Crazy how quickly we flip the switch.
This morning, the Kings held their 2023 Exit Interviews at Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, just over 12 hours after the 2022-23 season came to an end in Game 6 yesterday evening. No sense in waiting. For the second straight season, the Kings were defeated by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the postseason. We’ll share every interview conducted today over the next week or so, focusing on key takeaways and observations, but starting today with the nitty-gritty details. Injuries, contracts, international play, the whole nine yards. Fewer opinions and thoughts – those will follow soon – but the raw information for now.
Anze Kopitar – Kopitar is a free agent in the summer of 2024, but reiterated what we all assumed. He wants to be here for his entire career. “For sure. I’ve said it before, it’s no secret, I want to stay here and be a one-franchise player. We’ll see how that goes.” Kopitar’s play was lauded by both Rob Blake and Todd McLellan, with Blake adamantly confirming that if Kopitar is interested in talking extension, he is on board. “If that’s what he wants, then yes, for sure. He’s a tremendous leader for this organization and he’s playing at such a high level.”
Alexander Edler – Speaking with Edler, he indicated that he does hope to continue playing, but that decision ultimately boils down to speaking with family and deciding what comes next for both he and for them. Edler reflected fondly on his time with the Kings, with memories including his 1000th game, though he didn’t know exactly what the future holds. “I think the easy answer is I’d like to keep playing, but there are a lot of factors. Getting a new contract, seeing how the body feels, talking to my family, we’ll see.” Edler felt good, for the most part, throughout the season and he indicated there was nothing left over from his injury a season ago.
Blake Lizotte – Forward Blake Lizotte indicated that he missed Games 3, 4 and 5 of the series against the Oilers with “lower-back spasms”, previously designated as a lower-body injury. Lizotte was back in the lineup for the decisive sixth game yesterday evening. It was a challenging stretch for a tough and durable player. “Nothing long-term, just had to let the muscles relax. For a bit there, touching my toes was a chore. That was definitely frustrating.”
Kevin Fiala – Fiala confirmed that it was a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for Games 1, 2 and 3 and that the injury was the same injury that he suffered after a knee-on-knee hit from Colorado forward Andrew Cogliano back in early-March. Fiala played just three games between that hit and Game 4 of the playoffs. Despite recording six points (1-5-6) from three games played, Fiala indicated that he was not at 100 percent, but declined to label it with a percentage. “It was something in the knee, I don’t want to get into details. When I came back, I wasn’t 100 percent, but it is what it is.”
Viktor Arvidsson – Like Kopitar, forward Viktor Arvidsson enters the summer with one year remaining on his contract. Arvidsson indicated that he hasn’t yet focused on a potential contract extension at this time, with his primary focus for this season simply being on getting through the full season healthy and participating in the playoffs this go around. “I haven’t focused on that, really. I was just trying to stay healthy and get my game back. I thought I did that this year. We’ll see what happens, I don’t want to close any doors or anything moving forward.”
Trevor Moore – No need to weight train this summer, Trevor Moore’s got dad strength now! Congratulations to Trevor and his family on the birth of his first son. Moore’s son was born on Thursday in between Games 5 and 6. A massive life event, certainly, though an unintended positive will be his opportunity to be a father here for the first time and enjoy every bit of that moment. “I think I was planning on playing longer and that’s a burden on my wife, so to be able to go home last night and take some of that off of her and spend some time with the little guy has been awesome.”
Gabe Vilardi – In speaking with Vilardi today, he had not put much, if any, thought towards what a future contract might entail. Vilardi is a restricted free agent this summer. He indicated that he’s “not really thinking about that right now” and that he would allow his agent to handle the majority of those details. He also declined to share the specifics on his injury that cost him several games at the end of the regular season, as well as Game 1 of the postseason. On the contract front, Rob Blake praised Vilardi’s commitment and improvement this season, but also wants to see him play full seasons. “The CBA gives different types of options with Gabe, because of his age. We need Gabe to be able to play full seasons and I think you’re starting to see a little bit of his potential, which is really good. He was committed this year on both sides.”
Sean Walker – An open and honest assessment from defenseman Sean Walker. Walker indicated a lot of pride in how he recovered from his knee injury a season ago and he got back to his best as the season progressed. He also understands the bigger picture and admitted that he doesn’t necessarily feel solid in his long-term standing with the team, simply due to the depth at his position. “I guess maybe not too solid, to be honest. You know the guys that are coming up, you know where the cap is at. We’ll see what happens. I know I can contribute and play here and that’s where I want to be, but at the end of the day, the organization’s got to do what they think is best.”
Joonas Korpisalo – For Korpisalo, he said he’s “loved every minute” of his time in Los Angeles, but his full focus was on the series against Edmonton until things ended last night. He admitted that he hasn’t thought beyond that at this point, but certainly did not rule out, either way, the possibility of re-signing with the Kings. “Time will tell.” With Game 6 still so fresh, he didn’t know what the future would entail. Rob Blake’s answers were similar with regard to Korpisalo and each of the team’s unrestricted free agents, citing the salary cap and where everything falls into place. One to watch, certainly.
Todd McLellan – We think mostly about contracts for players, but Head Coach Todd McLellan is also entering the final year of his contract with the Kings. McLellan indicated that he’s “coached a long time, I have one year left and I’m really looking forward to that year. Whatever happens after that, some of that is in my control, but we’ll see what happens there. It’s nothing I’ve thought of, nothing I’ve approached.” He added that he’s “thoroughly enjoyed his time here”. Blake confirmed McLellan would return next season. When asked about a potential extension, Blake said he would “sit with Todd and understand his desire and where we want to go. I’m very confident in that staff right now. I think they did a tremendous job, a real good structure and system in place and they got the players to play it.”
World Championships – A variety of players touched on the possibility of playing in the World Championships, but today felt too soon for any confirmations. Forwards Blake Lizotte and Jaret Anderson-Dolan both left open the possibility, with Lizotte implying it was something he would put some thought into today and Anderson-Dolan saying he’d like to play if asked. Forward Trevor Moore and defenseman Matt Roy both indicated they would turn down any potential invitation for personal reasons, with Moore’s naturally including the recent birth of his son. Sean Walker also said he would decline, focusing on his wedding this summer, while forward Gabe Vilardi joked that if Walker wasn’t going, he didn’t want to go either. Forward Carl Grundstrom, who represented Sweden last season, indicated he would be interested in going again, as did forward Rasmus Kupari. There also could be a couple of players who spent the season in the AHL with the Ontario Reign who could participate for their respective nations. There were also a handful of players who are eligible but not asked today. Sounds like we could know more in a couple of days time.
Vladislav Gavrikov – One player we did not hear from today was defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov, who is expected to have his own exit interview with the media later in the week. When asked, Blake said that re-signing Gavrikov could prove to be the trickiest move of the offseason – “cap-wise, most likely” – but was happy with his fit and the balance it brought to the team’s blueline. Todd McLellan echoed similar thoughts regarding the good fit. In a perfect world, Blake indicated he’d love to have the entire group back, but salary-cap constraints will likely prevent that. We’ll see how it shakes our for both he and Korpisalo.
Looking ahead, the Kings list of unrestricted free agents is short – Gavrikov, Korpisalo and Edler. The list of restricted free agents is quite long, however, starting with Vilardi. In total, the Kings have 16 restricted free agents, including seven who played NHL games this season. They also have five new pros already signed and ready to join the ranks at either the NHL or the AHL level. Nearly impossible to see a world in which all 16 of those players are brought back, so there are changes to come on some level this summer.
Think that was all the tangibles! Will have much more in detail on each player and staff member who spoke, including all full videos made available. That process will start tomorrow with Blake and McLellan, before diving into the leaders on the team and so on down the line. In total, 22 interviews were conducted today, with a few more to follow over the next couple of days. All to be analyzed, broken down and shared here on LAKI!