Today, the LA Kings got better.
And that’s the name of the game for General Manager Rob Blake and his management team.
“That was the whole idea, to get better this summer,” Blake said earlier today. “We want to build through the middle, the defense and continue to get better at different positions of need, that we feel, and we just thought this was the right step for the organization.”
Earlier this summer, the Kings added forward Viktor Arvidsson in a trade with the Nashville Predators. After adding four prospects through last week’s NHL Draft, the Kings announced one of today’s marquee signings on the opening day of free agency in center Phillip Danault, who inked a six-year contract worth a total of $33 million, solidifying the team’s position. The subtraction period has ended. It’s time to add.
Additionally, Blake also confirmed contracts for defenseman Alex Edler (1yr / $3.5 million AAV) and forward Andreas Athanasiou, though did not confirm the official term and cap hit for Athanasiou. The Kings also announced the signings of forward T.J. Tynan and goaltender Garret Sparks, with both players signing one-year, two-way contracts.
The 28-year-old Danault is regarded as one of the NHL’s premier, two-way centers, a player who garnered Selke Trophy votes at one end of the rink and posted one of the league’s strongest possession lines of the 2020-21 season. With offensive totals at over a half-point-per-game over the last three seasons, Danault can contribute at both ends of the ice, giving the Kings a ton of depth down the middle.
“I think positional, solidifying the middle,” Blake said, of why the Kings locked in on Danault in the free-agent process. “With Kopitar being here, in the situation that he is and the minutes he plays all over the ice, to be able to partner that as a 1-2 punch down the middle, with the younger centermen that we have coming through the next few years, we really feel we’ve solidified the middle of the ice there.”
What the addition of Danault also does, is that it allows the Kings to continue to develop their younger forward prospects at the rate they feel comfortable.
Both Danault and Arvidsson are players the Kings feel are Top 6 guys, who can improve the team in the interim in that role.
“When you talk about the forwards, Arvidsson and Danault, obviously Top 6 forwards,” Blake said. “We’ll unfold different combinations as Todd sees fit going forward. How we distribute it will be taken by Todd, but what we were doing is improving our team in all situations.”
With Arvidsson’s proven play on the wing and Danault’s veteran status at center, not to mention experience playing tough minutes against top-level competition, there’s no onus placed on a Gabriel Vilardi, a Quinton Byfield or a Rasmus Kupari to come into training camp and be forced into a role they aren’t prepared for. It also opens up other options for certain players on the wing, looking at Vilardi, among others, who have the versatility of both positions.
On top of Byfield, other top prospects such as Arthur Kaliyev, Samuel Fagemo, Akil Thomas and Alex Turcotte played only last game’s strange and incomplete season at the professional level. Adding a proven player in Danault to the mix allows those players the opportunity to grow and develop at their own pace, before joining the lineup when they’re prepared to do so.
“I think we have an abundance of young players who really only had a half a year in the American League last year,” Blake said. “It takes time, and you don’t want to put them in a position where they’re not prepared. We want to see them, when they do come into the lineup, they’re going to help us win. This allows us to do that, at that type of position. With adding Arvidsson in the summer, and Danault, we didn’t dip into the prospect pool, per se. We have that, we can filter and project over the next few years how many and where they’re going to project in our lineup.”
On the backend, Edler represents another veteran added to a mix of younger players on the left side in Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot. If the Kings were able to go a full 82 games with the same six blueliners, I think it’s fair to say it would mark the first time in NHL history that’s been accomplished, so the team has a ton of flexibility there.
“He’s just a real solid defenseman,” Blake said of Edler. “First and foremost, he’s a quality teammate. Anything we’ve heard since it’s come out that we’ve agreed to terms has all been about the quality, the type of teammate, the type of professional you’re going to get every day. He played big minutes in Vancouver, against tough competition, he’s always been very steady, very reliable. When you have a combination of Mikey and Toby, at a relatively young age, playing much above their age, if you can surround them with good veterans like Olli and now with Alex, it definitely helps.”
Blake indicated that while the Kings, at this time, don’t necessarily have plans for additional moves, he’s always looking and always keeping his eye on different situations.
At this time, the organization is happy with the team it’s projected to have at the NHL level, and within the system. The Kings were able to acquire two NHL forwards and a defenseman, while giving up only cap space and a pair of draft picks, of which the organization already had several. At this time, while you can never rule anything out, Blake feels comfortable in doing exactly what he said he would do – improve the roster.
“Things will come across, or pop up, that you have to explore. I don’t think it’s any different than any other time. If I said, is there a pressing need that we need to fill right now, probably not. I think we’re comfortable with the group that we feel we can ice come training camp.
Looking ahead, we’ll take a deeper dive into Phillip Danault tomorrow here on LAKI, breaking down what he said during his first media availability as a member of the Kings. We’ve also got a feature planned on the newly re-signed Trevor Moore, from an exclusive interview, and we’ll also keep the site up to date with all announced player signings, with several players who received qualifying offers still restricted free agents. As always, Insiders, thanks for reading!