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Season Recap: Kings fail to take a step forward

May 14, 2024, 11:35 PM ET [0 Comments]
Ben Shelley
Los Angeles Kings Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT

The Los Angeles Kings’ season wrapped up two weeks ago, ending with a third straight first round exit at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

It started out as a a really promising year, with the Kings flying up the standings through the first couple months of the season. However, the drop-off was steep and quick, and by early February, Todd McLellan was fired as head coach.

Below, we take a look at the positives and negatives of the season, along with what to expect going foward.

Comparing the Numbers

Both on paper, and on the ice, the Kings had a stagnant year. In 2022-23, the Kings finished the season with 47 wins and 104 points, good enough for 5th in the Western Conference. This year, they had 44 wins and 99 points, sitting 7th in the Western Conference.

The biggest improvement the Kings saw this season was in terms of minimizing their goals against. With better team defense and maybe more importantly, better goaltending, Los Angeles had the third-lowest goals against per game this season at 2.56, compared to 16th last season at 3.10.

A lot of this was also propelled by a greatly improved penalty kill. After a disastrous 2022-23 PK, which ranked 24th in the NHL at an operating rate of under 76 percent, Los Angeles saw a huge turnaround this season. Their penalty kill ranked second in the NHL this season, at nearly an 85 percent success rate. Obviously, it still plagued them in the playoffs, as Edmonton’s power play torched the Kings at just about every opportunity. But it was a major improvement in the regular season, at least.

On the flip side though, the Kings saw a decline in their offense, mostly based off a tough end to the year. After the 10th-best scoring in the NHL last year at 3.34 goals per game, Los Angeles fell to 17th this season, at 3.10.

The Kings also saw a dip in their power play, going from a fourth-best finish at 25.3 percent last season, falling to 12th this season at 22.6 percent.

Which Players Performed?

The Kings got production from their expected top forwards, in Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe, along with Kevin Fiala. While there may have been higher expectations for Fiala and he could be hot-and-cold at times, he still managed 73 points, which can’t really be overlooked. Meanwhile, Phillip Danault was able to add secondary scoring, as expected.

However, the standouts within the forward group, especially in the first half of the year, were Trevor Moore and Quinton Byfield.

With Moore, while he’s always been a very well-rounded winger and has chemistry with Danault, it’s seemed like he had an offensive ceiling. This year though, Moore exploded for 31 goals, which almost doubled his previous career high.

With Byfield, the Kings have been kind of hoping he would be able to take the step he did this season. Again, Byfield has actually done a very good job in his first few years developing his game away from the puck, but this season, we saw a lot more offense. Byfield managed 55 points and was a lot more active in generating chances with his high-end playmaking ability. He cooled off as the year went on, but it certainly showed that Byfield is still very much on track.

Alex Laferriere was also somewhat of a surprise addition to the roster, and put together a pretty good rookie season. He has a ton of speed, it’ll just be a matter of hoping other parts of his game come along as well.

Then while Carl Grundstrom and Blake Lizotte both missed a lot of time, the duo were effective in their respective depth roles, while Trevor Lewis was fine on the fourth line in his return to Los Angeles.

On the blue line, the top-four as a whole had a lot of success, with both Anderson-Doughty and Gavrikov-Roy working quite well. At the same time, they were relied on to carry a lot of the load, with the third pairing not necessarily being trusted with a ton of minutes.

That said, Jordan Spence put together a good rookie year overall, and if Matt Roy does move on, we can expect that he, along with Brandt Clarke, are going to get much larger opportunities. Then with Andreas Englund, while he struggled at times, I still think the fact that he was able to take on a full-time job (and had a good start to the year) left him surpassing expectations. The Kings could look to try to shift Jacob Moverare into a third-pairing role on the left side next season or seek an upgrade, but Englund’s season went better than expected, considering it seemed as though he wouldn’t even get much playing time when he was originally signed.

Then in assessing the Kings’ goaltending situation, it also really comes down to judging their netminding compared to expectations. The Kings barely invested any cap space between the pipes, opting to bring in 36-year-old Cam Talbot, along with David Rittich as a third goalie. So to end the season with Talbot having attended the NHL All-Star Game, and Rittich posting a .921 save percentage across 24 games, the Kings’ goaltending was as good as anyone could’ve hoped for.

Of course, it’s still an area in need of improvement. But that’s not on Talbot and Rittich, it’s on Rob Blake for not properly addressing it last summer.

Which Players had a Disappointing Season?

Obviously, one of the key storylines of the Kings’ season was Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in one of the biggest moves of the NHL offseason, Dubois was expected to slot in as the team’s second-line center. Not only did the Kings sign him to an eight-year contract at an $8.5 million cap hit, but they also paid a sizeable price to do it, sending the Jets a four-piece package, which included Gabriel Vilardi.

However, Dubois’ first season in Los Angeles was nothing short of a disaster. He struggled to really stand out in any way from start to finish, ending the year with 16 goals and 40 points. His struggles were a huge part of the Kings’ lack of offense, with the trade looking like a massive bust after year one. Obviously, there’s lots of time to turn things around, but the Kings are really, really banking on him being able to do so.

Viktor Arvidsson also had a tough year, though not for the same reasons. While Dubois played a full season but struggled to do much at any point of it, Arvidsson was good when he was in the lineup – that just wasn’t very often. Arvidsson got into just 18 games, and while he managed 15 points in that time and obviously, the injuries were out of his control, the Kings essentially missed out on consistent production from what should have been two of their top five producers, in Dubois and Arvidsson.

Arthur Kaliyev also had a tough year. While you can argue he should’ve gotten more of an opportunity, he completely fell out of favour within the forward group and ended up out of the lineup for a lot of the year. Only a year ago, Kaliyev seemed like he could be on his way to becoming a long-term piece, and now, it seems almost inevitable that he’ll be moved this summer.

Unfortunately in goal, Phoenix Copley also got off to a tough start to the season, then ended up getting hurt and missing the remainder of the year. While Copley had a huge role in giving the Kings some stability in net in 2022-23, this likely marks the end of his tenure with the Kings.

Next Steps

After two years of what felt like improvement for the Kings, this season, the team stagnated.

We’ve also seen the Kings actively make additions to their forward group in each of the last three offseasons, with Danault, Fiala and Dubois added, but it seems like this year, there’s less flexibility to add to their roster. They’ll probably prioritize a goaltender, but it’ll likely come at the expense of losing both Viktor Arvidsson and Matt Roy as a result.

Whereas external additions were the focus over the last few years, next season, the Kings will likely rely on internal improvements.

The good news is the Kings still have members of their roster who should only get better. We saw Byfield took a step this season, but hopefully, there’s still another level to his development. Then on the blue line, both Jordan Spence and Brandt Clarke could be really thrown into bigger roles, with the hope being they swim rather than sink from the get-go. Both Spence and Clarke are poised to be really capable NHL defenders, it’ll just be a matter of how quickly they can develop.

Alex Laferriere will also enter the year with an NHL season under his belt, and we could see any of Alex Turcotte, Akil Thomas, and/or Samuel Fagemo take spots in the lineup.

Of course, there’s a huge emphasis on Dubois finding his game as well. The idea of a buy-out was quickly shot down, but if he’s a 40-point scorer again, the Kings are probably in trouble scoring-wise regardless of how others perform. They’ve dedicated a lot of their cap space to him, and there will be a reliance on him being effective in a top-six role.

So we’ll see where Los Angeles goes over the offseason. Obviously, the head coaching vacancy will be a storyline, though Jim Hiller looks to have a shot at shedding his interim title and fully taking over. They don’t have the cap space to retain both Arvidsson and Roy, plus bring in a goaltender. Adding externally in one position means they’re probably weakening another in the form of a pending UFA walking away.

While we can probably expect an addition or two, more than anything, the Kings are likely going to need to rely on improvement from their current roster to see any progress next season.

In terms of next steps for Kings coverage here: there will be weekly offseason articles being released each Tuesday, beginning next week.

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