39 days until Opening Night. 19 days until the first practice of training camp. 12 days until the first practice for the rookies.
Not all that long when you think about it! Enough time, however, to take a look at the different position groups here for the LA Kings entering training camp this fall. The easiest position to sort out will be where we start in today’s article – in net.
Not necessarily easy in that we know who will make which team, who will start however many games throughout the season or how those who do play will actually perform. It’s a position with uncertainty. It is, however, the easiest in that there are a certain number of players under contract, who are clearly here to play a specific position, with a pretty clear divide between the experience of those who have played at the NHL level and those who have not. The Kings currently have six goaltenders in the organization, split between NHL and AHL contracts. Four players have signed contracts with the Kings and a further two are under contract with the AHL’s Ontario Reign. A below look at those six players, how things may shake out during training camp and what we could expect heading into the regular season.
Who They Have
Pheonix Copley, Erik Portillo, David Rittich, Cam Talbot, Ryan Bednard (AHL), Jacob Ingham (AHL)
Where They’re At
For many, the goaltenders under contract for the Kings do not represent an inspiring group. It’s certainly the area of the team that the Kings have invested the least from a salary cap perspective. Even if you include Cam Talbot’s bonus in full, which won’t be the case on Opening Night, the Kings would have a maximum of $3,500,000 invested into their goaltenders, which would be Talbot’s base salary + bonus and Pheonix Copley’s base salary, the most expensive available tandem. When you look at that total around the NHL, the Kings would rank 31st of the 32 teams in the league. They rank 32nd if you don’t include Talbot’s bonus. The Kings and Buffalo Sabres are the only two teams in the league with 60+ percent of their salary dedicated towards forwards AND 30+ dedicated towards the backend. It is, at the very least, a big shift in salary-cap management entering last season, when the Kings had nearly $12 million in cap hits dedicated to their goaltending tandem on opening night.
From a 10,000-foot approach, there are three goaltenders with NHL experience and three without. The trio of Copley, Talbot and David Rittich are the players to watch as far as the NHL roster. When the Kings signed Talbot early on the first day of free agency, it appeared as if the goaltending situation was resolved. An NHL tandem of Copley and Talbot, with a veteran still to be signed to begin the season in Ontario, similar to how Copley was the season before. The Kings did sign another goaltender later that day – Rittich – who has not played an AHL game since the 2017-18 season, spending the entirety of his time in the NHL with Calgary, Toronto, Nashville and Winnipeg. Now, the Kings enter camp with three veterans and only two spots on the NHL roster and there is certainly no cap space to carry three. When you look at contract status, experience and familiarity, Copley and Talbot figure to have a leg up entering training camp, but don’t discount Rittich, who has at the very least made it a conversation.
In terms of performance, the Kings are certainly hopeful for a teamwide shift towards the better. The Kings had four goaltenders play at least 10 games last season. They got at least five wins from all four and three of the four had winning records. That’s the positive side. The negative is what was spelled out in the 50 Facts article from earlier this summer. The Kings finished the season with the 27th ranked save percentage in the league, though those numbers trended significantly upwards after the trade deadline. From opening night through the trade deadline, the LA Kings ranked 31st in the NHL in save percentage and 30th in high-danger save percentage at all strengths. Should that 31st ranking have been 16th, meaning a league-average save percentage, the Kings would have seen their 210 goals against, tenth most in the league, fall to 169. Were that the case, the Kings would have had the NHL’s sixth-best goal differential at the deadline at +36, as opposed to -5. Despite all of the above unfolding as it did, the Kings were still in a prime playoff position entering the deadline, cementing their place with a good finish to the season. Those comparisons are based on a league average, and even somewhere between 31st and 16th would have represented a significant swing. With the roster and structure the Kings have built, the numbers suggest average could be more than enough in the regular season.
What To Look For
The Kings preseason schedule sets it self up for a divide, which will likely come exactly as it was spelled out above via experience. The Kings will head to Australia to start training camp as a part of the NHL Global Series and with that trip will come the team’s veteran players. Likely included will be the trio of Copley, Rittich and Talbot, though exact personnel is unconfirmed. That leaves Portillo, alongside the AHL-contracted duo of Bertrand and Ingham, skating with the group in El Segundo. That group has a combined 23 games of AHL experience, with none at the NHL level. The Kings will play at least the first game in Anaheim with the group in El Segundo and those players will likely factor into the games that immediately follow as well. Those three goaltenders, as well as any external reinforcements that could be brought in for camp, will be given an opportunity to impress in that setting and perhaps longer, should performance merit any continued involvement.
Regarding the veteran trio, it’s pretty simple. There are two spots in the NHL and a spot in the AHL as the third goaltender on the depth chart. As stated above, you’d certainly expect to see Copley and Talbot as the frontrunners for the NHL jobs, but Rittich is an established NHL veteran who at the very least will provide competition and insurance. The Kings will have the two preseason games in Australia versus Arizona, where we’ll expect to see the veterans in action, as well as three preseason games apiece in consecutive weeks after returning. When you factor in schedules and rest needed after a pair of 17-hour flights, you’d expect to see each goaltender get a couple of reps throughout the preseason and go from there. Cam Talbot certainly knows what his body needs, and the others should have a pretty good idea as well.
Preseason performance matters. Rosters are not predetermined, as much as others might have you believe it. It’s also not the only indicator that impacts roster decisions. Certain players have a longer leash and more credit built up than others and that factors in. But there are decisions to be made and camp will play a part in making them.
A Look Ahead
We’ll move next over to the blueline, which currently has an established top four, followed by a deep pool of roster hopefuls with at least an outside shot at a spot on the opening night roster. We’ll get onto the forwards as well as we get closer to camp.