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Kings Have Difficult Decisions With Players Returning From Injury

Those are easy decisions, where it gets difficult is when Vilardi and Grundstrom get back, particularly because of Vilardi.



Good problems are still problems and the Los Angeles Kings have to deal with a good problem soon.

Thursday Jon Rosen reported that Trevor Moore and Arthur Kaliyev returned to the ice. Moore was in a red non-contact jersey and Kaliyev was in a regular bottom-six white jersey. 

Todd McLellan gave an update that Kaliyev would be good to go Saturday, while Moore was close and would be evaluated again Friday. With Gabe Vilardi and Carl Grundstrom skating on their own but not ready for action Saturday. 

With Kaliyev back, Moore's return imminent and Vilardi and Grundstrom not far off, McLellan will have to find a way to balance his lines with everyone healthy. 

Here's how the lines looked before the All-Star break.

Quinton Byfield-Anze Kopitar-Adrian Kempe

Alex Iafallo-Phil Danault-Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala -Blake Lizotte-Jaret Anderson-Dolan

Brendan Lemieux-Alex Turcotte-Rasmus Kupari


Mikey Anderson-Drew Doughty

Sean Durzi-Matt Roy

Alex Edler-Sean Walker


Pheonix Copley

Jonathan Quick

At practice Thursday, Moore returned to the Phil Danault line, with Alex Iafallo dropping to the third line with Blake Lizotte and Kevin Fiala. Kaliyev returned to the fourth line, with Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Brendan Lemieux rotating out on Rasmus Kupari's wing. If Moore is back, this is how I imagine the Kings line up on Saturday. 

Those are easy decisions, where it gets difficult is when Vilardi and Grundstrom get back, particularly because of Vilardi. 

Vilardi will almost certainly return to the third line with Lizotte and Fiala. It's the spot that makes the most sense for him. It gives him the team's best playmaker in Fiala and a hard worker in Lizotte to play off of. But how does that affect the rest of the lineup?

We know a few players won't be moved. Adrian Kempe, Fiala, Arvidsson, Vilardi, Moore and Iafallo will all expect spots in the top nine. Leaving no room for clear spot for Quinton Byfield. Given that Byfield has finally put together a string of good performances in the NHL, it would be tough to move him onto the fourth line now. 

This leaves the Kings with two options when everyone is healthy. Both involved Lizotte moving down to the fourth line, the only question becomes, who replaces him? It's a tough situation for Lizotte, who's played well on the third line, but that's the reality of a good team. Solid players have to play fourth-line minutes. And I suspect most centers will find success with Fiala and Vilardi on their wing.

The first and most obvious option is to move Byfield down to center the third line and slot either Moore or Iafallo on the top line. This option works well on paper too. Byfield is a more confident player and will benefit a lot from playing with two high-skilled players in Fiala and Vilardi. 

His ability to retrieve pucks and create offense off the forecheck should blend well with those two players. If he can force turnovers and get the puck to Fiala, good things will happen. Having a player in Vilardi who can take faceoffs on Byfield's weak side is also nice. 

Byfield's future is up the middle and this would finally give him a chance to play that position with two high-skilled wingers. 

But, McLellan might not want to mess with the success of Byfield on the wing. He's starting to find his game and another move could ruin that. So, what do they do if the plan is to keep Byfield on the top line?

Assuming no trades are on the horizon, moving Moore to the third line to center Fiala and Vilardi is the best option. If keeps the current top six in place and gives an upgrade to an already high-functioning third line. 

Moore has experience at center. He played there in college, had a fantastic world championship there in 2021 and has spent a little time there with the Kings. He's also an easy swap for Lizotte. They're both puck hounds who can create offense off their relentless motor. Moore is just a little bigger and more skilled than Lizotte.

He was struggling on the Danault line before his injury and moving him down with Vilardi and Fiala could re-ignite his offense. 

But what happens with the fourth line? When everyone is healthy, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Lizotte, Rasmus Kupari, Brendan Lemieux, Carl Grundstrom and Arthur Kaliyev will all be fighting for three spots. 

Kupari is still waiver exempt and could go down to Ontario with no problems, but he's carving out a nice niche for himself in the NHL. He's become an important piece of the fourth line and has taken on a bigger role on the penalty kill. 

Sending him down isn't the worst thing though. I still think there's more offense to his game than we've seen and spending the end of the season getting top-six minutes and power play time in Ontario could help rebuild his confidence in that department. 

It was a unique case, but we saw what a long-term AHL reset can do with Vilardi last season. 

If they choose that option, and I don't know if they will, that still leaves a fourth-line battle. Lizotte is a lock at center, leaving Anderson-Dolan, Lemieux, Grundstrom and Kaliyev fighting for a spot. That's a good situation to be in. 

Anderson-Dolan and Kaliyev likely fill those spots, giving the team skill up and down the lineup. It does them a little light weight on the fourth line, but that's a reality of their roster. Not overly physical players, Anderson-Dolan and Lizotte's motor also make up for some of that lack of physicality.

And, if you feel like you really need a physical presence, both Grundstrom and Lemiuex can do a job.

Having a deep group of forwards to draw from is never a terrible thing, but McLellan will get a few headaches trying to find the best combination of players. Getting those decisions correct will be crucial in the Kings locking up a playoff spot.

Personally, here's how I'd line the forwards up.

Trevor Moore-Anze Kopitar-Adrian Kempe

Alex Iafallo-Phil Danault-Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala -Quinton Byfield-Gabe Vilardi

Jaret Anderson-Dolan-Blake Lizotte-Arthur Kaliyev

Byfield has never had the chance to center that much skill and I think he'll benefit immensely from it. Again, his future is at center and now would be a great time to let him center two wingers with first-line talent. Fiala-Byfield-Vilardi could easily be the first line in a few seasons and building that chemistry now would be great.

I would fully understand keeping Byfield on the top line though, don't mess with success. 

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