Free agency is now less than a month away and many teams are already looking ahead to when it opens up. There will be several prominent players set to hit the open market in mid-July while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign as well. Next up is a look at the Kings.
Key Restricted Free Agents:
F Brendan Lemieux – After being traded three times in his career, first from the Buffalo Sabres to the Winnipeg Jets, then to the New York Rangers, and finally to the Kings, the known agitator seems to have finally settled in with Los Angeles in a role that fits him. Despite being out of playoff contention in 2020-21, the Kings made the move to acquire Lemieux from the Rangers ahead of the trade deadline, using him to protect their young players and get under the skin of their opponents. Not necessarily known for his scoring, Lemieux has just 60 points in 230 career games, 13 points and 50 games coming this past season, but does carry 410 career penalty minutes, 97 of which came in 2021-22. Coming off a two-year deal that carried a $1.55MM AAV, Lemieux’s next contract may not look much different, but with what he’s brought to the Kings, he presumably won’t have to worry much about getting another NHL deal.
F Adrian Kempe – Besides finding a way to help the organization take the next step in its accelerated rebuild, perhaps the biggest agenda item for Kings’ GM Rob Blake this offseason will be a new contract for the All Star forward. Kempe, who will turn 26 in September, had a sensational breakout season for Los Angeles, finding the back of the net 35 times, adding 19 assists for 54 points in 78 games. Before his breakout, Kempe was most likely going to see a raise over the $2MM AAV he carried the past three seasons, given his average of 31 points per 82 games over the life of that contract. However, by eclipsing that average point total just in goals scored this season, being relatively close to UFA status, and his arbitration eligibility, Kempe could see a major bump in salary this offseason, especially if the Kings are looking at a long-term agreement.
D Sean Durzi – Originally a second-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018 and later traded for defenseman Jake Muzzin, Durzi took some time to make it to the NHL, but has now established himself as a piece of the Kings future on the blueline. The 23-year-old made his NHL debut on November 24th against the team that drafted him, skating in all of the Kings’ final 64 games, recording 27 points and averaging 19:36 in time-on-ice, good for sixth amongst Kings’ skaters. Given his experience, Durzi isn’t yet arbitration eligible, but he could still wind up with a rather significant contract extension due to his age and his emergence as a building block in Los Angeles.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents:
F Andreas Athanasiou – The soon-to-be 28-year-old had the unfortunate luck of dealing with injuries throughout his walk-year, playing in just 28 games this season. On the bright side for Athanasiou, he did manage 17 points in that span, the second-highest points-per-game total of his career. After being allowed to leave the Edmonton Oilers following the 2019-20 season, Athanasiou signed a one-year, $1.2MM contract for the shortened 2020-21 season, where he impressed with 23 points n 47 games, earning a one-year, $2.7MM contract for this season. Athanasiou may have been due a higher salary and perhaps additional term this time around, but given his injury issues this season, that may not be the case. Still, given his production when he is in the lineup, the Kings could realistically bring Athanasiou back, and supplement his spot in the lineup with some of their younger players if the injuries persist.
D Alexander Edler – Once seen as a lifetime member of the Vancouver Canucks, Edler wasn’t brought back to Vancouver after the 2020-21 season and ultimately signed a one-year contract worth $3.5MM with Los Angeles. Edler had a solid bounce-back season with the Kings, albeit in limited action, recording 19 points in 41 games, including an impressive plus-18 rating. The 36-year-old defenseman probably won’t be offered the career-high $6MM AAV he carried in 2019-20 and 2020-21, but did show this season that he absolutely still belongs in the NHL if he wants to stay. What Edler chooses to do is still up in the air, as he may not want to venture too far from the west coast where he has spent his entire NHL career, but options may be more limited for an older defenseman who could command at least $3.5MM next year, if not more.
D Olli Maatta – Not the player he was when he burst onto the scene with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013-14, Maatta has revived his career to an extent, showing he can be a reliable player on an NHL team. Though recording just eight points in 60 games with the Kings this season, Maatta did show promise with his plus-17 rating in 18:17 of average time-on-ice. The six-year, $24.5MM contract he just finished is likely not something he will find as a UFA this offseason, but Maatta should be an intriguing option for a number of teams, now marketed as a steady veteran defenseman.
Projected Cap Space:
Los Angeles projects to have just under $20MM in cap space this offseason, $19.863MM to be exact, with only a few semi-expensive moves to make. For one, they will have to give Kempe his predictably large raise and while they may be able to bring Durzi back on a team-friendly cap hit, they may be better off inking the defenseman long-term given his age, but that may create a larger cap hit than necessary for next season. Although $20MM may seem a bit low for a team that is still coming off of a rebuild, when factoring in the fact that the Kings have a bulk of their core signed for multiple seasons, including Anze Kopitar, Phillip Danault, and Drew Doughty who are all already signed long-term, the number feels more understandable and workable.
With the remaining space, the King will likely look to add a few pieces to help round out a team that wasn’t necessarily expected to make the playoffs this season, let alone take the Oilers to seven games in the first round, especially considering they got just 39 games total from Doughty, a franchise cornerstone. If the organization wants to create additional cap space, they could look to trade goaltender Jonathan Quick, who carries a $5.8MM cap hit next season, and move onto Calvin Petersen full-time.