24 hours, Insiders!
24 hours from now, we’ll be at Crypto.com Arena for the first game of the 2023-24 regular season. Today we heard from Kings General Manager Rob Blake in advance of another season at the helm of building what he hopes is a contending team. There are certainly no guarantees in this league, but Blake believes that at the very least, if the pieces in place come together as hoped, there’s a team primed for success.
“I think we have a number of positions that we need to be in that consideration, average to above average play, and I think we’re built that way,” Blake said this morning. “No real things that can take over and carry a whole season, we need a combination of everything. From the goalies to the defense, to the forwards, to the PK, PP……but the pieces are there, that if they do that, there will be success.”
Blake offered several pieces of information during his availability, giving confirmations regarding a wide variety of different topics.
The main talking points were pretty simple. Blake offered a lot of insight into final roster construction, how the Kings ultimately wanted things to go and how they wound up shaking out.
Had all gone according to plan – meaning had forward Arthur Kaliyev not been suspended and had there not been an injury concern regarding forward Viktor Arvidsson, the Kings would have preferred to open the season with 12 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders. Naturally, the aforementioned issues did happen and here we are.
“The original plan would have most likely been 12 forwards and seven D, knowing that if we did have an injury, you could dress seven [defensemen], but it’s hard for a forward to play back,” Blake said. “Our situation kind of unfolded with a suspension that is treated very similarly to an injury, no cap relief, but then with Arvidsson also, we’ll have to adjust tomorrow if he’s not able to play.”
Blake confirmed that Arvidsson suffered a lower-body injury during yesterday’s practice and is “questionable” for tomorrow, designated with a day-to-day status overall.
Should Arvidsson not be able to go, the Kings could be pushed into a decision. They could recall Kaliyev to serve the first game of his suspension, which was what they ultimately planned to do, but that would leave the Kings a skater short due to cap constraints. They could also leave Kaliyev in the AHL and recall another healthy forward to play, though that would mean Kaliyev’s suspension would not tick off by a game. The plan seems to be the former, but we won’t know about Arvidsson’s status until tomorrow.
“The plan would be to bring [Kaliyev] back on days of the game, to serve that suspension,” Blake said. “The roster flexibility in between, he doesn’t need waivers, but being on the Ontario roster during an NHL game doesn’t count as a game, so the idea would be to bring him back tomorrow to start serving that suspension.”
Now, we’ve got 24 hours to see how Arvidsson’s situation shakes out. He did not practice today, with Trevor Lewis taking rushes in his place. If the Kings do recall Kaliyev, as noted above, they would need to play one skater short against the Avalanche, likely meaning an alignment of 11 forwards and six defensemen. For Saturday’s game against Carolina, if they went that route, they should be able to activate an emergency recall from the AHL to get to 12 forwards. Blake indicated that there are several forwards who would be eligible to be recalled under emergency conditions, with the exemptions limited to certain players, per the CBA. Those players must make the league minimum + $100,000, which would mean $875,000 this season. Several options in that situation, including Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who was the last forward sent down.
The other side of this situation is the organization’s necessary deviation from the preferred 12-7 alignment.
In an ideal world, defenseman Jordan Spence would have been on the opening-night roster. He earned that spot but he was waiver exempt, which made him an unfortunate roster casualty for opening night. Now, the plan still sounds like Spence will be back with the main group in due time, potentially as soon as Kaliyev’s suspension ends. Spence has earned his place on the team, but the Kings ultimately had to make a choice between going with a preferred alignment – 12 forwards and 6 defensemen – or preferred personnel, which included Spence. A lot of that came down to how Saturday’s exhibition game went, with both Blake and Todd McLellan being more comfortable with 12 forwards at this time.
“He was scheduled to be up there, I think that was the plan going through over the last couple of days,” Blake said. “He had a real strong camp……we’ve had a few years with him in our system, to be able to see what he can do. Due to the waiver situation, getting six defensemen and I was hoping 12 forwards for tomorrow, we will have to wait and see how that plays out, but that’s the situation with the defensemen.”
The 12-6 alignment likely means a place for forward Alex Laferriere, with Blake indicating he is expecting Laferriere in the lineup on opening night.
We’ve talked about Laferriere all throughout training camp. He was the standout from a young group of players who did not go to Australia and eventually earned his opportunity alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kevin Fiala, a line on which he excelled. The Kings believed that Laferriere would help them this season, they just weren’t sure it would be Game 1. Circumstances have dictated that, however, and we should expect to see #78 on a black jersey tomorrow night.
“We saw Laferriere step in with Dubois and Fiala and complement that line with the characteristics that he plays with his speed, he’s able to play with good players, that was a report from the coaches right away,” Blake said. “He’ll get his opportunity tomorrow, it’s really nice to see.”
Regarding the other piece of roster information today, Blake said that the Kings are not in a position to be able to carry three goaltenders, hence David Rittich being placed on waivers earlier today.
Even in good times, it might be pushing it. Blake noted that the Kings have never carried three in his time as general manager and this was never going to be the year to do it. The Kings would obviously prefer not to lose Rittich, who has to be among the best third goaltenders in any NHL organization right now.
“We’re not in a position to be able to carry three,” Blake said. “We did it for a day, just because we could, but the way that it’s played out, we wouldn’t be in a situation to do that, even if we had really [had] the cap room to be able to carry 23 players. Not a lot of teams carry three goalies and we’ve never done that in the years I’ve been here.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow, expect to see some roster movement in the AM. Naturally, there will be a resolution to Rittich’s situation, which likely sees him either assigned to Ontario or claimed by another NHL club. Additionally, the Kings will need to determine whether or not Viktor Arvidsson can play tomorrow night and if he can’t, they have to make a decision on how to replace him. That decision includes Arthur Kaliyev and if they choose to recall him to serve the first regular-season game of his suspension.
More to come in the morning, with an opening-night roster now in sight.
Additionally, Blake confirmed a one-year contract extension for Head Coach Todd McLellan and his staff. McLellan was under contract through the 2023-24 season and is now under contract through the 2024-25 season. Blake noted today that goes for the rest of the coaching staff as well.
“Yeah, [McLellan] was [extended] and that took place very shortly after the season,” Blake said. “His whole staff is on that, so they all have two years here, this year and next year.”
Blake’s full availability is shown below, with additional quotes not fit into this article! We’ve also got Blake for a podcast, which will drop on Thursday morning.