LOS ANGELES — In the aftermath of their first-round playoff exit, the Los Angeles Kings are already looking forward to the 2023-24 National Hockey League season. But even though the team improved significantly compared to the previous season, next season’s Kings team is likely to look a at least a little different, as salary cap issues could force less-than-ideal player personnel changes.
Going into next season, forwards Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Zack McEwen will be restricted free agents. But the Kings’ priority up front will be restricted free agent forward Gabe Vilardi, who had his best season in the NHL in 2022-23, and will likely command a significant raise from the $825,000 he earned last season.
On the blue line, 35-year-old Alexander Edler will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. But the bigger issue is that defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov, who earned $2.8 million last season, will also be an unrestricted free agent.
In goal, Joonas Korpisalo will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
“I’d love to bring that exact [same] team we had [in Game 6 vs. Edmonton] back, fully healthy, and run right through a whole season,” General Manager Rob Blake told the media on April 30. “But I know it’s not possible because of the [salary] cap situation and the amount of [unrestricted free agents] and signings.”
Given his seamless fit with his new team and the acute need for a left-shot defenseman, all eyes are on Gavrikov, in terms of whether he will re-sign with the Kings or not.
“We’ll talk about it,” he told the media on April 30. “We’ll have more time to discuss, so we’ll see what’s happening. I’m glad that I could be part of the team. We’ll see what happens in the future.”
“Everything was perfect [for him and his family in Southern California],” he added. “Everyone was so kind and nice. My family loved to be here. Off the ice, everything was good.”
Head coach Todd McLellan praised Gavrikov for his play and how easily he fit with the team, both on and off the ice.
“Since the day [Gavrikov] and Korpisalo arrived, they fit our group,” he told the media on April 30. “There’s always risk when acquiring players at the [trade] deadline, where it doesn’t work, simply because [of them not fitting the team]. But when they walked in, their spirit and the way they carried themselves fit our group, so that was a home run, right off the bat.”
“[Gavrikov’s] play, from the time he put the equipment on, and all the way through, he adapted very quickly to a different system to new teammates,” he added. “He was very, very solid, all the way through to the last minute, and that sounds like a player who coaches or a team would like to have. But there’s also the business aspect that he’s entitled to, and that the team has to look at.”
Gavrikov’s fellow blue liners agreed that they would like to have him with them next season.
“He’s a great teammate [and] a really good player,” defenseman Matt Roy told the media on April 30. “I don’t know what’s in store for him or what’s he’s thinking, but we definitely want him back next year.”
“I’m talking to him,” defenseman Drew Doughty told the media on April 30. “I’m trying to convince him. It’s a pretty easy sell. We play in a great city here, we have great fans. It’s an easy one. It basically comes down to taxes, to be honest.”
“I hope we’ll be able to sign him and I think he wants to be a King,” Doughty added.
Likewise, Gavrikov, who was often paired with Roy, had praise for his partner.
“Playing with Matt Roy—he’s a pro,” he said. “He’s such a good player. Playing with him was a pleasure. It wasn’t too hard to adjust to playing with him.”
Blake knew that there would be risk when he traded for Gavrikov and Korposalo, with both players in the final year of their contracts. But it was a necessary risk, given the gaping holes on the left side of their defensive corps, and in goal.
“We all understood the [importance of having a left-hand shot and right-hand shot defensemen on each defensive pair],” he said. “When you can put four, really strong defenders in your group of six to combat some of the star players in this league, [you make the defensive challenges you have to face a bit easier to deal with].”
But now the Kings have to face that risk, with key players to re-sign and not enough salary cap space to retain everyone.
To be sure, the Kings have some huge player personnel decisions to make in the near future, and they’ll have to be rather creative in order to re-sign Korpisalo, Vilardi, and Gavrikov, and re-signing one or more of them, might not be in the cards.
Whatever happens this summer, next year’s Los Angeles Kings will likely look at least a little different.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov spoke with the media on May 4, 2023 via a Zoom videoconference hosted by the Kings. Screenshot taken from the videoconference.
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