The Los Angeles Kings have placed forward Justin Auger and goaltender Jack Campbell on waivers with the intent that they will be assigned to AHL-Ontario tomorrow if they clear. I reported that Darcy Kuemper would win the back-up goalie role and that Campbell would be placed on waivers during the LA Kings Live pre-game show last night, while Pierre LeBrun noted the Auger news this morning on Twitter.
There is risk that either or both players could be claimed by 9:00 a.m. PT tomorrow morning, but even in the murky world of waiver availability, such a proposition is probably at best 50%. Of course, many of us expected Peter Budaj to be claimed last year; the wants and needs of the other 30 teams is always difficult to read from afar.
Mark Fayne, Jayson Megna, Mike Chaput… pic.twitter.com/pKqlhBfQDI
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) October 1, 2017
There was excellent goaltending competition at training camp, and while Kuemper had always been penciled in to back up Jonathan Quick, Campbell held serve with a standout performance of his own. But Kuemper has much more extensive NHL experience, and with a 2-0-1 record with a 1.97-goals against average and a .922 save percentage – lifted by his shutout overtime win versus Anaheim on Saturday – there was no change in the order of the goaltending chain.
With the emergence of Alex Iafallo throughout training camp, it became a numbers game for Justin Auger, who showed quite well in preseason games at Anaheim and Vegas but still lacks the consistency, according to several voices in hockey operations, to earn a regular spot on the Kings out of training camp. The team loves how he has really good hands for a 6-foot-6 forward and is capable of playing in front of the net on the power play and using his massive wingspan to clog passing lanes as a qualified penalty killer. Such situational availability will make him a useful call-up should he clear waivers, but the team still wants to see improved bursts and explosiveness in separating himself from his defender while with the puck.
It’s now possible to see the Kings roster really taking shape. Should Marian Gaborik be unable to open the season on the active roster, he’ll be given the Injured Non-Roster designation, I’ve been told. But the Kings have to get down to 23 players from this group of 26 by 2:00 p.m. Tuesday. (Not included in this group are injured skaters Gabe Vilardi and Austin Wagner, or Campbell or Auger):
Goalies (2): Quick, Kuemper
Defensemen (8): Folin, Muzzin, Doughty, Forbort, Martinez, LaDue, Fantenberg, MacDermid
Forwards (15): Kopitar, Gaborik*, Clifford, Cammalleri, Andreoff, Shore, Lewis, Brown, Dowd, Kempe, Pearson, Toffoli, Brodzinski, Carter, Iafallo
PTO (1): Laich
UPDATE, 12:40 p.m.: Paul LaDue will open the season in Ontario, via multiple Kings sources. Story to come.
If I were a betting man (I am!), my educated assumption would be that the Kings cut down that number to 23 by assigning Gaborik Injured Non-Roster status to start the year, releasing Brooks Laich from his PTO, and assigning Kurtis MacDermid to AHL-Ontario. (MacDermid would not have to clear waivers.) Also, keep in mind that just because a player doesn’t open the year with the team that he’s forever exiled to the island of Elba. Neither Tyler Toffoli or Tanner Pearson made the 2013-14 team out of camp, and both players were integral in the Stanley Cup run. That’s an extreme example, but the jist of the matter is that Auger and Campbell (should they clear), and MacDermid (should he be assigned to the AHL, hypothetically) and Kevin Gravel will all have plenty of opportunities to earn their way back up to the big clubs.
*There is still a chance that Gaborik opens the season on the active roster, but here’s the definition of the Injured Non-Roster designation, which would be the alternative if he’s not among the original 23 to make the team out of camp:
Via the CBA (PDF here), 16.11 (a) Injured Reserve List/Injured Non-Roster:
The Injured Reserve List is a category of the Reserve List. A Club may place a Player on the Injured Reserve List only if such Player is reasonably expected to be injured, ill or disabled and unable to perform his duties as a hockey Player for a minimum of seven (7) days from the onset of such injury, illness or disability. A Player who finishes an NHL Season on the Injured Reserve List and continues to be disabled and unable to perform his duties as a hockey Player by reason of the same injury at the time he reports to the Club’s Training Camp in the next League Year, will again be eligible to be placed on the Club’s Injured Reserve List. For any other Player who fails the Club’s initial physical examination in any League Year, or is injured, ill or disabled while not on the Club’s Active Roster, he shall not be eligible for, and may not be placed on, Injured Reserve, but instead shall be eligible to be, and may be designated as, Injured Non-Roster.
-Lead photo via David Becker/NHLI