Kings Offseason: Koprisalo or Gavrikov Priority #1?
So, if they had to prioritize one over the other, who should it be?
The Los Angeles Kings bet on themselves in a big way at the 2023 deadline, trading Jonathan Quick and their 2023 first-round draft pick for two players on expiring contracts, Joonas Korpisalo and Vladislav Gavrikov.
The gamble didn't pay off, as the Kings were once again eliminated in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers. But it wasn't because of poor play from their new additions. Both Korpisalo and Gavrikov performed and did what Rob Blake acquired them to do.
Korpisalo provided stability in net and a go-to number one option. And Gavrikov was the left-shot partner Matt Roy needed on the second pair.
With only around $7.5 million to work with this summer, it appears that only one of Gavrikov or Korpisalo will return, assuming no big trades are made to make room for both. Even if Blake moves someone like Sean Walker, it's possible the Kings can't afford both.
So, if they had to prioritize one over the other, who should it be?
Early last season, poor goaltending nearly derailed the Kings' season entirely. With Cal Petersen and Jonathan Quick both having the worst seasons of their careers, the Kings were in jeopardy of having their season crumble on the back of poor goaltending.
In December, Pheonix Copley came in and steadied the ship and they got their season back on track. Then, just days before the trade deadline, Korpisalo was brought in to fully solidify the Kings' goalie situation. And he did exactly that, going 7-3-1 down the stretch with a .921 save percentage.
He then came out and was stellar in the first three games against the Edmonton Oilers and tailed off in the last three. Even with some of the struggles we saw in Games Four-Six, I'd consider Korpisalo's short time with the Kings a success. Especially given their struggles in net.
Given the Kings' struggles in net, Korpisalo seems like the easy pick for priority number one this summer. But it isn't that simple. Between Petersen and Copley, mostly Petersen, the Kings are already committing $6.5 million in cap to goalies.
Assuming Korpisalo wants a big raise and a contract somewhere closer to the $4 million mark. That would see the Kings pay their goaltending trio just over $10 million.
The easy solution to this would be trading Petersen and giving a chunk of his contract to Korpisalo, but that won't be easy. Teams aren't going to jump at a $5 million AHL goalie — who has a 10-team no-trade-clause remember — the Kings will have to pay to move Petersen. They'll have to part with a top prospect or another high-draft pick to send Petersen away.
They could also save a little bit of money burying Petersen in the AHL another year, but not enough to make a significant difference. Buying out Petersen's contract also doesn't save much money, so, the Kings are potentially stuck with him.
Blake's hinted at a potential Petersen-Copley goalie tandem for next season, leaving Korpisalo out in the cold.
Outside of the contract situation, the Kings might not jump at giving Korpisalo a hefty contract. He was very good last season, but that's the first time in a while he's performed well. With a career .903 save percentage and -41.1 goals saved above expected, there might be concern about Korpisalo's consistency.
A lot of his past struggles can be chalked up to a hip injury that he fixed last summer, but it would still be a risk paying him starter, or 1A, money for the next few seasons. And, his playoff numbers weren't amazing despite a hot start.
He finished the first round with a .892 save percentage and -2.3 goals saved above expected. Those numbers feel a little harsh on Korpisalo and I think he played better than they show, but they are what they are. The Kings would be banking on a relatively small sample size of good play, a mistake they made with Petersen in the past.
If the Kings are fully confident that the Korpisalo we saw down the stretch and through three games in the playoffs is the true Korpisalo. It makes sense to do what it takes to bring him back, but that's a big if.
Gavrikov was exactly what the Kings needed next to Roy. A big body, who defends the rush well and can jump into the play and provide some supplementary offense.
Gavrikov and Roy as a pair led the Kings in every significant category including; Corsi for, Fenwick for, goals for percentage, expected goals for percentage and high danger chances for percentage in both the regular season and playoffs.
They were magnificent.
The problem with Gavrikov becomes, how much does he want?
The Kings have limited cap space and his play down the stretch might have priced him out of a deal in Los Angeles.
Gavrikov is likely looking for a deal in the $5 million-plus range, which would make him the highest paid, non-Drew Doughty defensemen on the team.
Gavrikov's going to turn 28 this summer, meaning the Kings aren't going to want anything really long-term, nothing like what they gave Mikey Anderson. Which will drive up his AAV.
I'm guessing the Kings would target something around the five-year mark, keeping Gavrikov until he is 33. That would solidify the left-side for the Kings for the next five years, with a stellar one-two punch of Anderson and Gavrikov.
Gavrikov also fits the Kings' system under Todd McLellan perfectly. As the left-defenseman, stepping into the neutral zone in the Kings' 1-3-1 he's great. His skating and reach allows him to break up plays at the red-line and he was rarely beat one-on-one in these situations.
He also showed off some offense, with three goals and nine points in 20 games. Not too surprising for a player who had 33 points in 2021-22, almost all of which came five-on-five.
He'll also be a good future partner for players like Brandt Clarke, Jordan Spence, Sean Durzi or Helge Grans in the future. He's a steady presence and will help them through any growing pains they have as they take on a bigger role within the organization.
There's also a history of success, he's never been a minus wins above replacement player in his career, even after a tough stretch in Columbus this season.
The one big knock on Gavrikov is his inability to take on a bigger role. His struggles in Columbus came when he was asked to take on a first-pair role and he struggled next to Doughty in Anderson' absence this season. When signing Gavrikov you have to accept that he's limited in the role he can play. He's a great second-pair defensemen but can't do more than that.
Who is Priority #1?
Weighing up each player, I think Gavrikov has to be priority one.
It's difficult to compare the performances of a goalie to a skater, but I think Gavrikov was slightly better than Korpisalo after coming over.
He formed the Kings' best pairing statistically and even showed off an offensive element the Kings weren't expecting.
The Kings know they have a capable goalie heading into next season with Copley, although he should be more of a 1B option, and don't have a clear left-defensemen on the second pair if Gavrikov walks.
Assuming Petersen doesn't have a huge bounce back next season, the Kings will still need to find a partner for Copley. Whether that's a big move for a star goalie, unlikely given Blake's comments in his exit interview, or another 1A type goalie to split with Copley.
I think that's an easier task than replacing Gavrikov's impact.
In a perfect world, Blake finds a way to free up enough cap space to bring both back, but that's going to be very unlikely. And I think it will be a one or the other type situation.