Kings spending more like contenders, rebuild over or not

Kings spending more like contenders, rebuild over or not
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By almost any measure, making the playoffs earlier than expected is and was a fantastic development for the Kings.

Sometimes, when your legs start moving to a quicker tempo, you do risk stumbling a bit. With that in mind, it’s fascinating to watch as the Kings continue to accelerate away from their rebuild — and ascend the ranks where they’re not far away from the NHL’s biggest spenders.

Consider some of the fuel the Kings consumed to try to rocket up the ranks, and possibly put that rebuild totally behind them.

After acquiring and signing Fiala, Kings extend Kempe

In one of the splashier moves of this offseason, the Kings traded defensive prospect Brock Faber and the 19th pick in the 2022 NHL Draft for Kevin Fiala‘s rights. The Kings handed Fiala a bold seven-year contract with a $7.875 million cap hit in late June.

A couple weeks later, the Kings retained their in-house scoring threat, signing Adrian Kempe to a four-year contract with a $5.5M cap hit.

Now, these expenditures range between “reasonable enough.”

And potentially quite nice.

Yet, the combined cost (close to $13.4M per year for multiple years) of Kempe + Fiala really drives home a point. These aren’t your low-spending, rebuilding Kings anymore.

Are the Kings truly out of their rebuild stage, though? Well, they kinda have to be, barring a pivot or two. Let’s ponder a salary cap outlook for the Kings, and their place in the Pacific Division, Western Conference, and NHL.

Kings salary cap shrinking rapidly

Via Cap Friendly, the Kings possess almost $6.5M in cap space. That projection comes with 17 roster spots covered.

Sean Durzi headlines quite the bundle of RFAs, while the Kings also face decisions on veteran could-be unrestricted free agent defensemen in Alexander Edler and Olli Määttä.

With Drew Doughty and Sean Walker injured last season, young Kings defensemen Durzi and Jordan Spence handled elevated roles remarkably well. For the most part.

(Any defenseman’s going to struggle against Connor McDavid.)

Considering the emergence of Durzi and Spence, and the hopeful healthy returns of Doughty and/or Walker, the Kings may be able to say goodbye to a veteran blueliner or two.

At the forward level, they might also see a prospect or two make a jump — thus filling a roster spot cheaply.

With that in mind, the Kings don’t necessarily need to trade one of their two goalies Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen. Still, the duo costs a combined $10.8 million in salary cap space; Quick’s entering a contract year at $5.8M, while Petersen’s $5M cap hit lasts through 2024-25.

Trading one of the two might end up making at least some sense.

[And NHL teams in need of goalies may very well be better off going the trade route]

Barring a trade of Quick or Petersen, the Kings figure to enter next season fairly close to the salary cap ceiling. It’s quite the rapid ascension to a team that didn’t look ready for the throne as recently as last offseason.

(Although even then, they did make investments to get closer to a competent level in trading for Viktor Arvidsson and signing Phillip Danault.)

Bigger spending brings higher expectations, and larger risks. What if the Kings’ path is less of a straight line up, and instead a journey with ups and downs?

What if the Kings overachieved in 2021-22?

Sometimes, a team makes the playoffs earlier than expected, then overreacts.

The Kings merely need to look to Pacific Division opponent Vancouver for an example of getting too hasty.

After losing in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks fell in the First Round three times, and missed the playoffs once. Then the real downfall happened, as the Canucks missed the playoffs four years in a row (2015-16 through 2018-19).

Yet, in 2019-20, the Canucks didn’t just survive the Qualifying Round in the strange playoff bubble setup. They beat both the Wild and Blues in series, then pushed the Golden Knights to a Game 7.

During the Jim Benning era, the Canucks always seemed to try to force the process to speed up. Sometimes, it meant adding the sort of veterans you’d hope were the last missing pieces before they actually had most of the actual pieces that matter in place. Heaving it down the field rarely worked for Vancouver, and at times, it seemed like the entire process actually hurt the development of young players like Elias Pettersson.

Now, the Kings haven’t blundered in Benning-like ways. Sure, there was some risk involved with the Danault contract, but he’s the sort of player who can really move the needle at a reasonable price. For a team that played structured hockey yet couldn’t really finish, a game-breaker like Kevin Fiala could be a godsend.

And the Kings still possess most of the pieces of a farm system graded among the best in the NHL. It’s not like they’ve “mortgaged their future.”

Maybe the point, then, is to practice a certain bit of patience. Or at least accept a degree of uncertainty.

A lot of variables in the West

Look around the West, and you can talk yourself in and out of the Kings being a clear playoff team.

While the Avalanche look solid, others could go plenty of ways. The Flames may not be powers without Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, or both. The Canucks and Jets hope last season was just a hiccup, and the Golden Knights really hope that they’ll return to form.

All of those variables create a hazy outlook for Los Angeles. Maybe everything clicks, and a team that got a lot of the “process” part of being a successful team right …

Kings spending more like contenders, rebuild over or not 2021-22 Evolving Hockey Team RAPM
(via Evolving Hockey)

… Will enjoy some luck in the form of scoring more goals on all of those chances?

On the other side, the Kings may also go through some growing pains. If that happens, and other West teams get a lot better, a playoff appearance is no guarantee.

That may seem gloomy, but it’s only a cause for concern if the Kings lose sight of what’s been an impressive vision during their rebuild. They’re entering that challenging stage where “potential” needs to result in production. Sometimes that’s not just a linear flight upward, but a journey with peaks and valleys.

Keep a cool head, and the Kings could really be onto something. Either sooner or later.

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    Panthers offer Sarah Nurse deal to lead girls hockey program

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    FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are trying to sign a high-scoring forward who has an Olympic gold medal and two world championships, with hopes of getting the deal done in the coming days.

    If it happens, she won’t be playing for the Panthers.

    Sarah Nurse, the Canadian forward who had a highlight-reel goal against the New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin during the NHL’s All-Star Skills Competition, has the chance to run the Panthers’ new program designed to get more girls playing hockey.

    Florida president Matthew Caldwell offered the job to Nurse publicly – very publicly, at a lectern, with a microphone, before a crowd of onlookers. And he was serious.

    “I’m going to embarrass you, but we’re going to offer you a job today,” Caldwell told Nurse, who was seated in the crowd. “We want you to be the face of our girls program at the War Memorial. So, are you in? On the spot? We don’t deal with agents, OK. I’m a tough negotiator.”

    The idea to hire Nurse was first floated to Caldwell by Melissa Fitzgerald. She’s the general manager for the War Memorial, which is the two-rink facility being refurbished by the team and will become its practice headquarters.

    “We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks,” Caldwell told The Associated Press. “Our youth hockey team kind of brought it up as a joke to me, but I said, `Let’s think big. We’re building this huge facility. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”‘

    The only part Caldwell was less than serious about with Nurse was how the Panthers don’t deal with agents. He spoke with Nurse’s representative, Thomas Houlton, after the event.

    Houlton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He and Caldwell spoke for about 15 minutes after the event, which was attended by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Panthers stars Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk, and dozens of kids who got to play ball hockey afterward.

    Nurse played for Canada’s world-champion teams in 2021 and 2022, along with Canada’s Olympic gold winners at the Beijing Games last year.

    She was one of five women’s players from USA Hockey and Team Canada – the two most dominant women’s national teams in the world – who were part of the skills events. She wore custom skates highlighting Black History month and the Black Girl Hockey Club, a nonprofit focused on getting more Black girls and women into the sport.

    She used a move made famous by Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg when he helped Sweden win gold at the 1994 Olympics against Shesterkin, a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie.

    U.S. star Hilary Knight didn’t think Nurse’s goal should have surprised anyone, saying, “she’s a top scorer.”

    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    “I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

    “It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.