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Season Recap: Kings emerge as a threat in the West

May 4, 2023, 9:00 PM ET [6 Comments]
Ben Shelley
Los Angeles Kings Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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The Los Angeles Kings were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs over the weekend, falling to the Edmonton Oilers in six games.

It mirrored the result from last season (aside from not reaching Game 7 this year), with the Kings suffering the same fate against the same team. However, despite another early playoff exit, the Kings are continuing to show signs of improvement. Before we head into the offseason, we’ll take a look at how the year played out.

Coming into the season, the major difference with the team was the addition of Kevin Fiala. For the second summer in a row, Los Angeles ended up buying to improve their current position. Fiala was exactly what the team needed, adding a top-line, skilled winger to the mix.

However, the first stretch of the season was very average, with the team just narrowly holding a playoff spot by the midway mark of the year. The Kings had just the eighth-best points percentage through their first 32 games, leading up to mid-December. They were plagued by terrible goaltending, to the point where Cal Petersen (on a three-year deal at a $5 million cap hit) was waived and replaced by Pheonix Copley.

But the team was able to turn things around leading into 2023 and through their remaining 50 games, they were one of the NHL’s top teams.

Los Angeles then ended up making a big splash at the trade deadline, completing a massive trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. In the deal, the team addressed their two biggest needs, acquiring goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and Vladislav Gavrikov.

As part of the deal, they also moved Jonathan Quick in order to clear cap space, marking the end of an era. Quick had solidified himself as the greatest goalie in franchise history, but while it was a harsh decision, it was also a necessary one.

By the end of the season, the Kings ended up on a huge 12-game point streak and were in a position to potentially take over top spot in the division. While they did cool off over the final few games and finished third in the Pacific and fifth in the Western Conference overall, they were still only seven points away from top spot in the conference. With 104 points, the Kings ended up five points ahead of where they were a season ago.

However, with the Vegas Golden Knights hanging onto first place in the Pacific, the Kings once again faced the Edmonton Oilers in the postseason and once again, couldn’t get the job done. They ended up taking a 2-1 series lead, despite not putting together their best games, and had a great opportunity to take a stranglehold on the series heading into Game 4 at home. Then in the game, they got off to a 3-0 lead after the first period and were in great position. However, they took some penalties and Edmonton capitalized to get back into the game, before sending the game to overtime, where the Oilers were able to tie up the series. The Kings fell behind in the series with a disappointing Game 5 after that, and while they did put together a strong Game 6, they still fell short.

I think last season, there was some surprise the Kings got to the playoffs. They were fresh out of a rebuild and just getting to the postseason was a win.

While we were hoping for a better result this season, the Kings still took huge steps. The biggest difference is they were much more threatening offensively, jumping to 10th in goals this season (3.34 per game) from 20th last year (2.87 per game). Their improved power play had a huge role in this, ranking fourth in the NHL compared to 27th in 2021-22.

So once the team made upgrades on the blue line and in goal, we saw how good they can be. By the end of the year, it was very difficult to find flaws with their lineup when healthy. Unfortunately, they just ran up against another very good team early in the playoffs.

Fiala was just as good as expected in his first season with the Kings, putting up more than point-per-game numbers. With his ability to transport the puck with speed, elite puck control and excellent playmaking ability, he's going to help lead the team's offense for a long time to come.

Anze Kopitar continues to hold off a decline as well (and was just named a Lady Byng finalist), while Adrian Kempe started the year a bit slow, but got red hot later on to post 41 goals and 67 points. Phillip Danault, Viktor Arvidsson, Alex Iafallo and Trevor Moore also provided great secondary scoring, as expected.

Gabriel Vilardi finally took the jump the Kings were hoping for as well. He made the Kings’ roster out of training camp, was one of the best forwards on the team early on, and established himself as an important piece of the roster. While he did end up playing lower in the lineup at times, that was mainly due to the team’s depth up front, and he still managed 23 goals and 41 points in 63 games, an 82-game pace of 30 goals and 53 points.

Then other key, young pieces in Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev also took strides. Byfiield may not be putting up the numbers you’d have expected at this point, but he already has a fairly well-rounded game for a player his age. Meanwhile, Kaliyev scored at pace of 41 points per 82, despite playing a depth role.

Their forward group is very much set for next season, and we shouldn’t expect to see many changes. Gabriel Vilardi is a key restricted free agent, as are Rasmus Kupari, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Zack MacEwen, but the team doesn’t have a single notable unrestricted free agent up front.

However, the team’s status on the blue line and in goal will be heavily impacted by upcoming decisions around their deadline additions. Vladislav Gavrikov was great for Los Angeles, taking on a top-four role to stabilize the left side of the team’s defense group. However, he’s set to become a UFA and the Kings really don’t have anyone that can easily replace him on the left side with the same level of success.

Mikey Anderson and Drew Doughty are locked in long-term, but losing Gavrikov would be a big hit. Sean Durzi took a step offensively, Matt Roy can round out a top-four group and both Brandt Clarke and Jordan Spence are poised to push for spots next year, but we saw the flaws with the team’s defense group before Gavrikov was brought in. Bringing back Alex Edler, who’s also a UFA, won’t be much of a solution either.

Then in net, the team faces a similar decision. Phoenix Copley was extended for a year, but Joonas Korpisalo’s status remains a key question. Korpisalo was nothing short of excellent for most of his run in Los Angeles, posting a .921 save percentage across 11 regular season games and starting all playoff games for the Kings. As is the case with Gavrikov, losing Korpislao would leave a gaping hole for the team to try and fill.

With the team’s improvement this season, you just hope their cap situation doesn’t cause them to lose players and take a temporary step back. They don’t have much cap space and without moving out salary, it’s unlikely the team has enough room for all three of Vilardi, Gavrikov and Korpisalo. Moving out Cal Petersen and Sean Walker would be the obvious play, but that’s easier said than done.

It’s going to be an interesting offseason, as the Kings try to continue improving. But for the second season in a row they were a playoff team and unlike last season, they looked like potential contenders.

They still have a wave of top young players who are only going to get better as well. Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Brandt Clarke and others will continue to make more of an impact in the coming years.

The Kings took a step this season and with a roster that's built for both the present and future, it’s an exciting time to follow this team.

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