Daily News As trade deadline approaches, Kings have little room to manuever

LGKbot

They see me rollin'. They hatin'.
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Ah, the NHL trade deadline, the time when franchises that have any shot at the Stanley Cup look to load up and push as hard as possible for as long as possible into the postseason.

For the Kings, Friday’s deadline may represent a paradox: on one side, they’re very much reestablished in the playoff hunt, on the other, they’ve got virtually no flexibility to pursue upgrades or reconfigurations at the trade deadline.

Where they stand​


The Kings have won seven of 11 games under Interim Coach Jim Hiller. That has left behind a rancid January and reaffirmed them as at least a wild-card club after they went from soaring through the first two months of the campaign to bouncing off the playoff bubble. Money Puck places the Kings’ odds of qualifying for the playoffs at 92.3% as of Monday.

Though the team’s performance has been strong, particularly of late when they won consecutive games by a 10-2 aggregate score, injuries have become an issue. Viktor Arvidsson missed 50 games, played three and then returned to long-term injured reserve. He joined Carl Grundstrom and Pheonix Copley there. Soon after, Mikey Anderson and Adrian Kempe sustained injuries. The good news is that all but Copley are at least expected to return before the end of the regular season. The bad news is that that means the Kings won’t have much LTIR-related cap space to work with at the deadline as they look to build on their recent success.

“We’re organized, we’re working both ways, we’re playing the game the right way and we’re playing with some passion,” Hiller said. “It’s always very close, the teams are very even so it doesn’t always translate into wins. But we like the spot we’re in.”

Recent history​


Rob Blake is in his seventh season as the Kings’ general manager but he only had one ambitious deadline as a buyer, last season. In 2022, the Kings’ returned to the playoffs after a three-year absence defined by selling at the deadline, but were extremely conservative anyway. Last season, they dealt two draft picks and organizational icon Jonathan Quick to Columbus in a bid to solidify their defense and goaltending with the acquisition of Vladislav Gavrikov and the since-departed Joonas Korpisalo.

Blake has been much more active in the offseason, notably adding Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson in 2021, Kevin Fiala via trade in 2022 and, last summer, machinating obsessively to re-sign Gavrikov and make the heretofore onerous acquisition of Pierre-Luc Dubois. Retaining Gavrikov’s services for two seasons and bringing in Dubois for eight campaigns at a price that’ll make him the Kings’ highest-paid forward next season cost the Kings seven players, multiple draft picks and salary retention, in addition to leaving them with limited options to make roster adjustments externally and even internally given the short rosters they’ve carried all season.

“This is a team that we built to make the playoffs,” Blake said last month.

What they might do​


There’s been little if any credible smoke surrounding the Kings, whose management has consistently said that it was committed to the group with which they entered the season, perhaps by choice and certainly by circumstance. Media personality Kevin Weekes reported that they were likely in the market for a No. 3 netminder after Copley’s injury, which became disambiguated into speculation that the Kings were looking for a longer-term solution between the pipes (they only have one goalie under contract for next season, prospect Erik Portillo). Similarly, Kempe’s injury fueled ephemeral guesswork about the Kings freeing up LTIR space and pursuing a winger to keep their offense afloat in his absence.

It appears neither a move for a forward nor a goalie is imminent. The Kings had signed veteran goalie Aaron Dell to a minor-league deal but inked him to a contract that would potentially enable his promotion to the parent club on Monday. The 34-year-old Dell now provides a safety net in the event that Cam Talbot, 36, or David Rittich, 31, were to encounter injury or underperformance. Talbot was an all-star for the Kings but entered the break in a deep rut. He has since gone 4-1-0 with just seven goals allowed.

“You go through a tough stretch like that, sometimes it’s just not only a physical reset but a mental reset as well. That’s what I tried to do,” Talbot said. “You don’t forget how to play the position, sometimes it’s a confidence thing. I knew that it was going to come back at some point.”

Names to know​


In the Kings’ case, the most important players to monitor are likely ones that are already in the organization. Quinton Byfield’s role has grown by the minute this season, initially under Todd McLellan and even more so under Hiller. He is a restricted free agent this summer and while he does not have arbitration rights his growth and potential will give him plenty of leverage to steer the Kings away from a bridge deal and toward a long-term pact, and a lucrative one at that.

That reality, their $68 million commitment to Dubois and the logjam of right defensemen Brandt Clarke and Jordan Spence could make re-signing defenseman Matt Roy an enormous challenge. Roy has become central to the Kings’ identity as one of the top goal-suppressing rearguards in the sport and a player who simply seems to do whatever the situation calls for from moment to moment. He also just turned 29, meaning his impending unrestricted free agency could represent his one opportunity for a legacy-solidifying contract in an offseason where the salary cap will increase considerably and Roy projects to be one of the top defensemen on the market. The Kings appear poised to hang onto him as what will likely be a sort of “own rental” maneuver, where instead of swapping him for assets, they keep him because of the value he’ll provide them down the stretch, even if re-signing him could prove difficult.

“There’s not much movement, no,” Roy told The Athletic. “Haven’t heard anything yet. Just playing now.”

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