Kings’ outlook after bold Kevin Fiala trade, signing
On paper, you won’t find many better examples of a team addressing its needs than the Los Angeles Kings trading for (and then extending) speedy winger Kevin Fiala.
Let’s pick this apart, then. How might Fiala fit with the Kings, and where could things stumble? How does this affect the Kings’ salary cap outlook? Should they start planning parade routes like the Avalanche for next summer?
Mmm, maybe don’t buy confetti in bulk just yet. But there’s reason for optimism and intrigue.
The bad and mostly good: what Kevin Fiala brings to the Kings
During the 2021-22 season (and throughout their seven-game series vs. the Oilers), the Kings massively overachieved. Or, at least, they exceed expectations.
Well, maybe it depends upon how you use/modify the word “expectation.” That’s because the Kings scored fewer goals than you’d expect, given the chances they created.
During the regular season, the Kings were at or near the top-10 in stats such as expected goals percentage and high-danger chance share. Credit Todd McLellan and the rest of the organization for putting together the sort of structure that tilts the ice in the right direction.
The Kings surprised as a playoff team. They deserve credit, however, for playing like a playoff team.
It’s just that the execution wasn’t there to turn scoring chances into goals. Enter Kevin Fiala.
[More on the Fiala trade between Kings and Wild]
Simply put, wingers who can create their own offense -- thanks to blazing speed and brilliant skill -- are not common. What if Fiala’s skill and finish blends seamlessly with the Kings’ sturdy structure?
Quietly, the Kings were an effective team off the rush this season. It’s one of the factors that made them a nuisance for the Oilers. Fiala adds speed with the extra bonus of impressive finishing touch.
In an episode of “The Hockey PDOcast,” Dimitri Filipovic pondered how Anze Kopitar’s playmaking could blend with Fiala’s skills. After all, Fiala took off when combined with Matt Boldy after trying to make the most of a mostly motley crew of centers in Minnesota.
But the enticing thing is that Fiala still created offense when he was doing so much of it on his own.
Sure, putting Fiala out there with less-seasoned linemates would increase the already notable odds of him not matching his career-highs (33 goals, 85 points) from last season. Yet, if the Kings love what Kopitar accomplished with Adrian Kempe, it’s an option.
Picture, for instance, what Fiala might accomplish with Quinton Byfield. For his size, Byfield’s noted not just for skill, but mobility. Perhaps Fiala and Byfield could really make something happen, possibly with a “give-and-go” style of transition that can play to those strengths? Such a combination is interesting to think about, especially if there are worries about mitigating defensive issues for Fiala and a young center still finding his place in the NHL.
Sometimes good “on paper” doesn’t pan out on the ice
To reiterate, the dream is for Fiala to fit seamlessly into the Kings’ system, providing crucial offense. In that scenario, the team would be prepared for any drawbacks defensively.
Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy captured this thought process well. Apparently, the Wild indeed embraced Fiala’s offense and basically took care of the rest:
This section opens the door to the possible downside. What if the Kings, especially head coach Todd McLellan, find Fiala’s defensive shortcomings grating?
Through two stops (Predators, then Wild), teams/coaches sometimes seemed frustrated with the Swiss scorer. At a young age and following a 23-goal season, the Predators traded Kevin Fiala in-season (2018-19) to the Wild. Heading into this offseason, you can almost picture the grumbles when reading what Bill Guerin said about a strong “few months” from Fiala.
Guerin on Barreiro:— Brett Blakemore (@BrettKFAN) May 20, 2022
“Dumba played hurt and ate minutes in the playoffs”
“Fiala didn’t show up in the playoffs and only had a good 3 months.”
Both had a mediocre playoffs, yet playing hurt for 6 games counts for more than 85 pts. Playing hurt is the playoff norm,85 pts is not.
To an extent, this smells like a typical case of a team that was souring on a player really souring on them after a cold streak. The Oilers traded Jordan Eberle after he failed to score a goal in 13 playoff games. But maybe that was the last straw instead of a single dud run that caused an overreaction? (With the Oilers, it could also just be a huge overreaction ... they’ve biffed these situations plenty of times.)
For all we know, Fiala’s puny playoff production may have been strike three for Wild management.
[Adam Gretz argued for the Wild to find a way to keep Fiala, but it was not meant to be]
In other words, there are elements of Kevin Fiala’s game that could frustrate the Kings at times. A defensively responsible team may not love every risk he takes. If Fiala’s asked to carry a line, people may frown during scoring droughts.
So, there’s room for this to have some ups and downs. However, I’d argue that the steady-and-structured Kings could really benefit from a shot in the arm from a winger who’s more of a “wild card.”
Kings’ salary cap landscape after Kevin Fiala trade, contract signing
As time goes on, people can debate the value of Kevin Fiala’s seven-year extension ($7.875 million cap hit) all they want. The same people might flip-flop on that question more than once until it expires after the 2028-29 season. Either way, the 25-year-old’s contract is now on the books.
What about the larger salary cap picture for the Kings, post-Fiala contract? Cap Friendly estimates about $12M in salary cap space for the Kings.
Ponder some of the pieces in place, and ones that may become more expensive over time.
- Drew Doughty, 32, carries a team-leading $11M cap hit through 2026-27. At times, his declining underlying stats provided fodder for debate. His “fancy stats” rebounded last season, but his health luck went south. If Doughty’s at or near an elite level and healthy, it might feel like another boost for the Kings.
- Anze Kopitar, 34, has a $10M cap hit, but merely through 2023-24. Though no longer a top NHL center, he’s still quite effective. Having Kempe and/or Fiala do the legwork for him shouldn’t hurt.
- Phillip Danault, 29, proved he had scoring punch to go along with stifling playoff defense. The Kings have him signed at $5.5M through 2026-27. That looked like a steal early on; we’ll see how he ages.
- Most of the Kings’ other forward expenses are short/mid-term (Alex Iafallo stands out among the mid-term contracts). Adrian Kempe, 25, is due a new deal as an RFA.
- Of course, the Kings must prepare for potential spikes for prospects down the line. Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, and Arthur Kaliyev have two seasons apiece remaining on their current deals. Maybe none of them will make big leaps. There’s uncertainty about their ultimate costs, though.
- The Kings’ defensive spending is mostly unclear beyond Doughty. Matt Roy, 27, carries a $3.15M cap hit for the next two seasons. Sneaky-solid 23-year-old defenseman Sean Durzi is an RFA. Fellow promising emerging defenseman Jordan Spence is cheap for two more seasons.
Murky situation in net?
Maybe the fuzziest situation is with their goalies. On Sept. 22, 2021, Cal Petersen signed a three-year extension that carries a $5M cap hit. The 27-year-old’s deal has a 10-team no-trade clause. Upon signing, it seemed sensible enough. He was becoming the Kings’ No. 1 goalie.
Instead, Jonathan Quick started more games (46 to 35) during the regular season, and nabbed the playoff No. 1 job from Petersen.
Quick, 36, is entering a contract year on a $5.8M cap hit. That’s right, the contract the Kings bragged about, and then were mocked about, is somehow almost finished.
To clarify, that's 10 years after next year -- so 11 years in total of our goaltender being better than yours.— LA Kings (@LAKings) June 28, 2012
At the moment, the indication is that the Kings may embrace a “goalie battle” between Petersen and Quick again this season. That said, we’re talking about a $10.8M “goalie battle” here.
For whatever it’s worth, Quick doesn’t have trade protection, while Petersen boasts that aforementioned 10-team trade protection. If the Kings want to be even more aggressive, that would be easier to pull off if at least one of their goalies was a little (or a lot) cheaper.
How far along are the Kings?
With Kevin Fiala added, how dangerous could the 2022-23 Los Angeles Kings be?
All due respect to Fiala, that answer may lean on how you view the past season. Pessimists may note that they only scored three more goals (239) than they allowed (236). Realists will point out very competitive underlying stats. Optimists would then daydream about Fiala being the perfect fit, and prospects leaping forward, not just making positive steps.
Really, some of it will be out of the Kings’ hands. Will the Flames be vulnerable after losing Johnny Gaudreau or Matthew Tkachuk? Might the Oilers sabotage gains made with foolish offseason tweaks? Do we see the return of an elite Golden Knights roster, or have we already seen that franchise’s best? How competent will the Canucks, Ducks, and others be?
Fiala and some nice improvements from prospects aren’t likely to push the Kings to the truly elite level. Would you be surprised if the Kings made the playoffs and maybe even won a round or two next season, though? That’s already the sort of progress that eludes other rebuilding teams for many years.