- Kings defenseman Derek Forbort recently took part in a full skate with AHL Ontario, mentions Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider. He has missed the entire season as he continues to work his way back from a back injury. It’s a contract year for the 27-year-old who will enter unrestricted free agency for the first time in July so getting back is of particular importance for him. As for Los Angeles, if Forbort returns to form, he could be one of the more intriguing trade candidates closer to the trade deadline.
After recently seeing his NHL contract with the Los Angeles Kings terminated, Mario Kempe has found a new home. The Swedish forward has signed a contract with CSKA Moscow in the KHL that takes him through the 2020-21 season. Kempe cleared unconditional waivers yesterday and left the Kings organization after just 16 games with their minor league affiliate.
Kempe, 31, has played just three seasons in North America since coming back over (he spent some time as a junior in the QMJHL) but even after playing 52 games with the Arizona Coyotes last season failed to really establish himself as a full-time NHL option. Signing a one-year contract with the Kings and joining his brother Adrian Kempe, he spent the first quarter of this season in the minor leagues.
He’ll return to the KHL where he spent three seasons between 2014-2017 and could very well never return to the North American game. Though he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021, he’ll also turn 33 before the 2021-22 season would get underway.
Wednesday: Kempe has cleared waivers.
Tuesday: According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the Los Angeles Kings have placed Mario Kempe (no, not Adrian Kempe) on unconditional waivers, a move that usually precedes a mutual contract termination. Kempe has played 16 games with the Ontario Reign this season, scoring 11 points. He is expected to sign in the KHL, with Igor Eronko of Sport-Express reporting that he has been in talks with Omsk Avangard.
The 31-year old Kempe returned to North America in 2017 after spending several years back in Sweden and the KHL, signing a one-year deal with the Arizona Coyotes. He ended up playing very well for their minor league affiliate and earned himself 70 games of NHL action over two seasons with the organization, before signing with the Kings in the summer.
Though losing him may be hard on his brother, the Kings aren’t really giving up much by letting Kempe head back overseas. The organization is in a rebuild and needs room in the minor leagues for their young prospects, and obviously weren’t going to give a real opportunity to him at the NHL level.
Technically, Kempe will become an unrestricted free agent and could sign with another NHL team, though that doesn’t seem likely at this point.
The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter for Gabe Vilardi. The chronically-injured Los Angeles Kings prospect has been added to the Ontario Reign roster according to the AHL transactions page after being on the season-opening injured reserve list to this point. John Hoven reports that Vilardi is expected to make his season debut for the Reign this weekend.
Vilardi, 20, has played in just 52 total games since being selected 11th overall in 2017. That’s including the junior and professional levels, though the vast majority were with the Kingston Frontenacs at the end of the 2017-18 season. Last year he was limited to just four contests with Ontario, thanks to a troubling back injury that has derailed the early part of his career in the Los Angeles organization.
When healthy, Vilardi has shown the ability to be an absolute force in the offensive zone, protecting the puck down low and creating scoring opportunities at will. Because of his strong defensive tendencies he was also regarded as a potential first-line center prospect, though at this point it isn’t clear where his future will take him.
The Kings are obviously still excited about the young forward, but at this point the NHL still seems a distant goal. Vilardi needs to get back into games and see how his body responds after such a long layoff. He’ll get that chance in Ontario where the Reign are about to lose a key forward in Mario Kempe after he asked for a contract termination to pursue an opportunity in the KHL.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, there were few expectations for New York Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss, who had struggled greatly as the Isles’ backup the year before. Yet, in the system implemented by new head coach Barry Trotz, Greiss excelled. He enjoyed the best season of his career, posting a .927 save percentage and 2.28 GAA in 43 games and sharing the Jennings Trophy with Robin Lehner. Yet, following the departure of Lehner this summer and the signing of Semyon Varlamov to an expensive, long-term contract, the only new expectations for Greiss were of the pessimistic kind. Many assumed that he could not possibly replicate last season, either due to a drop-off in performance or a lesser role. However, that has not been the case thus far. In fact, Greiss currently leads the league in both save percentage and goals against average through nine appearances.
The only real difference between this season and last for Greiss is what is at stake. The red-hot keeper is in the final season of a three-year, $10MM deal with New York and he knows that every game this year matters a little more when it comes to negotiating his next deal. For that reason though, Greiss tells Newsday’s Andrew Gross that he will save contract talk for the off-season. Although he could take advantage of his strong start, he also acknowledged that a slump could just as easily shift the status quo of those talks. The veteran netminder would rather play out the year and be able to take everything into account before negotiating a possible extension with the Islanders. This will also include the play of Varlamov, who has three years and $15MM remaining on his contract, and the status of Ilya Sorokin, the KHL keeper expected to be the Isles’ future in net. Like Greiss, Sorokin’s numbers are stunningly strong so far this season with CSKA Moscow and the team may feel the time has come to bring him over this summer. If so, Greiss would be unlikely to re-sign with New York, at least not at the price point he could command on the open market, and will become an intriguing free agent option this summer. However, for now the league’s top stopper wants to remain focused on the season: “It is what it is. Contract year or not, you’re working and you want to do your best so you can have success as a team.”
- The situation in Los Angeles is complex, and probably even more so than what has been released to the public. Veteran forward Ilya Kovalchuk has been benched and there has been no indication from the Kings that his status will change any time soon. Yet, Kovalchuk has a $6.25MM cap hit this year and next and a 35+ contract which does not allow for any salary cap relief from a buyout. Unless Kovalchuk becomes desperate enough to move on with his hockey career that he is willing to negotiate a mutual termination of his contract (doubtful), a trade is likely the only way for the two sides to part ways. Yet, as TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports, there is little interest in Kovalchuk right now and his camp is concerned that there never will be if he does not get back into the lineup. LeBrun notes that agent J.P. Barry has been in constant contact with GM Rob Blake and the Kings about how to solve this situation, but L.A. does not seem willing to put Kovalchuk back on the ice just yet. In fact, as Brian La Rose discussed in his most recent mailbag, the team may be willing to wait another month before making a change, as Kovalchuk is due a considerable signing bonus on December 15 and his value on the trade market could shift once that has been paid. A team with financial limitations may be more willing to take a chance on the veteran scorer, or even just to eat his salary, once some of the real money is off the table. Barry and company will no doubt campaign for Kovalchuk to bet back in the lineup prior to late December, but can do little about it if the Kings continue to feel that they do not benefit from having him on the ice.
- Tyler Moy, a former Nashville Predators prospect, is trying to reinvent himself in Switzerland with an eye on a return to the NHL. Moy, 24, was originally a sixth-round pick of the Predators in 2015 as an overage prospect out of Harvard University. After a four-year collegiate career, including a breakout senior campaign, Moy turned pro and enjoyed a solid if not unspectacular first pro season with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals in 2017-18. Last year, he failed to get off to a strong start and eventually requested his release from his entry-level contract in November. Moy, a California native, ventured to Switzerland, the other country of which he is a citizen, and made an immediate splash with Lausanne HC of the NLA. Now in his second season with the team, Moy continues to play well and Axel Jeroma writes for NHL.com that he has shown improvement in every area of the game since crossing the Atlantic. While Moy is currently focused on winning a title with Lausanne, he admits that he would like to return to North America in the “foreseeable future” and plans to talk to NHL teams this summer. Without game-breaking offensive ability, Moy may not be able to jump directly into the NHL, but as he continues to develop a mature, complete game, the young forward would be more prepared to succeed in the AHL the second time around.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby are weighing a decision of whether or not the superstar should get surgery to fix a sport hernia, according to Rob Rossi of The Athletic. Crosby has dealing with it since training camp and aggravated it on Saturday night.
Surgery would take the Penguins’ captain out for at least a month, but that’s a tough proposition given the injuries that the team has already fought through to even keep their head above water. Without Crosby, Pittsburgh certainly wouldn’t have a 10-6-2 through the first part of the season.
- Wayne Gretzky was offered the head coaching position for Canada at the upcoming Spengler Cup, but has turned it down according to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. Team Canada, led by Sean Burke, will look at other options that include Craig MacTavish according to Darren Dreger of TSN.
- Ilya Kovalchuk was at Los Angeles Kings practice today but things remain “fluid” as several reporters have termed the situation. The Kings have looked at trading him in the past, as Jon Rosen points out, but there are several complications including his bonus money due on December 15th.
The Los Angeles Kings have decided that Ilya Kovalchuk will not be playing for them, at least not for the next while. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet is reporting that the team informed Kovalchuk he will not be in the lineup “for the foreseeable future,” though he is still allowed to practice with the team. Friedman does not expound or speculate on why the veteran forward has been removed.
Kovalchuk, 36, signed a three-year $18.75MM contract in the summer of 2018 after playing five seasons in the KHL. The enigmatic forward had “retired” from the NHL previously, but decided to return after his exclusive rights with the New Jersey Devils expired. Things haven’t gone swimmingly in Los Angeles however, as Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch at times last season and recorded just 34 points in 64 games.
This season under a new coaching staff led by Todd McLellan—the third head coach since Kovalchuk’s arrival—he had seen even less ice time than a year ago, averaging just over 15 minutes a night. Kovalchuk has provided nine points in 17 games (which actually put him third among all Kings’ forwards), but still isn’t that impact player he had been before his years in Russia.
Though details are thin, this will obviously lead to plenty of speculation about a potential trade. Currently, Kovalchuk has a full no-movement clause (which also means he can’t be sent to the minor leagues) and could basically choose his destination out of any suitors. Whether there will be much interest at this point is unclear, though teams have expressed some in the past.
At last season’s trade deadline, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic wrote that Kovalchuk was “definitely available” and that he would waive his clause if the right fit presented itself. One important thing to note is that if Kovalchuk decided to retire again, the Kings would still carry his full $6.25MM cap hit because his contract was signed after his 35th birthday. After December 15th when his next bonus payment is due, more than $13.8MM of his contract will have already been paid out in signing bonuses and salary.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
It’s a busy Tuesday evening in the NHL as nine games are scheduled including some prime divisional matchups. Perhaps most notable is the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets facing off for second place in the Central, a position either would gladly take after the unfortunate circumstances they’ve each dealt with. The Avalanche are still without two-thirds of their top line, while the Jets are trying to figure out how to piece together an NHL defense. As teams prepare for tonight’s action, we’ll keep track of all the minor moves.
- Rudolfs Balcers has been activated off season-opening injured reserve and assigned to the Belleville Senators, indicating he’s ready to action. The 22-year old played in 36 games for the Ottawa Senators last season and will likely be back in the NHL once he gets his feet under him this season.
- The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t wait for Michael Hutchinson to clear waivers at noon today as they’ve already recalled Kasimir Kaskisuo from the minor leagues. The team has also brought back Nic Petan, who now has seven points through three games in the minor leagues. Kaskisuo is expected to get a crack at the backup role this weekend.
- Jacob Middleton has been activated off injured reserve and sent to the AHL, a good sign that he’s ready to return to action. The 23-year old defenseman played in one game for the San Jose Sharks earlier this season and is an important part of the defense corps for the San Jose Barracuda.
- The Los Angeles Kings have recalled Matt Luff, bringing him back to the team for the first time this season. Luff scored eight goals and 11 points in 33 games with Los Angeles in 2018-19, but has spent the first part of this season with the Ontario Reign.
- Otto Koivula has been included in his near daily transaction, this time recalled from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The New York Islanders have been bouncing Koivula back and forth all season, but he still hasn’t played in a single NHL game.
The NHL has released their Three Stars for last week and at the very top is a name not many expected when the season began. Ottawa Senators goaltender Anders Nilsson has been given the first star after stopping 96 of 101 shots for a 3-0 record. Nilsson has actually been excellent since joining the Senators last season, posting a .919 save percentage in 32 appearances.
Two youngsters took home the other two spots, as Auston Matthews and Cale Makar were named second and third respectively. The Toronto Maple Leafs forward has jumped all the way up to sixth in the NHL scoring race after recording nine points last week, while Makar now easily leads all rookies with 17 points through the first part of the season and looks to be running away with the Calder Trophy.
- The Detroit Red Wings will be without Justin Abdelkader for at least three weeks according to head coach Jeff Blashill. The veteran forward is out with a mid-body injury after blocking a shot in Sunday’s game. Once an important part of the Red Wings’ attack, Abdelkader has zero goals through the first 16 games and is averaging just 13 minutes a night.
- Trevor Lewis has been placed on injured reserve after missing Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury. It’s not clear how long Lewis will be out, but his absence just opens up more opportunity for the young forwards in Los Angeles to show the Kings’ front office what they can do.
It isn’t hard to think of who the Los Angeles Kings’ best defenseman is — Drew Doughty. It’s an automatic response. However, that may not have been the case through 15 games this season. The Athletic’s Jordan Samuels-Thomas (subscription required) writes that Sean Walker has been the unsung hero on defense for a Kings’ team that has struggled this year.
The 5-foot-11, 194-pound blueliner has been the top performer in most statistical categories for the Kings’ this year. He ranks second among defensemen with six points, but is tops in 5×5 play in Corsi-for per/60 and Corsi-for percentage, while he is also third among Kings’ defensemen in expected goals per/60, while also showing off strong offense and possession numbers.
While Walker doesn’t have the immense talent that Doughty had, he has been a bright spot on the Kings’ current roster.
- Las Vegas Review Journal’s David Schoen reports that Vegas Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch had a setback Friday after sustaining an upper-body injury last week. The original hope was for Tuch to meet up with the team on their road trip, but with just two days remaining on that trip, it doesn’t look like Tuch will be meeting up with the team. “I was hoping he was going to come in for this trip. He’s not coming in. There’s nothing that changed with his injury,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. Tuch has appeared in just two games for the Golden Knights this season.
- Adrian Dater of ColoradoHockeyNow reports that Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen’s status remains vague. Rantanen has been working out on his own, but has yet to skate on the ice as of yet. The forward was injured on Oct. 21, suffering a lower-body injury, but head coach Jared Bednar said he had no idea when Rantanen might get back on the ice.
- Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker got the point after the first period Thursday night when head coach Bruce Boudreau benched him for a large amount of time in the final 40 minutes of play after the winger struggled defensively that allowed the San Jose Sharks to get out to an early lead. According to Michael Russo of The Athletic (subscription required), Zucker only played two shifts in the second period and five in the third, playing in a season-low 10:09. “We talk about it all the time. We show him all the time,” Boudreau said about Zucker’s defensive struggles. “He’s gotta be committed to doing it all the time, not just when you feel like it.”