On we roll, Insiders!
As we move on through exit interviews, more targeted storylines become harder to come by. With this particular trio, fewer of those questions asked are of the team variety and most come towards players individually. All players with at least one, very direct storyline that was impactful for the team. Regarding Quinton Byfield, it was his recovery from injury and his move to the top line. For Joonas Korpisalo, it’s his quick integration to this team and his pending free agency. The same can be said of Vladislav Gavrikov, who conducted his exit interview yesterday.
All covered below, with full videos embedded for viewing with regards to the questions not covered in these larger topics.
Quinton Byfield & Joonas Korpisalo
I was talking about this with Jesse Cohen on All The Kings Men, but it feels like Byfield’s illness and subsequent assignment to the AHL was last season. Maybe longer ago.
It was, in fact, this year. October and November. We talk a lot about when Byfield was moved to the wing and bumped up to the top line, but we talk much less about the fact that he had only been back up in the NHL for two games on the fourth line before he was moved up in the lineup. He was in the AHL, originally, due to illness. This wasn’t necessarily your typical illness, either. Byfield said that he basically had a fever for “a month straight” and it cost him a substantial amount of weight in the process.
“I’ve been dealing with injuries and sicknesses quite a bit, which kind of sucks early on in my career, but that’s part of the process. I think early on in the season I broke my ankle and was out 40 games the first year. The second year, I was sick for a month and lost 25 pounds, so going down [to Ontario] just helped me get my game back and the weight back. So that was good for me, but I want to be with the LA Kings for a full season.”
From that point, Byfield certainly excelled.
Playing up in the lineup for the first time in his career, Byfield had the opportunity to play on the first line, play alongside the team’s number-one center and leading goalscorer and contribute to their effectiveness. The numbers say that he unequivocally did that, regardless of where his personal production landed. His time on that first line, which lasted pretty much uninterrupted from late December through the first period of Game 5, was one that helped improve his confidence and his output.
“It was an opportunity for me and I think I took advantage of it. Just getting more ice time, gaining a little bit more trust from the coaches. I took away a lot of learning lessons from that, a lot of different experiences, I can play wing now. It was good for me and it helps my career moving forward.”
His next steps, I suppose, are unknown. The Kings are expecting Byfield to take a step forward, in whatever role he carves out for himself in the lineup. Whether that comes at center or on the wing, Byfield feels comfortable and ready to help the team.
“Honestly, wherever I can play, wherever I can be effective and help the team. Naturally, I’ll probably drift back to center, I’ve played that my whole life, I haven’t played much wing, but wherever I can help the team and be effective, that’s where I want to play.”
Korpisalo’s interview, as one of three unrestricted free agents on the roster, was one of the interviews with the most unknowns of the group.
That’s because Korpisalo’s future is unknown. Acquired at the trade deadline, Korpisalo came to Los Angeles for two months, was a good fit with the group and improved the team’s goaltending outlook. He was stout in Games 1-3 in the postseason and was generally solid throughout the series, as he was in the regular season, though the team conceded far more goals in Games 4-6. First and foremost, he enjoyed his time with the Kings.
“First of all, we were just so excited to get in here and things went really well from the moment we got in here. Just seeing how ambitious this group was, it was really lifting for us too. We played some great games here and got a crack at playing in the playoffs. It was really exciting.”
That doesn’t mean he’ll stay here, though. Korpisalo is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his professional career. He indicated there hasn’t been a ton of conversation regarding an extension in LA, which is not uncommon as players typically like to focus their attention on playing. After all, it’s his level of play that will determine his extension.
The Kings also are not flush with salary-cap space and Korpisalo sticking around is no guarantee. The Kings have $6.5 million committed in net already and Korpisalo’s play has likely merited a raise over the $1.3 million cap hit on this season’s books. The Kings have decisions to make, between retaining their own free agents, players who are currently under contract and any potential external acquisitions. Korpisalo understands that side of the business, and whatever happens, happens.
“There’s hasn’t been much yet, we’ve been focused on the task at hand, which is the playoffs. Like I said, I loved every minute here and I’m looking forward to how the possible negotiations are going to go. I’m just really happy, first of all. They saw something in me, traded for me here and believed in me.”
Time will tell, he added. Time will tell.
The million(s of) dollar question with Gavrikov is the same as it is with Korpisalo. Will he re-sign with the Kings?
Gavrikov’s exit interview with the media came a few days after Korpisalo’s, so his comments came more than 12 hours after seeing the season come to an abrupt ending. Still, it’s not as if there was a contract ironed out in that time, so his answer was essentially the same as Korpisalo’s. He certainly did not rule out the possibility of returning to Los Angeles, but he didn’t announce his terms, either. A conversation will come and the Kings and Gavrikov will have that discussion in the weeks that follow.
“We will talk about it, for sure. Right now, we’ll have more time to discuss, but we’ll see what happens.”
As he’s said throughout his time here, Gavrikov was extremely complimentary of the way that he and his family was treated by the Kings organization, from the time he arrived to his final, exit interview.
When a player is traded, there’s a lot more than just a flight and a hotel. Gavirkov has complemented the Kings several times for how smoothly and first-class the process was. From an off-ice perspective, there could have been much of a better fit for he or his family.
“It was perfect, I would say. If it’s going to be short, I can talk about it a lot, but like I said before, the team and the organization was nice with us and not just me, but to my family when we got here. It was perfect, everybody was so kind and nice, my family loved to be here. Off the ice, it was pretty much all good.”
On the ice, the fit was certainly there as well. Though he admitted he doesn’t look at stats, calling them more a representation of the team than he as an individual, the underlying metrics were terrific. With Gavrikov on the ice, the Kings controlled more than 62 percent of high-danger chances, leading to controlling 70 percent of the goals scored.
The bulk of Gavrikov’s time was spent on a pairing with Matt Roy, though he also played games with Sean Walker and Drew Doughty, as situation dictated. Gavrikov believed it took a bit of time to settle into a new team and a new style of play, but once he did, the fit was good.
“I would say, in general, it took a little bit for me to adjust myself to playing with the team. Playing with Matt or anybody else, it was more about me [adjusting] because we played differently here in LA as far as tactics. It was that kind of detail, you have to work on that and try to make them sharper as soon as you can. As soon as I had done it, it was pretty easy to fit the lineup and play with anyone on the team.”
All behind us now, though, and for Gavrikov the process turns to his pending unrestricted free agency in fewer than two-months time. There is, at the very least, interest in continuing the relationship here, but there are terms to be worked out that need to make sense on both sides. Gavrikov’s two months spent with the Kings were great ones. Now, we wait and find out if they’re the end, or the start, of his time here.
Gavrikov joked that he’s still waiting for Drew Doughty’s check to cash, playing into Doughty’s joke at his own exit interview. All jokes aside, though, Gavrikov is the team’s highest-profile unrestricted free agent and we’ll monitor how the next two months play out with regards to a potential extension.