Anze Kopitar‘s playmaking could blend with Fiala’s skills. After all, Fiala took off when combined with Matt Boldy after trying to make the most of a mostly motley crew of centers in Minnesota.

But the enticing thing is that Fiala still created offense when he was doing so much of it on his own.

Sure, putting Fiala out there with less-seasoned linemates would increase the already notable odds of him not matching his career-highs (33 goals, 85 points) from last season. Yet, if the Kings love what Kopitar accomplished with Adrian Kempe, it’s an option.

Picture, for instance, what Fiala might accomplish with Quinton Byfield. For his size, Byfield’s noted not just for skill, but mobility. Perhaps Fiala and Byfield could really make something happen, possibly with a “give-and-go” style of transition that can play to those strengths? Such a combination is interesting to think about, especially if there are worries about mitigating defensive issues for Fiala and a young center still finding his place in the NHL.

Sometimes good “on paper” doesn’t pan out on the ice

To reiterate, the dream is for Fiala to fit seamlessly into the Kings’ system, providing crucial offense. In that scenario, the team would be prepared for any drawbacks defensively.

Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy captured this thought process well. Apparently, the Wild indeed embraced Fiala’s offense and basically took care of the rest:

This section opens the door to the possible downside. What if the Kings, especially head coach Todd McLellan, find Fiala’s defensive shortcomings grating?

Through two stops (Predators, then Wild), teams/coaches sometimes seemed frustrated with the Swiss scorer. At a young age and following a 23-goal season, the Predators traded Kevin Fiala in-season (2018-19) to the Wild. Heading into this offseason, you can almost picture the grumbles when reading what Bill Guerin said about a strong “few months” from Fiala.

To an extent, this smells like a typical case of a team that was souring on a player really souring on them after a cold streak. The Oilers traded Jordan Eberle after he failed to score a goal in 13 playoff games. But maybe that was the last straw instead of a single dud run that caused an overreaction? (With the Oilers, it could also just be a huge overreaction … they’ve biffed these situations plenty of times.)

For all we know, Fiala’s puny playoff production may have been strike three for Wild management.

[Adam Gretz argued for the Wild to find a way to keep Fiala, but it was not meant to be]

In other words, there are elements of Kevin Fiala’s game that could frustrate the Kings at times. A defensively responsible team may not love every risk he takes. If Fiala’s asked to carry a line, people may frown during scoring droughts.

So, there’s room for this to have some ups and downs. However, I’d argue that the steady-and-structured Kings could really benefit from a shot in the arm from a winger who’s more of a “wild card.”

Kings’ salary cap landscape after Kevin Fiala trade, contract signing

As time goes on, people can debate the value of Kevin Fiala’s seven-year extension ($7.875 million cap hit) all they want. The same people might flip-flop on that question more than once until it expires after the 2028-29 season. Either way, the 25-year-old’s contract is now on the books.

What about the larger salary cap picture for the Kings, post-Fiala contract? Cap Friendly estimates about $12M in salary cap space for the Kings.

Ponder some of the pieces in place, and ones that may become more expensive over time.

  • Drew Doughty, 32, carries a team-leading $11M cap hit through 2026-27. At times, his declining underlying stats provided fodder for debate. His “fancy stats” rebounded last season, but his health luck went south. If Doughty’s at or near an elite level and healthy, it might feel like another boost for the Kings.
  • Anze Kopitar, 34, has a $10M cap hit, but merely through 2023-24. Though no longer a top NHL center, he’s still quite effective. Having Kempe and/or Fiala do the legwork for him shouldn’t hurt.
  • Phillip Danault, 29, proved he had scoring punch to go along with stifling playoff defense. The Kings have him signed at $5.5M through 2026-27. That looked like a steal early on; we’ll see how he ages.
  • Most of the Kings’ other forward expenses are short/mid-term (Alex Iafallo stands out among the mid-term contracts). Adrian Kempe, 25, is due a new deal as an RFA.
  • Of course, the Kings must prepare for potential spikes for prospects down the line. Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, and Arthur Kaliyev have two seasons apiece remaining on their current deals. Maybe none of them will make big leaps. There’s uncertainty about their ultimate costs, though.
  • The Kings’ defensive spending is mostly unclear beyond Doughty. Matt Roy, 27, carries a $3.15M cap hit for the next two seasons. Sneaky-solid 23-year-old defenseman Sean Durzi is an RFA. Fellow promising emerging defenseman Jordan Spence is cheap for two more seasons.

Murky situation in net?

Maybe the fuzziest situation is with their goalies. On Sept. 22, 2021, Cal Petersen signed a three-year extension that carries a $5M cap hit. The 27-year-old’s deal has a 10-team no-trade clause. Upon signing, it seemed sensible enough. He was becoming the Kings’ No. 1 goalie.

Instead, Jonathan Quick started more games (46 to 35) during the regular season, and nabbed the playoff No. 1 job from Petersen.

Quick, 36, is entering a contract year on a $5.8M cap hit. That’s right, the contract the Kings bragged about, and then were mocked about, is somehow almost finished.

At the moment, the indication is that the Kings may embrace a “goalie battle” between Petersen and Quick again this season. That said, we’re talking about a $10.8M “goalie battle” here.

For whatever it’s worth, Quick doesn’t have trade protection, while Petersen boasts that aforementioned 10-team trade protection. If the Kings want to be even more aggressive, that would be easier to pull off if at least one of their goalies was a little (or a lot) cheaper.

How far along are the Kings?

With Kevin Fiala added, how dangerous could the 2022-23 Los Angeles Kings be?

All due respect to Fiala, that answer may lean on how you view the past season. Pessimists may note that they only scored three more goals (239) than they allowed (236). Realists will point out very competitive underlying stats. Optimists would then daydream about Fiala being the perfect fit, and prospects leaping forward, not just making positive steps.

Really, some of it will be out of the Kings’ hands. Will the Flames be vulnerable after losing Johnny Gaudreau or Matthew Tkachuk? Might the Oilers sabotage gains made with foolish offseason tweaks? Do we see the return of an elite Golden Knights roster, or have we already seen that franchise’s best? How competent will the Canucks, Ducks, and others be?

Fiala and some nice improvements from prospects aren’t likely to push the Kings to the truly elite level. Would you be surprised if the Kings made the playoffs and maybe even won a round or two next season, though? That’s already the sort of progress that eludes other rebuilding teams for many years.

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    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract Sunday, after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat on Monday. He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division on Saturday despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said Saturday after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena on Thursday.

    Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

    They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

    “We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

    Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

    With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

    “Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

    The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

    METROPOLITAN DIVISION

    The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

    “This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

    The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

    “Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

    They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

    “I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

    ATLANTIC

    The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

    But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

    “You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

    The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

    CENTRAL

    Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

    “It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

    They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

    “Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

    PACIFIC

    Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

    The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

    Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

    “It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

    Capitals sign Sonny Milano to 3-year, $5.7 million extension

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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    ARLINGTON, Va. — The Washington Capitals signed winger Sonny Milano to a three-year extension worth $5.7 million.

    General manager Brian MacLellan announced the contract, adding to an already busy All-Star break for taking care of future business. The Capitals extended forward Dylan Strome for five years, $25 million.

    Like Strome, Milano has fit in as a new addition for Washington. He’s now set to count $1.9 million against the salary cap through the 2025-26 season.

    The 26-year-old Milano has been a near-perfect bargain signing for the Capitals after joining them on an NHL veteran one-year deal after this season got underway. He has eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 40 games since getting called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League.

    Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 16th in 2014, Milano split his first eight seasons in the league with them and the Anaheim Ducks. He went unsigned as an unrestricted free agent last summer despite putting up 34 points in 66 games with Anaheim.

    Rivals Crosby and Ovechkin relish being All-Star teammates

    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have played dozens of regular-season and playoff games against each other since breaking into the NHL together in 2005.

    The longtime rivals and respective captains of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have also shared the ice at All-Star Games before. But with each superstar in his mid-30s, they know this trip could be their last together.

    They took advantage of it, with Ovechkin setting up Crosby for two goals Saturday in the lone game of the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament their Metropolitan Division team got to play.

    “I think we have fun to play together, not against each other,” Ovechkin said, flashing his gap-toothed smile. “Right now, we was on the same team, and it was pretty special, pretty good moment.”

    Crosby, who also had the secondary assist on Ovechkin’s goal, did not expect to get the puck back. That’s not unreasonable given Ovechkin has built a career on scoring and is only 82 goals back of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL career record.

    “I was thinking I just did my job: gave it to him,” said Crosby, whose career numbers are so close to Ovechkin’s that he has just five more points overall. “I thought he was just going finish it, but he was kind enough to send me a couple back. We had some nice goals there.”

    Not enough to win the 3-on-3 semifinal against the Atlantic, which beat the Central in the final. Ovechkin lamented not scoring more and took some jabs at his goalie teammates for a day: fellow Russians Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers and Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders.

    “Obviously goalie could play better,” Ovechkin said.

    Crosby and Ovechkin being together at All-Star weekend for the first time since 2018 was one of the themes of the weekend, given how they shared the stage as faces of the NHL for much of their careers. But they don’t want this to be a Sid and Ovi swan song and could do this again as soon as next year when the festivities are in Toronto.

    “You try to go out there have fun and stay in the moment,” Crosby said. “Hopefully, it’s not our last one. That’s the best way to approach it.”

    HOMETOWN HEROICS

    The introductions for Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk were saved for last.

    And of course, the two Florida Panthers stars, representing the Atlantic Division, delivered in their home arena.

    “We play regular-season and playoff games here, but with this event, it’s even more special to be here representing the Florida Panthers,” Barkov said.

    Tkachuk was clearly comfortable playing in the same arena where has amassed 66 points (sixth in the NHL) this season with the Panthers. He had seven points (four goals, three assists) Saturday, including a goal and an assist in the Atlantic Division’s 7-5 win over the Central Division to take the All-Star game title.

    Tkachuk had a hat trick and a pair of assists in the Atlantic squad’s semifinal game against the Metropolitan division – tying a single-game points record for the 3-on-3 All-Star format. Two of those goals were assisted by his Panthers teammate to give their squad a win 10-6 and advance to face the Central division the final.

    By the time Barkov and Tkachuk came out for the All-Star game final, “Let’s go Panthers!” cheers were being belted throughout FLA Live Arena.

    Barkov, the beloved Panther in his 10th season, has 14 goals this year and 33 assists. He has 234 career goals and 600 points.

    BROTHERLY LOVE

    Brothers Matthew Tkachuk and Brady Tkachuk have played against each other plenty over the years. But with both players starting for the Atlantic division, they got to experience playing together as the 11th set of brothers to be All-Star teammates.

    The brothers each had a goal in Saturday’s semifinal game between the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions. And Brady assisted on his brother’s goal in the final against the Central division.

    Matthew, drafted in 2016 by the Calgary Flames, is a two-time All-Star with 177 career goals and 448 points.

    Brady, the younger Tkachuk sibling, was drafted in 2018 by the Ottawa Senators and has 110 career goals and 243 points.

    Both were All-Stars back in 2020 in their hometown St. Louis. Brady represented the Atlantic division, while Matthew represented the Pacific squad.

    WEATHER WOES

    It was 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius) outside FLA Live Arena when the All-Star 3 on-3 tournament started – more than 50 degrees warmer than 2024 host Toronto. That doesn’t mean this year’s event didn’t have a weather issue.

    The NHL All-Star Beach Festival – which had areas where fans could test their hockey skills, get a photo with the Stanley Cup and check out a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit, among other things – couldn’t open on Saturday.

    Rain in the morning delayed the opening on Fort Lauderdale Beach, and then 40 mph (64 kilometers per hour) wind gusts later in the day forced the NHL into keeping it closed and calling off a watch party for the All-Star Game.

    It was open Thursday and Friday.