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How close are the Los Angeles Kings to Stanley Cup contention?

Image: The San Diego Union-Tribune

The Kings continue to improve, but another first-round loss to Edmonton means there are still some missing pieces.

For the second year in a row, the Kings are coming off a first-round loss to the Oilers, this time in six games. Los Angeles finished the regular season with a 47-25-10 record and placed third in the Pacific Division.

Back-to-back first-round exits to the same team may seem discouraging, but LA looks to be on the cusp of a return to Stanley Cup contention. It feels like LA is one strong offseason away from a deep playoff run.

The Positives

One of the best qualities the Kings possess is that they’re a relatively young, yet mature team. Adrian Kempe and Kevin Fiala are both 26 and lead the way offensively. Especially Kempe who scored 41 goals this season. Having a pair of shutdown centers in Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault gives their wingers that extra time and space needed to make those offensive plays.

With $7.5 million in cap space, LA will look internally to find improvements to its roster. This means signing restricted free agents including Gabe Vilardi. Vilardi started the season hot with 134 points in 11 games. Despite injuries, Vilardi scored a career-high 23 goals, and 41 points in 63 games.

If the young and talented bottom six continue to develop this offseason, LA could become one of the deeper Western Conference teams during the 2023-24 season.

The Kings also have a steady blueline with a healthy Drew Doughty guiding Mikey Anderson and Sean Durzi as they continue to develop. There’s also a handful of defensemen prospects who may be ready for some NHL minutes, the most exciting of which being Brandt Clarke.

This season, Clarke put up 61 points in 31 games with the Barrie Colts of the OHL. Clarke will likely have a shot to see some serious NHL minutes next season and start his journey toward becoming the next game-breaking blueliner in LA.

Jordan Spence and Tobias Bjornfot will also be competing to fill potential holes on the blueline going into next season.

The Kings have a wealth of good prospects and talented players to build around. The younger and higher skilled their core gets, the longer they’ll remain playoff contenders.

The Question Marks

Once again, the biggest question mark around the Kings is between the pipes. Cal Petersen was expected to transition into the starter this year but struggled immensely. So much so that he spent the second half of the season in the AHL.

Joonas Korpisalo, who the Kings acquired at the trade deadline, looks like a good fit for the starting job. However, Korpisalo is a free agent this summer and will likely look for a much larger salary than his previous $1.8 million cap hit.

If Korpisalo decides to walk, the netminders for LA going into next season will be Cal Petersen and Pheonix Copley. Copley was a great story last season being called up from the AHL and keeping the Kings in playoff contention.

Petersen, on the other hand, was unable to take that next step and struggled to find his game. Petersen put up a .868 save percentage in 10 games played. After clearing waivers, Petersen played the rest of the season in the AHL.

One of LA’s main goals this offseason will be developing Petersen into an NHL goalie as his 3-year $15 million contract has become unmovable. Goaltending almost cost LA a playoff spot this past season. If the Kings want to gain home ice for playoffs, they’ll need their goalies to be much more consistent.

Finally, like most playoff teams, the Kings don’t have a lot of cap space to work with this offseason.

The big free agents are the aforementioned Korpisalo and defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov. While the $7.5 million cap space may afford one of them, the Kings need to re-sign a handful of RFAs including Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari, and Bjornfot. Once all the RFAs are signed, it’s unlikely LA will have room to re-sign Gavrikov or Korpisalo without making trades to clear cap space.

As stated before, The Kings will rely on their young players and prospects to make more significant contributions and lead the team to success.

Consistent goaltending and more production from younger players could propel the Kings closer to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

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