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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    Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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    FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

    The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    “Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

    A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    “Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

    Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

    Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

    “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Robertson will finally be there now.

    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

    TORTS REFORM

    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

    PLAYOFF ROTATION

    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

    LAMBERT ISLAND

    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

    MORE NEW VOICES

    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.