There are some players who make solid, reasonable improvements in platform years before they need new contracts. Then there are players like Adrian Kempe. In the final year of his $2MM AAV bridge contract, Kempe smashed his career highs in offensive production. Kempe led the Kings with 35 goals and added on 19 assists, finishing with 54 points which was good for second on the team behind linemate Anze Kopitar. Kempe showed that the improved offensive form he flashed in 2020-21, when he had 14 goals and 29 points in 56 games (20-goal, 42-point pace) was not a fluke. Before that point, Kempe had been typically seen as someone capable of scoring around 15 goals and 30 points a season, so his 35-goal outburst was extremely impressive.
It also has likely made him quite a bit of money. Kempe is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent and is close to unrestricted free agency. Kempe has communicated a desire to stay in Los Angeles, saying definitively in his post-season press conference that he would like to sign a long-term deal with the Kings. The conflict, then, comes in terms of finding exactly what that long-term deal will look like. The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman reports (subscription link) that the Kings and Kempe’s representation have had “early discussions” but “nothing substantial” in the way of negotiations on a new Kempe contract. As a newly-minted 35-goal-scorer, Kempe’s deal could now cost over $5MM per year, and Dillman pointed to St. Louis Blues forward Pavel Buchnevich and his five-year, $5.8MM contract as a comparable for Kempe. There is always the risk that paying based off of Kempe’s one breakout year burns the Kings if Kempe reverts back to his prior production, but on the flip side there’s also the risk that another year of strong production drives Kempe’s price up even more. With the Kings eager to improve upon a season where they made the playoffs for the first time under coach Todd McLellan, getting Kempe locked into a long-term deal should be a priority for this summer.
Now, for some other notes regarding the league’s Western-Conference teams:
- KHL forward Andrei Kuzmenko’s decision on where to sign for next season has been a bit of a drawn-out process, with interviews and multiple weeks of engaging NHL suitors in negotiations. With that said, though, Kuzmenko’s decision is one that will have major consequences for his career, so he has every right to take as long as he needs to make the decision that’s best for him. Even so, we could be nearing the end of the process. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Kuzmenko is interviewing with both the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks this week, along with two “U.S.-based” teams. Dreger adds that Kuzmenko is “hoping” to make his decision in the next ten days. Kuzmenko was brilliant for SKA St. Petersburg this season, scoring 53 points in 45 games. Some believe that Kuzmenko will step into the NHL and become an instant top-six scoring forward, meaning Kuzmenko’s decision process has some real stakes attached.
- The Minnesota Wild announced today that they will play two games against the Chicago Blackhawks in this year’s Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase. The games will be on September 17th and 18th in Chicago, and the team says that rosters and additional information will be made available at a later date. The Wild have the third-ranked prospect pool in the NHL, per The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler (subscription link), so those two dates are definitely ones to circle on the calendar for fans of the Wild, Blackhawks, and prospects in general.
88good ol days
Kempe finally has a set position at RW. He’s been moved back and forth to center since he was called up so he hasn’t had the chance to focus on just one position. This year was no fluke. It was the first of many 30+ to come. GKG!!!
He is legit one of my favorite players to watch not from my own team. His game has similarities to Erik Cole who was really fun to watch as well.
I love that Kempe had a breakthrough season, but I hope he isn’t overpaid… fingers crossed Blakey can keep him for around for $6 mil per… we’ll see… #GKG
If LA is smart Kempe gets about 4.5×4. Then he can collect his big payday if his numbers hold. The guy will still only be losing 2 years of UFA on that deal and getting a substantial raise from his 2M deal.
Overly premature hype on Kuzmenko!