LA Kings: Why next season could be make or break for rebuild

Apr 12, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Kings coach Todd McLellan wears a face mask in the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights at Staples Center. Vegas won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Kings coach Todd McLellan wears a face mask in the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights at Staples Center. Vegas won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The LA Kings have put themselves in a position to succeed with their rebuild. The results of next season will determine if they chose the right path.

The LA Kings hired Todd McLellan to be the team’s coach in April of 2019 to replace Willie Desjardins. McLellan was given a five-year contract with the idea of providing stability behind the bench to guide the Kings through the rest of the rebuild and then, hopefully, a return to glory.

Make no mistake. Todd McLellan is a proven coach. With an overall NHL record of 481-339-102, his success rate is unquestioned. In his seven seasons as head coach in San Jose, the Sharks were a perennial contender. As the bench boss in Edmonton, the Oilers finally made the playoffs in 2016-17 after an extended absence, advancing to the second round.

McLellan’s first season as the Kings head coach was rough, but it was expected. They then finished the abbreviated last season with only 64 points but ended the season on a seven-game winning streak that sparked hope and optimism that the team was turning the corner.

This season has been one of ups and downs. The biggest highlight was, of course, the six-game win streak in which made the team looked a legitimate playoff threat. The continued upward trajectory of Matt Roy, along with the emergence of Mikey Anderson, Trevor Moore, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan as legitimate NHL players, has also been a plus. Once touted as “the goalie of the future,” Cal Petersen has made the future now by showing he can take on the duties as a number-one goaltender this season.

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With the highs, there have also been the lows. The LA Kings’ glaring weakness is the lack of scoring, especially in five-on-five situations. Their 123 goals scored are good for only 26th in the league, and the power play, which was excellent in the first half of the season, has dropped off dramatically over the past month.

The Kings currently have 42 points and are six points outside of a playoff spot. Running out of runway in the schedule, the likelihood of the LA Kings making the playoffs is slim. With that said, at Tuesday’s media availability, coach Todd McLellan confirmed the team will be bringing up some prospects from Ontario to get a look at the NHL level.

This is great news for those who have wanted the team to “play the kids,” and it looks like the Kings’ number one prospect, Quinton Byfield, could be making his NHL debut over the weekend. Seeing more highly touted prospects playing in Los Angeles as a possible preview for next season should make the last ten games of this season exciting indeed.

The 2021-2022 season will be critical for the LA Kings rebuild.

General Manager Rob Blake, along with the LA Kings management and scouting staff, have done an outstanding job of accumulating top prospects, draft picks, and clearing salary-cap space. The team paid a steep price to do so as they were forced to endure a rebuild, but it was made palatable by the promise of better days to come.

No one expected the Kings to do anything last season, and most were not expecting much this season either. Although they probably won’t make the playoffs this season, the Kings were a better team than last season. Next season, they will be expected to take it to the next level.

Going into this offseason, the LA Kings will have over $20 million in cap space available, with the biggest name they will need to resign is Andreas Athanasiou. After the Seattle expansion draft, the Kings will have even more space available — how much more depends on who the Kraken decide to take from the LA Kings.

With an abundance of cap space and an embarrassment of riches in forward prospects, the Kings are expected to be major players in both the free-agent and possibly even the trade market. Blake has already made it known he wants a young, dynamic, left-shot defenseman, and the team is in dire need of a goal-scoring top-line left wing. With more resources available than just about every other team in the NHL, the Kings should be able to fill both needs.

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The LA Kings can contend for a playoff spot next season. With the expected offseason acquisitions and the uber-talented young prospects coming in, this team has no reason to be in the draft lottery. Should the Kings regress or even stagnate, it would mean the rebuild is not as far along as it seems, and more changes would be required. If this were to happen, it will seem like just about anything could be on the table.