Expansion Plan: Projecting the Los Angeles Kings' protection list for the 2021 expansion draft

Old, expensive veterans from the Kings' Stanley Cup runs stifle a roster today that can't wait for the future. When the expansion draft comes around, they may find a way to dump a bad contract to make room for some talented young prospects.
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Welcome to the Expansion Plan, our summer series projecting the protected lists for the 30 NHL franchises who will participate in the June 2021 Expansion Draft.

Over the next two seasons, every team – save the Vegas Golden Knights, who will be exempt – will be planning for the arrival of the NHL’s 32nd franchise and Seattle GM Ron Francis will begin to consider the options for his inaugural roster. As such, over the course of the next 30 days, we will profile one team, in alphabetical order, and forecast their potential list of protections and exposures, as well as address each team’s expansion strategy, no-brainers, tough decisions and what lessons they learned from the 2017 expansion process.

This exercise requires some important ground rules. The 2021 Expansion Draft will follow the same rules as the 2017 Expansion Draft, but some assumptions are necessary. These are the guidelines followed:

  • No pre-draft trades
  • All no-movement clauses are honored
  • Players who will become restricted free agents in 2020 or 2021 remain with current teams
  • Players who will become unrestricted free agents in 2020 or 2021 either remain with current teams or are left off lists entirely (eg. Nicklas Backstrom protected by the Washington Capitals, Tyson Barrie not protected by Toronto Maple Leafs or any other team.)

• • • 

The good news: the Kings have an incredible prospect base and they won't have to worry about the likes of Nikolai Prokhorkin, Alex Turcotte, Rasmus Kupari or Tobias Bjornfot. The bad news? It's going to be a few years before the rebuild bears fruit.

But that's OK, especially with the strength of the 2020 draft. Another strong draft could put the Kings in a great situation for the future after years of Stanley Cup runs made building a solid prospect foundation a challenge. With a large majority of the team's youth automatically protected due to a lack of experience, it's putting together the rest of the roster that could prove to be a little tricky.

Los Angeles has been handcuffed by expensive deals for declining veterans, but in some cases – ahem, Ilya Kovalchuk last summer – it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. But now the team is paying the price for it, but the expansion draft can help them alleviate some of the cap issues if Seattle wants to select a veteran with Stanley Cup experience.

PROTECTED (7F, 3D, 1G)
Forwards:

  • Anze Kopitar
  • Tyler Toffoli
  • Alex Iafallo
  • Kyle Clifford
  • Adrian Kempe
  • Matt Luff
  • Carl Grundstrom

Defensemen:

  • Drew Doughty (NMC)
  • Kale Clague
  • Derek Forbort

Goaltender:

  • Cal Petersen

NOTABLE EXPOSURES: Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick

STRATEGY: The Kings are in rebuild mode, but this iteration focuses on depth. Matt Luff, Adrian Kempe and Carl Grundstrom will likely spend next season in the bottom six. All three showed great promise at points last season and will solidify secondary scoring roles behind the likes of those listed earlier, as well as Samuel Fagemo and Akil Thomas.

Besides that, Anze Kopitar isn't going anywhere and Tyler Toffoli and Alex Iafallo are key scoring assets the team won't let go. In Toffoli's case, a pending UFA next summer, he's coming off of a tough 34-point season but 50 seems like a more manageable target once the Kings start trending in the right direction. Then there's Kyle Clifford, who won't dazzle anyone offensively but is a good veteran presence, a big body who can play a physical game and is coming off a career-high 21-point season. He gets the job done in a bottom-six role and that's all you need, especially if he stays under $2 million on his next contract.

In a perfect world, the Kings would hope to lose Jeff Carter or Jonathan Quick and take the cap space and run. In Carter's case, he had three 60-plus point seasons before an injury limited him to just 27 games in 2017-18 and 33 points in 76 games last season. He's not the same player he once was, but he can still provide some value – but, in L.A.'s case, hopefully elsewhere.

THE NO BRAINER: Even if Quick goes 82-0 this year and leads the Kings to the Stanley Cup, it's very unlikely Los Angeles would protect him and his $5.8-million cap hit in 2021. For starters, he'll be 36 in 2021-22 and he's far from the same goalie that had incredible runs in 2012 and 2014. Cal Petersen, on the other hand, looks like the Kings' goalie of the future at 24 and will replace Jack Campbell in Hollywood after next season.

THE TOUGH DECISION: If we're being cheeky, it's making a good lineup out of the current roster. But in reality, it's figuring out the correct defense to expose. Drew Doughty is on a NMC and isn't going anywhere, while Kale Clague is one of the team's most promising prospects and one the Kings won't want to let slip away. Derek Forbort is a UFA next summer but it would be in the Kings' best interest to keep him around, but that's no guarantee. If he's signed, he can be a veteran presence to offset the likes of Clague, Bjornfot, Michael Anderson, Sean Durzi and Markus Phillips. After that, Alec Martinez will be a UFA in 2021 and doesn't need protecting, but he'll be 34 that summer and not as attractive of a target for Seattle, anyways. Paul LaDue is an intriguing option, but he'll be 27 when the season opens in October and still hasn't played a full season after suffering an injury last season.

LESSONS LEARNED: Bad, long-term contracts are a big no-no. Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown make over $11-million combined with 84 points to show for – both are signed until 2022 and 34, so it's not going to get better for either of them. The Kings needed to keep Quick in the stable, but with four years remaining on his 10-year deal and coming off a brutal season, his contract won't be an easy one to move anytime soon. Add Ilya Kovalchuk's $6.25-million hit to spend time on the fourth line and you'll find an expensive team with not much to show for.

Up Next: Minnesota Wild

Previous: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers | Florida Panthers

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)

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