- Curtis Zupke of the Los Angeles Times expects there to be at least one restricted free agent signing by the Los Angeles Kings today, which makes sense given it is the final day those who were issued qualifying offers can accept them. Adrian Kempe, Matt Roy, Michael Amadio, Sheldon Rempal, Daniel Brickley and Calvin Petersen are all still unsigned, and even the ones who were eligible (Petersen, Roy) did not file for arbitration. The team already has 43 contracts on the books, but maintains some flexibility since several of those will not count towards the total as they are headed back to their junior or European clubs.
The Los Angeles Kings announced they have signed defenseman Tobias Bjornfot to a three-year, entry-level contract. He was one of the Kings two first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, acquired in the Jake Muzzin trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Bjornfot was selected with the 22nd pick in the draft behind center Alex Turcotte (fifth overall). The Swedish blueliner spent the year with Djurgardens J20 of the SuperElit league in Sweden where he played 39 games, scoring 11 goals and 22 points. He also debuted in the SHL as he made seven appearances there, going scoreless. Bjornfot also helped Sweden to a bronze medal at the U18 World Junior Championships.
The 18-year-old is considered to be an excellent skater with a great two-way game, who has the ability to run a power play and has a heavy slapshot, but prefers a slapshot that he uses most often in games. While he isn’t overly tall at 6-foot, he does have some bulk as he already weighs in at 205 pounds and is capable of taking hits.
Before the Colorado Avalanche acquired Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a big deal involving Tyson Barrie, the Calgary Flames were close to acquiring the veteran center. However, Kadri refused to waive his 10-team no-trade clause that would have sent him in a deal that would have included defenseman T.J. Brodie.
The Calgary Sun’s Wes Gilbertson writes that Kadri did admit that he rejected the deal to Calgary in hopes of convincing the Maple Leafs that he wanted to stay with the team.
“What happened is they had a deal in place and they wanted me to move my no-trade clause,” Kadri explained. “Obviously, for me, it was no disrespect to Calgary or the Flames organization — I love their team and I love the direction they’re headed. I just figured that had I declined, I would have had a better opportunity of being a Maple Leaf next year, and that’s really what it came down to. “I wanted to play for the Leafs next year. I wanted to be a part of that. In declining that trade, I had aspirations of being a Leaf, and we know clearly that didn’t happen.”
Instead he did get traded to Colorado and now will take over as the team’s second-line center in hopes of developing a powerful secondary scoring line after their top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
- The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman (subscription required) delves into the drafting success of the Edmonton Oilers’ new director of amateur scouting, Tyler Wright, noting that while the long-time executive with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings has had lukewarm success drafting in the first round, he has been successful in the later rounds of drafts, having nabbed several key players late in the draft, including Josh Anderson, Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Filip Hronek and could provide value for Edmonton who hasn’t had as much luck later in the draft.
- In a mailbag piece, The Athletic’s Eric Stephens (subscription required) writes that while defenseman Hampus Lindholm is a solid top-pairing defenseman, his offense still hasn’t come around and at age 25, time is running out. The blueliner posted 34 points in his second season back in the 2014-15 season and hasn’t reached that target since then. However, Stephens writes that Lindholm was never a big fan of Randy Carlyle’s system and could thrive under new head coach Dallas Eakins and show off some more offense, potentially becoming a regular at 40 points.
- Looking back at the recent history of signings by the Los Angeles Kings, The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman (subscription required) looks at the best and worst deals handed out since 2009. Unfortunately for the Kings, the top bad contract is only kicking in this year as the eight-year, $88MM contract that star defenseman Drew Doughty signed a year ago is about to kick in at age 29. After a down season last year, the 29-year-old blueliner will be getting paid $11MM until he turns 37 years old. Not a good sign if people think that before he’s even started getting paid.
The Los Angeles Kings have signed one of their recent draft picks, inking Samuel Fagemo to a three-year entry-level contract. His contract is not expected to kick in until the 2020-21 season as he is likely headed back to the SHL this year.
Fagemo, 19, went undrafted in 2018 during his first year of eligibility but has been a target of the Kings for some time. This year they decided to spend the 50th overall pick on him after he drastically improved his skating ability and ended up one of the top young players in Sweden. In 42 regular season games with powerhouse club Frolunda, Fagemo recorded 14 goals and 25 points before blowing up in the playoffs for another six and ten in just 16 games. His team won the SHL title and would go on to win the Champions League as well, while Fagemo also suited up for Sweden at the World Juniors.
All that makes quite an impressive resume for the young forward, who will inject a healthy amount of skill into the Kings prospect pipeline. A natural goal scorer, he has shown an ability to take large developmental steps in a short period of time and could very well be challenging for a spot in Los Angeles next fall. There will be real opportunity on the Kings for young players over the next few years, something that should drive the second-round pick to get even better this year.
The Los Angeles Kings have re-signed restricted free agent Alex Iafallo to a two-year, $4.85MM contract. Iafallo had filed for salary arbitration and was set to have a hearing on July 20th, but will instead play the next two seasons at a $2.425MM cap hit and become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2021.
A free agent signing out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2017, Iafallo quickly established himself as a full-time player for the Kings. The undrafted winger played in 75 NHL games in his first professional season and recorded 25 points, only to improve that the following year. Part of that production is due to the fact that the Kings have been desperate for youth and skill on the wing, but make no mistake Iafallo has worked hard to deserve his playing time. The 25-year old scored 13 even-strength goals last season, ranking behind only Anze Kopitar’s 19 for the team lead.
As the Kings try to rebuild their group to contend in the future, there will be plenty of opportunity for Iafallo to establish himself as a core piece. If he can, the team will have the chance to sign him to a longer-term deal down the road, and if not he could be auctioned off as a complementary piece for a contending team.
Los Angeles still has several restricted free agents left to sign, including Adrian Kempe whose brother was recently brought into the organization. The team has just over $9.4MM in cap space to do it, meaning they’ll likely have plenty of wiggle room to operate with this season.
John Hovan was first to report the contract details.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
A week into free agency, the vast majority of PHR’s Top 50 Unrestricted Free Agents are under contract. Unsurprisingly, many of those left unsigned are on the wrong side of 30 or even at or approaching 40. Veterans tend to be later additions in free agency, as teams aren’t rushing to sign them to long-term deals to be core pieces, but rather seek to use them to plug holes in the lineup after the fact. As of now, there are nine names in the Top 50 that are legitimate candidates for retirement. Some have offers on the table and are taking their time to make a decision, while other may not have much of a market and could have to choose between a PTO or calling it a career. How many will choose retirement this summer?
Justin Williams, 37, enjoyed a tremendous 53-point season with the Carolina Hurricanes this past season and looked far from done. GM Don Waddell hinted that the captain will return next season, but until pen meets paper it remains a question mark. Williams was a key piece of the Hurricanes’ run to the Eastern Conference Final last season and would be a major loss for the team. However, he could opt to go out on top as a player who has seen very little drop-off in production through his 30’s and hit his highest point total since 2011-12 last season. Williams can still play, but the question is whether he wants to.
Joe Thornton, 40, not only wants to play next season, but wants to play several more years. The future Hall of Famer has already had an illustrious career, but has yet to win that elusive Stanley Cup. Thornton would like to return to the San Jose Sharks, one of only two teams he’s played for in his 21-year career, and the Sharks should be able to find the space to bring him back after moving out salary via trade and free agency departures. However, Thornton’s asking price will play a part – he did top 50 points again last season – as will the Sharks’ interest in bringing back another retirement threat. Patrick Marleau, 39, left San Jose two years ago to join the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has since been bought out and all signs point to a desire to return to the Sharks. These two legendary Sharks are both capable of continuing their NHL careers, but can San Jose fit them both and are either willing to sign elsewhere at this point in their careers?
Brian Boyle, 34, enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2018-19 and netted a second-round pick at the trade deadline. He clearly still has value as a big, smart two-way forward, but the lack of attention he has garnered thus far in free agency is curious. Boyle did not make as much of an impact in Nashville post-trade as he did in New Jersey and teams may be skeptical of his production moving forward. Between a cold market and recent health concerns, Boyle may be considering calling it a career while he’s still considered an elite defensive forward. However, it would be a surprise if there isn’t a team in the NHL who could still use Boyle’s ability.
Dion Phaneuf, 34, is fresh off of a buyout and should be available at a bargain rate as he continues to cash paychecks from the Los Angeles Kings. Phaneuf stated earlier this off-season that he would be happy to land with a contender, but is also open to taking on a mentor role with a young team. That would seemingly make him a candidate to join a number of D-needy teams. Yet, a week into free agency there has been almost no noise surrounding Phaneuf. The veteran still plays a strong checking game, but his offense and mobility fell off a cliff last season, resulting in drastic career lows in production and ice time. Teams may be hesitant to invest at his current asking price. Phaneuf may be looking at a decision between a short-term, minimum deal or walking away.
Ben Lovejoy, 35, is also coming off an uninspiring season. The Dallas Stars still felt he was worth a deadline gamble, but Lovejoy failed to make much of an impact offensively with either the Stars or Devils pre-trade. An experienced journeyman defenseman, Lovejoy still plays a strong defensive game and has great awareness in his own zone. However, when it comes to moving the puck he can be prone to turnovers and when asked to contribute offensively, he offers little. At this point in his career, Lovejoy is an ideal No. 7 or 8 defenseman. However, does he want to continue his playing career only to be used sparingly as a depth player? That’s the question.
Thomas Vanek, 35, is a tricky case. While his 36 points this season marked a career low, it also came in just 64 games and was one of the top marks for the Detroit Red Wings. Vanek has been a tough player to get a read on in recent years because he has moved around so much and played in a variety of roles. The eye test, combined with a plethora of rumors so far this summer, suggest that he can keep playing. But does a decorated veteran really want to continue being a hired gun and deadline deal year after year? If Vanek can find some security in a short-term contract, he will stick around in the NHL and likely continue to be a great value as a player capable of 50 points. However, the respected veteran may also be ready to call it a career if the right fit doesn’t exist.
Niklas Kronwall, 38, and Deryk Engelland, 37, are both in the same boat. They will either return to their current teams – the Red Wings and Golden Knights respectively – or they’ll retire. Neither is looking to move at this point in their careers, nor can they command salaries that their teams cannot pay. Instead, the duo are both valued for their leadership and loyalty and can still play well enough in a regular role or, more likely, thrive in a depth role. The question for both is simply how much they have left in the tank and whether it’s time to quit while they’re ahead.
So what do you think? Nine players, all with good reason to retire but also to keep playing, with various market factors at work. How many suit up in the NHL next season and how many make a final announcement in the coming weeks?
Adrian Kempe won’t have to visit Arizona anymore for family dinner. The Los Angeles Kings have signed his older brother Mario Kempe to a one-year, two-way contract worth $700K. The elder Kempe has spent the last two seasons in the Arizona Coyotes organization after a long international career in the SHL and KHL.
The 30-year old forward played 52 games for the Coyotes last season, recording nine points in limited ice time. He served as a part-time penalty killer, but was mostly given fourth-line ice time as an energy option for the team. Originally selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007, Kempe played just eight games for their AHL team before returning to Sweden and not coming back until 2017. Suiting up for them at the World Championship, he added two points in four games.
It’s important to note that the younger Kempe is currently a restricted free agent for the Kings and is an important part of the future in Los Angeles. Just 22-years old, Adrian scored 16 goals and 37 points in 2017-18 before taking a slight step backwards last season. Bringing in his brother may help the negotiation, though Mario is a good player in his own right and will be competing for a spot on the Kings’ roster come September.
As expected, Bogdan Kiselevich has returned home to Russia as soon as he could. The 29-year-old defenseman is back with CSKA Moscow after just one year in the NHL, as the team announced a new three-year deal. Kiselevich was clearly not impressed by his usage in North America, as word got out quickly after the season that he would return to the KHL, before even testing the NHL market. In his “rookie” season, Kiselevich played in 32 games with the Florida Panthers and contributed eight assists. Although some of his other underlying numbers suggested that Kiselevich was being underutilized in Florida, he worked mostly as the team’s No. 7. He was then traded to the Winnipeg Jets at the NHL Trade Deadline, slotting even lower in their depth chart, and did not play a single game in the regular season or postseason. Seeing as a fully healthy Kiselevich played just one game after January, it’s understandable that he was happy to return to a top role for an elite KHL club loaded with former NHLers.
- Count Zack Mitchell as another NHL castoff looking for a larger role in the KHL. After skating in 34 NHL games between two seasons with the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17/2017-18, Mitchell was relegated to the AHL for this entire past campaign after signing with the Los Angeles Kings last summer. Still a relatively young player at 26 who also has consistent AHL production and NHL experience, Mitchell likely felt he could do better. As a result, Mitchell has signed a one-year contract with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL, the team announced. A team that missed the playoffs last season and has few elite players or familiar NHL faces, Neftekhimik needs a elite addition and hopes Mitchell can fill that role. If he can lead them back to the Gagarin Cup stage behind a highly productive season, Mitchell will likely be able to find a deal back in North America next year.
- The Detroit Red Wings took a shot on young Slovakian goaltender Patrik Rybar last season after he had dominated the Slovakian and Czech pro ranks for several years. However, he ended up not getting much use as the fourth-string keeper in the organization. Rybar played in 37 AHL games and did not see any NHL action. In his minor league appearances, he also failed to put up the stupendous numbers that may have attracted another NHL suitor, posting a .908 save percentage and 2.49 GAA. Fortunately, those numbers were enough to turn heads in other major European leagues. Rybar has opted to sign with Karpat of the Finnish Liiga, the team announced. Karpat was the top team in the Liiga last year through the regular season and their play in net from Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Veini Vehvilainen and former NHLer Jussi Rynnas played no small role. With both of those keepers now gone, the Karpat net looks to belong to Rybar, with promising young goalie Justus Annunen, a Colorado Avalanche draft pick, as backup.
- Mark McNeill’s precipitous drop from relevance continued last season and he is taking a drastic measure to rediscover his game. A 2011 first-round pick, McNeill was considered the top prospect of the Chicago Blackhawks for many years. Yet, to date he has just two NHL appearances to his credit. However, the heavy forward still put up good numbers in the minors in the Blackhawks’ and Dallas Stars’ systems. That is, until the past two years, when McNeill bounced around from Dallas to Nashville to Boston and posted back-to-back career lows of 25 points. Now, he must repair his image and show he can be a reliable scorer and has chosen Austria as the place to do just that. McNeill has signed with EHC Linz of the EBEL, the Black Wings announced. Linz counts Bracken Kearns and Justin Florek as their only other NHL veterans, so the opportunity will be there for McNeill to be the teams’s best player next season.
The Anaheim Ducks were totally quiet on July 1st, the only team in the league not to formally sign any players. They’ve made up for it this afternoon, confirming one expected signing, announcing another, and adding a legendary coach to their organization. The Ducks announced that they have signed forwards Andrew Poturalski and Blake Pietila to matching one-year, two-way $700K contracts, while also naming Darryl Sutter as an adivsor to the coaching staff.
Poturalski, 25, was named the MVP of the Calder Cup Playoffs this year after recording a league-high 23 points in 18 playoff games en route to a championship for the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Poturalski was also one of the top regular season scorers, netting 70 points in 72 games. Yet, the University of New Hampshire product did not see any NHL time with the Carolina Hurricanes this season and was expected to depart in search of better opportunity. Anaheim is a team collecting affordable depth options up front and Poturalski could emerge as a regular player for the team.
Pietila, 26, comes from the opposite situation in New Jersey. The Devils were forced to use Pietila, as well as a number of his AHL teammates, frequently last season, but the former Michigan Tech standout did little with the opportunity. In fact, Pietila has just four points in 38 career NHL games. However, he did set a career high in AHL production this past season, recording 46 points in 50 games with the Binghamton Devils. The Ducks hope he can continue to be a near point-per-game player in the minors with the potential to put up offense in the NHL.
Sutter, 60, needs little introduction. A veteran of close to 1,300 games behind the bench, Sutter is a former rival of Anaheim’s as the two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach of the Los Angeles Kings, not to mention past stops in Calgary, San Jose, and Chicago as well. Working as an adivsor to Dallas Eakins and his staff, Sutter is one of the wisest minds in hockey and will be a major asset for the Ducks.
The Los Angeles Kings did not take part in the early rush of signings this afternoon, but they won’t leave day one of free agency without making a mark. Team insider Jon Rosen writes that the team has agreed to terms on one-year contracts with two young unrestricted free agents, defenseman Joakim Ryan and forward Martin Frk. He adds that it will be a one-way, $725K deal for Ryan and a two-way, $700K deal for Frk.
Ryan should be familiar to Kings fans as a former member of the rival San Jose Sharks. The Sharks declined to extend a qualifying offer to the 26-year-old, who had played in over 100 games with the team over the past two seasons, not including an impressive run as a starter in this year’s playoffs. While Ryan doesn’t excel at any one aspect, he plays a complete game and should compete for consistent ice time with L.A., even though the team has a number of possibilities on the blue line.
Frk, for all of his shortcomings, could be a nice value add on a two-way deal and minimum contract. The 25-year-old right wing is a talented shooter who has yet to find the right fit in the NHL. If he finds chemistry on the Kings, he could be a consistent goal-scoring threat. If not, he’s simply an experienced name to add to AHL depth chart.