Crazy how fast we flip the switch.
The Kings held their 2023 exit interviews this morning at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, just over 12 hours after the 2022-23 season ended in Game 6 yesterday evening. There’s no point in waiting. For the second consecutive season, the Kings were defeated by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the postseason. We’ll be sharing every interview conducted today over the next week or so, focusing on key takeaways and observations, but we’re starting today with the nitty gritty. Injuries, contracts, international play, the whole nine yards. Fewer opinions and thoughts – those will follow soon – but raw information for now.
Ange Kopitar – Kopitar is a free agent in the summer of 2024, but he repeated what we all assumed. He wants to be here for his whole career. “For sure. I’ve said it before, it’s no secret, I want to stay here and be a franchise player. We’ll see how it goes.” Kopitar’s play was praised by both Rob Blake and Todd McLellan, with Blake firmly confirming that if Kopitar is interested in extending talks, he’s on board. “If that’s what he wants, then yes, for sure . He’s a great leader for this organization and plays at such a high level.”
Alexander Edler – Speaking to Edler, he indicated that he hopes to continue playing, but that decision ultimately comes down to talking with his family and deciding what’s next for both him and them. Edler fondly remembered his time with the Kings as memories, including his 1,000th game, even though he didn’t know exactly what the future held. “I think the easy answer is that I would like to keep playing, but there are a lot of factors. I’ll get a new contract, see how the body feels, talk to my family, we’ll see.” Edler has felt good for the most part all season and indicated that there is nothing left over from his injury a season ago.
Blake Lizotte – Forward Blake Lizotte indicated he missed Games 3, 4 and 5 of the series against the Oilers with “lower back spasms,” previously defined as a lower-body injury. Lizotte returned to the squad for the decisive sixth game yesterday evening. It was a challenge for a tough and durable player. “Nothing long term, I just needed to let the muscles relax. For a while, touching my toes was a chore. That was definitely disappointing.”
Kevin Fiala – Fiala confirmed that a knee injury kept him out of the lineup for Games 1, 2 and 3, and that the injury was the same injury he suffered after being hit with a knee to the knee by Colorado forward Andrew Cogliano in early March. Fiala played just three games between that blowout and Game 4 of the playoffs. Despite recording six points (1-5-6) in three games played, Fiala indicated he is not 100 percent, but declined to put a percentage on it. “It was something in the knee, I don’t want to go into details. When I came back I wasn’t 100 percent, but it is what it is.”
Viktor Arvidsson – Like Kopitar, forward Viktor Arvidsson enters the summer with a year remaining on his contract. Arvidsson indicated that he is not yet focused on a potential contract extension right now, with his main focus for this season simply getting through the season healthy and making the playoffs happen. “I haven’t really focused on it. I was just trying to stay healthy and get my game back. I thought I did it this year. We’ll see what happens, I don’t want to close any doors or anything going forward.”
Trevor Moore – No need to weight train this summer, Trevor Moore now has daddy power! Congratulations to Trevor and his family on the birth of his first son. Moore’s son was born Thursday between Games 5 and 6. A huge life event for sure, albeit an unintentionally positive one, will be his opportunity to be a father here for the first time and enjoy every bit of it. “I think I was planning on playing longer and it’s a burden on my wife, so to be able to come home last night and take some of that off her and spend some time with the little guy was great.”
Gabe Vilardi – Speaking to Vilardi today, he hasn’t given much, if any thought to what a future contract might entail. Vilardi is a restricted free agent this summer. He indicated that he’s “not thinking about that right now” and that he would let his agent handle most of those details. He also declined to share details about his injury, which cost him several games late in the regular season as well as Game 1 of the postseason. As for the contract, Rob Blake praised Vilardi’s commitment and improvement this season, but also wants to see him play full seasons. “The CBA gives different types of options with Gabe because of his age. We need Gabe to be able to play full seasons, and I think you’re starting to see a little bit of his potential, which is really good. He was engaged this year on both sides.”
Sean Walker – An open and honest assessment from defender Sean Walker. Walker expressed great pride in how he recovered from his knee injury a season ago and returned to his best as the season progressed. He also understands the bigger picture and admitted he doesn’t necessarily feel secure in his long-term position on the team simply because of the depth of his position. “I suppose maybe not too solid to be honest. You know the guys that are coming, you know where the cap is. We’ll see what happens. I know I can contribute and play here and this is where I want to be, but at the end of the day the organization has to do what they think is best.”
Yoonas Korpisalo – For Korpisalo, he said he’s “loved every minute” of his time in Los Angeles, but his full focus was on the series against Edmonton until things wrapped up last night. He admitted he hasn’t thought beyond that at this point, but he certainly hasn’t ruled out re-signing with the Kings either way. “Time will tell.” With Game 6 still so fresh, he didn’t know what the future would hold. Rob Blake’s responses were similar regarding Corpisalo and each of the team’s unrestricted free agents, citing the salary cap and where everything falls into place. One to watch, for sure.
Todd McLellan – We’re thinking mostly of player contracts, but head coach Todd McLellan is also entering the final year of his contract with the Kings. McLellan pointed out that he’s been a “long-time coach, I’ve got one more year left and I’m really looking forward to this year. Whatever happens after that, some of that is in my hands, but we’ll see what happens there. It’s nothing I’ve thought about, nothing I’ve approached. He added that he has “thoroughly enjoyed his time here”. Blake confirmed that McLellan will return next season. When asked about a potential extension, Blake said he would “sit down with Todd and find out what he wants and where we want to go. I have a lot of confidence in this staff right now. I think they did a tremendous job, a really good structure and system and got the players to play.”
World Cup – Various players have touched on the possibility of playing at the World Cup, but today seemed too early for any confirmation. Forwards Blake Lizotte and Jarrett Anderson-Dolan left the possibility open, with Lizotte hinting it was something he would consider today and Anderson-Dolan saying he would like to play if asked. Forward Trevor Moore and defenseman Matt Roy indicated they would decline any potential invitation for personal reasons, Moore naturally including the recent birth of his son. Sean Walker also said he would decline, focusing on his wedding this summer, while forward Gabe Vilardi joked that if Walker wasn’t going, he didn’t want to go either. Striker Karl Grundström, who represented Sweden last season, has indicated he would be interested in going again, as has forward Rasmus Kupari. There may also be a few players who spent the season in the AHL with the Ontario Reign who could feature for their respective nations. There were also a handful of players who are eligible but were not claimed today. It looks like we may know more in a few days.
Vladislav Gavrikov – One player we didn’t hear from today was defender Vladislav Gavrikov, who is expected to give his own media interview later in the week. When asked, Blake said re-signing Gavrikov might be the toughest move of the offseason — “cap-wise, probably” — but was pleased with his form and the balance he brought to the team’s blue line . Todd McLellan echoed similar thoughts about a good fit. In a perfect world, Blake indicated that he would like to get the entire group back, but salary cap constraints will likely prevent that. We’ll see how he and Korpisalo shake us up.
Looking ahead, the Kings’ list of unrestricted free agents is short – Gavrikov, Korpisalo and Edler. However, the list of restricted free agents is quite long, starting with Vilardi. In total, the Kings have 16 restricted free agents, including seven who have played games in the NHL this season. They also have five new pros already signed and ready to join the ranks at the NHL or AHL level. It’s almost impossible to see a world where all 16 of those players are brought back, so there will be changes on some level this summer.
Think these are all tangible things! There will be much more detail on every player and staff member who spoke, including all the full videos that are available. That process will begin tomorrow with Blake and McLellan before diving into the team leaders and so on down the line. A total of 22 interviews were conducted today, with several more to come over the next few days. All to be analyzed, broken down and shared here at LAKI!