Rumors Adrian Kempe Expected To Return During Regular Season

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The Kings have avoided the worst with right-winger Adrian Kempe, who’s expected to return from his upper-body injury sometime later this month, TSN’s Darren Dreger reports. The 27-year-old is listed as week-to-week with the injury he sustained late in Monday’s game against the Oilers.

If Kempe were expected to miss the remainder of the regular season, the Kings could have placed his $5.5MM cap hit on long-term injured reserve and used that space before the March 8 trade deadline to acquire players. Per Dreger, that won’t be the case.

Kempe can still go on LTIR if he’s expected to miss at least 10 games and 24 days, retroactive to Feb. 26, to provide temporary relief. However, as they’ll need cap space to activate him before the end of the regular season, they won’t be able to dip into his relief for additional acquisitions.

Right-winger Viktor Arvidsson is already on LTIR with a lower-body injury, although he, too, is expected back before the end of the regular season. Seeing as the Kings will need space to have his $4.25MM cap hit count against the books, they’ll have nearly $0 in space to work with at the trade deadline. As such, any upgrade they make to their roster must be a money-in, money-out move.

Kempe has already missed two games with the injury, which he sustained late in the third period in an awkward collision with Oilers defenseman Cody Ceci as Los Angeles was trying to erase a 4-2 deficit with an empty net. Kempe skated to the bench while play was active, appearing to favor his left arm (video link).

The Kings have largely recovered from a disastrous stretch between Christmas and the All-Star break in which they went 4-8-6 with a -11 goal differential. After a 5-1 road win over the Pacific Division-leading Canucks last night, the Kings remain first in the Western Conference Wild Card race with a 30-19-10 record and 70 points.

They have a seven-point cushion on the ninth-place Flames, although they are in danger of falling to the second wild-card spot. The Predators are now tied with Los Angeles with 70 points, although they trail in the points-percentage tiebreaker as they’ve played two more games.

After signing a four-year, $22MM extension in the 2022 offseason, Kempe has provided spectacular value for the Kings. While he’s not on pace to sniff the career-high 41 goals he scored last season, he does have 51 points in 57 games, a career-best 0.89 per-game rate. He’s also averaging 18:47 per game, eclipsing last year’s career-high mark by two seconds.

However, he’s struggling in the possession department after being a net-positive player for the last two seasons. While his 54.5 Corsi-for percentage at even strength is substantial at first glance, it’s 1.2% worse than the team’s overall Corsi share without him on the ice.

His expected rating is also negative, with a -0.8 mark. He posted a combined +13.9 expected rating over the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons.

Regardless, he’s still a core piece for a mediocre Kings offense that relies on depth, not star power, to be effective. In Kempe’s absence, top-prospect-turned-breakout-star Quinton Byfield has returned to a top-line role flanking Anže Kopitar, while 2019 top-five pick Alex Turcotte is also seeing reps alongside the Kings’ captain.

The Kings only have 12 healthy forwards on the active roster and have recently scratched winger Arthur Kaliyev in favor of dressing seven defensemen, allowing both of their best up-and-coming right-shot defensemen, Brandt Clarke and Jordan Spence, to get playing time. Given their current LTIR situation, they have enough cap space to make a corresponding recall in Kempe’s absence, although they would need to place him on IR or LTIR to open a roster spot.

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