NHL free agency: Here's why a Tyler Toffoli reunion with the Kings makes sense

LAS VEGAS – The conditions are ripe. The sentiment should be real. The fit might be fantastic.

Tyler Toffoli can become a Los Angeles King again. And that can do more than bring back a warm feeling.

That’s up to Toffoli and the Kings, of course, as free agency opens on Monday. There’s an opportunity for the Kings to reunite with their second-round pick from 2010 who hoisted the Stanley Cup four years later, in his first full season, and has gone on to score 260 goals across parts of 12 seasons.

At this point in his career, Toffoli, a 32-year-old free agent, wouldn’t be blamed for looking for the best chance to win the Stanley Cup again, or for finding a role fit and a financial fit. The Kings, as currently sculpted, probably won’t give him the best chance at the Cup again but they can offer him the other two. Maybe that’s enough.

Will the Kings pursue Toffoli? It’s possible they won’t. They could go in many directions. Toffoli and his agent, Pat Brisson, are going to market to see what it bears. And there will be a market for a right wing who is coming off a 33-goal season split between New Jersey and Winnipeg, and who has 67 goals over the last two years.

But the Kings should throw their hat into the ring, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently reported that there is interest. The Kings are not rebuilding, but after three consecutive first-round playoff losses, they’re trying to stay out of the NHL’s mushy middle — that uncomfortable space where a team is too good to be a bottom-feeder but not nearly good enough to drink from the Cup.

At least they’re operating with a chance to make moves and improve. PuckPedia has the Kings with a projected $18.9 million available after Saturday’s acquisition of rugged winger Tanner Jeannot. That’s welcomed breathing room after a season of being cap-scrapped.

A confluence of factors created that space. The rise of the cap to $88 million provided a $4.5 million boost. General manager Rob Blake’s fix of his Pierre-Luc Dubois mistake, by offloading Dubois’ massive contact to Washington for Darcy Kuemper, saved another $3.25 million. Negotiations to retain defenseman Matt Roy didn’t result in an extension, and the Kings appear ready to also walk away from oft-injured winger Viktor Arvidsson. Those two combined to eat up approximately $7.4 million of cap space. And Anze Kopitar’s extension, which kicks in on Monday, comes in at $7 million instead of the previous $10 million.

(Additionally, the Kings on Sunday did not issue a qualifying offer to fourth-line center Blake Lizotte but did so for Quinton Byfield, Jordan Spence and, interestingly, the often-scratched Arthur Kaliyev.)

One area of need is on the wing, where Arvidsson’s significant missed time due to back surgery and another lower-body injury contributed to the Kings’ offensive drop-off in the second half of the season. They finished 17th in scoring. Adrian Kempe and Kevin Fiala are their top wingers, while Trevor Moore broke out with a 30-goal season and Byfield became a 20-goal scorer. But it drops off greatly after that, and Byfield may return to center.

Blake spoke on Friday after the Kings drafted power forward Liam Greentree of the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires with the 26th pick. Earlier in the week, Blake dealt winger Carl Grundstrom to San Jose for veteran defenseman Kyle Burroughs.

Burroughs, 28, is a right-hand shot who won’t be a replacement for Roy. That will be Brandt Clarke’s job, or Spence’s, within the Kings’ top four if coach Jim Hiller opts to ease Clarke in and not hand him prime even-strength minutes right away. “The physicality and the compete level” are things Blake said he likes about Burroughs, who had 233 hits and 134 shot blocks for the Sharks but also carried a grisly minus-42 rating.

“I think last year, for the most part, we were pretty healthy but for the past couple years there’s always been different injuries there,” Blake said. “Added depth on the defense. He plays hard.”

Speaking with The Athletic on Friday, Blake turned away from discussing potential roster movement and focused on increasing opportunities for Clarke, Alex Turcotte and Akil Thomas, and even proven AHL goal scorer Samuel Fagemo.

“They’re at the stage of their career where we got to get them in the lineup,” he said. “That’s part of our focus here also in roster spots.”

The next day, Blake got Jeannot from the Tampa Bay Lightning for two draft picks, one of them a second-rounder in 2025. Jeannot could be an upgrade from Grundstrom, and should be, if he can be more like the scrapping complementary scorer from the start of his career in Nashville, instead of the one who struggled after his trade to the Lightning.

Jeannot, 27, burst onto the NHL scene in 2021-22, when he scored 24 goals and added 17 assists in 81 games as a rookie. The Lightning acquired him in 2023 for five draft picks and defenseman Cal Foote, but he didn’t fit well there and he hasn’t found his offensive game since his first season. In 2023-24, Jeannot had seven goals and seven assists in 55 games.

The Kings are absorbing Jeannot’s $2.665 million cap before he’s UFA-eligible next summer. But between that and Burroughs’s $1.1 million number over the next two years, that shouldn’t keep them from adding a bigger roster piece that might help them get out of the first round.

“We’ll look at different options,” Blake said. “I wouldn’t say a clear direction right now on that.”

The forward market drops sharply after Sam Reinhart, Jake Guentzel and Steven Stamkos, if they make it to free agency. (Guentzel reportedly is set to sign with Tampa Bay.) But there are useful scorers. Jonathan Marchessault might be the next-best bet if Vegas can’t re-sign him. Jake DeBrusk is only 27 and puts up numbers despite his inconsistency. Jeff Skinner could come cheaper after being bought out by Buffalo. Vladimir Tarasenko isn’t what he once was, but he can still contribute key goals, as he did while becoming a Stanley Cup champion again with Florida.

But the list of quality pure snipers is short. The Kings can’t reunite “That 70s Line” with Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson, but one member of it is still going strong. Toffoli is a career 11.5 percent shooter who has 68 power-play goals – 21 of them the last two seasons – and has topped 200 shots on goal on seven occasions.

The Kings traded Toffoli in 2020, two days after a memorable final game with them, in which he had the first hat trick in an NHL outdoor contest, as Los Angeles got a 3-1 win over Colorado at the Air Force Academy. That ended an eight-year run in L.A., in which he scored 139 goals. Since then, the well-traveled hired gun has scored for Vancouver. He’s potted goals for Montreal. Calgary. New Jersey. Winnipeg.

That’s what he does. He’s now in his 30s, but Toffoli doesn’t play the taxing, physical game that can take a toll on one’s body. His success was never predicated on speed. He has scored goals because of his anticipation and sense, when he finds the quiet space at the right time, and the variability of his shot-making. Plainly speaking, Toffoli still has his hands.

And he’s durable. He’ll be in the lineup every night, save for the occasional minor injury. Which is what the Kings need that Arvidsson couldn’t provide last season. The Jets acquired Toffoli for their playoff push, and while he wasn’t a difference-maker for them, he still scored his 19th and 20th career postseason goals in their five-game series loss to the Avalanche.

Toffoli finished off a four-year deal that he originally signed with the Canadiens. He hasn’t made it through two full seasons with another team since. Last year was split between the Devils and Jets. While players who have proven to fill the net usually get paid, Toffoli hasn’t made more than $5.125 million in a single season, and is coming off a deal that had a $4.25 million average cap hit.

The Kings can handle that, and also get extensions done for Byfield and Spence — it won’t be a surprise if those are bridge deals for the youngsters. Toffoli will be a hot commodity outside of the very top free agents – a reunion in Vancouver could be possible if the Canucks watch Guentzel sign with the Lightning. L.A. shouldn’t overpay or overcommit on term, but it can make a nice offer to Toffoli over three or four years.

They’re more than a Tyler Toffoli away from winning the Cup. They’re still short on star power. But they need another player who can flat-out put the puck in the net. Bring him home.

(Photo of Tyler Toffoli: Noel Vasquez / Getty Images)

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