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    NHL free agency: Kings’ goalie quest could be costly
    • July 1, 2023

    With NHL free agency set to open Saturday, the intrigue may be twofold for the Kings, whose effective salary-cap space might be measured in pocket lint or rusty coins rather than dollars even as they remain in need of a starting goaltender and a complete pro roster for the upcoming campaign.

    Given the Kings’ current cap situation, it seems that they will have to exchange a roster player for a goalie, whether directly or indirectly. The flurry of activity on and around the start of the free-agency period could present them with opportunities.

    “We have to (acquire a goalie). We only have one under contract right now, well two, with (prospect Erik) Portillo (and Pheonix Copley),” General Manager Rob Blake said.

    Complicating matters for the Kings is that cap space is at a premium all over the NHL, especially among competitive teams. On Thursday alone, former Ducks winger Corey Perry was dealt for a seventh-round pick, two promising young Edmonton forwards were offloaded for future considerations, and the Islanders had to send a second-round draft pick with winger Josh Bailey to jettison his contract only to receive the same nebulous “future considerations.”

    The Kings have already given the trade tracker a strenuous workout this offseason. They have pushed out seven players and two draft selections, enabling them to re-sign defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov for two seasons and acquire center Pierre-Luc Dubois for the purpose of signing him to a fresh eight-year contract.

    Three roster forwards have already been sent away and a fourth may be on the chopping block to facilitate the acquisition of a goalie and, potentially, an economically priced replacement for the outgoing player, likely a forward.

    Though the Kings have been tight-lipped about their specific plans, it’s evident that winger Viktor Arvidsson is not under contract beyond the coming season, when he’ll account for $4.25 million against the salary cap. Forward Trevor Moore’s cap hit is nearly commensurate ($4.2 million), but the Thousand Oaks native just signed his extension and has a limited no-trade clause set to kick in Saturday, complicating matters from both ethical and logistical standpoints.

    While Blake and his staff have had a strong poker face, at least one more trade seems inevitable.

    The relative stagnation of the NHL salary cap in recent years has prompted GMs to preserve value from assets wherever possible, resulting in a relatively thin free-agent class from top to bottom.

    That includes the goaltending market, with last year’s playoff starter Joonas Korpisalo creating limited buzz about a potential return. Heretofore Pittsburgh Penguin Tristan Jarry, 28, is another exception to a market overflowing with netminders in their mid-30s. Jarry has familiarity with new Kings goaltending coach Mike Buckley, who was Pittsburgh’s goalie whisperer until heading westward.

    On the positive side, any pain will be transitory. Next summer, the cap is widely projected to experience its first significant increase since 2019 and the only King in line for a noteworthy raise may be defenseman Matt Roy. Meanwhile, team captain Anze Kopitar is due for a new contract, and seems likely to sign for less than his current $10 million annual average value, offering further flexibility.

    Though the precise terms were not discussed, Blake said he felt confident he and Kopitar would meet soon and hoped that they would have an extension in place before Oct. 11’s home opener.

    “I don’t think he’ll ever slow down, it’ll be the day when he says, ‘I want to go home,’” said Kings president Luc Robitaille of Kopitar, who has continued to excel in a top-line role.

    While Kopitar’s future with the Kings appeared to be in no jeopardy, Phillip Danault seemed destined for a return to a familiar role from two prior stops in his career: third-line center. When asked about Dubois’ position, Blake was unequivocal.

    “He’ll obviously be in the middle of the ice there,” said Blake, also alluding to a top-six role for Dubois.

    Quinton Byfield, a No. 2 overall pick entering the final year of his entry-level deal, will start 2023-24 where he ended 2022-23, on the wing. Blake had expressed hope that Byfield would return to the middle after the Kings were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, but displayed a more open attitude after the Dubois trade.

    “Whether (Byfield) ends up at center over the years or not, that’s still not really laid out firm by any means, but we did like the progression he showed (on the wing),” Blake said.

    What was concrete Friday were the statuses of some of the younger Kings who were without contracts. The Kings extended qualifying offers to defenseman Tobias Bjornfot, winger Samuel Fagemo, center Akil Thomas and forward Tyler Madden. They also re-signed forward Taylor Ward to a one-year extension, a move made with a mind toward their minor-league affiliate.

    Forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who once seemed destined for a long-term spot in the bottom six; forward Lias Andersson, a former No. 7 overall pick acquired by the Kings from the Rangers for a second-round pick; and winger Zack MacEwen, whom the Kings acquired at least year’s trade line but deployed sparingly, were among the 10 players who had their tenders declined. They will become unrestricted free agents Saturday, although that doesn’t preclude entirely their return to the Kings.

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    ​ Orange County Register