Should I give the same introduction again? We all know the Canadian dollar is plummeting, and we all know it’s a nightmare for the NHL. It’s going to really hurt Canadian markets, but since a large chunk of the league’s hockey related revenue is based on Canadian teams, American teams are also going to be hit with some repercussions. In short, the most noticeable effect all teams will face is the salary cap. While many expected the cap to rise to around $75 million before the 2015-16 season, Gary Bettman suggested a couple weeks ago that if the Canadian dollar fell to $0.80, the cap ceiling would be around $71.5 million. The Canadian dollar is now at $0.79, so if this trend continues, the cap could realistically fall even lower than the figure Bettman gave.
This predicament will certainly throw a wrench in the plans of the Los Angeles Kings. Much like many other teams in the league, the Kings were banking on the prospect of the cap ceiling going up in order to address issues like improving their roster and giving new contracts to impending free agents. Unfortunately for them, the cap won’t be rising as much as they expected, meaning they’ll have to make some tough decisions on some of their key players, especially if they can’t find landing spots for their dead weight. Stashing Mike Richards in the minors isn’t going fix this problem.
Players under contract in 2015-16
One thing to note, a lot hinges on what happens with Slava Voynov. The Kings have been granted cap relief this season as a result of Voynov’s suspension for domestic violence charges, but the long term ramifications of his legal issues are unclear. There’s a chance his contract may be voided by the league, but even if he is, the Kings will only have $4.167 in extra cap space and another massive hole to fill. So with that problem being solved, another one is created.
I’m going to operate under the assumption that Voynov’s contract will be voided and he isn’t on the Los Angeles Kings’ roster next season.
Based on the suggestion that Gary Bettman gave, I assumed the cap ceiling will end up at around $71 million. Of course, there’s a decent chance there may be some kind of cushion put in place to help teams who banked on the cap rising to a higher figure. Regardless, if the cap ends up at around $71 million, the Kings will have roughly $14 million to flesh out their roster, which depending on the decisions they make regarding their free agents, will need eight more forwards, two defencemen and a backup goalie. In terms of free agents, the Kings need to make decisions on Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Martin Jones, Jarrett Stoll, Justin Williams, Robyn Regehr, and a few others.
The Kings got themselves into this mess when Dean Lombardi went on a shopping spree after his team who their second Stanley Cup in three years. Well, not really a spending spree in regards to shopping for free agents, but in rewarding the core members of his championship team with long term deals on top of the long term deals to Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty that they were already on the hook for. I imagine Lombardi liked the idea of rewarding his players for their hard work and success and wanted to keep not only the core, but the majority of the team intact for the long term. As a result, he has 10 players (including Voynov) signed past next season, and a bunch of them are making way more money than they’re worth.
Like the Blackhawks, the Kings have a lot of work to do this summer. Unfortunately for the Kings, it’s going to be a lot harder for them to open up cap space, especially considering the fact it’s going to be very difficult to find suitors for the players they’ll want to move.
Who stays, who goes?
I’ll start with the three obvious players, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick. Those three will most certainly be members of the Los Angeles Kings next season, I don’t think anybody is going to argue that. So that starts them off at $19.6 million for a top centre, a top defenceman and a top goalie. Not bad.
In: Kopitar, Doughty, Quick ($19.6)
First of all, the Kings have to look at which of their forwards they’re going to keep around, and which they’re going to try and dump. The obvious answer, looking at the numbers (and the fact they put him on waivers) leads me to believe Lombardi is going to be doing pretty much anything he can to convince somebody to take Mike Richards off his hands. The difficulty, of course, will be finding a team who’s willing to take on Richards’ contract (that goes until 2020) and his deteriorating game. This all could have been avoided had Lombardi used a compliance buyout on Richards last summer, but that’s easier said than done, especially considering he had just helped the team to its second Stanley Cup. In regards to forwards, the Kings have four guys locked up long term: Richards, Carter, Brown, and Gaborik. The two they’ll look to move are obviously Richards and Brown, and I imagine they’ll be keeping Gaborik and Carter. In terms of depth forwards, they’re doing fine with Lewis, but they can spend the nearly $2.0 million they’re giving Dwight King a lot more efficiently.
In: Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, Carter, Gaborik, Lewis ($31.273)*
Out: Richards, Brown, King
*This is pretty difficult to determine. For starters, it’s tough to say whether or not somebody will take on all of Richards’ salary, or if the Kings will have to eat some of it, or if they’ll have to buy him out all together. Same goes for Brown.
On defence, it’s difficult to imagine the Kings moving two freshly extended contracts in Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin, and they have no reason to do so. $8.0 combined for the production these guys have brought is fair. Greene on the other hand, a problem that also could have been avoided last summer, should be a dump candidate. The Kings can certainly find a cheaper option to provide third pairing minutes and value than Greene’s $2.5 million salary, especially considering they’re going better for a fraction of the cost with McNabb.
In: Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, Carter, Gaborik, Lewis Muzzin, Martinez, McNabb (39.923)
Out: Richards, Brown, King, Greene
So we’re almost at $40 million already and only four forwards, four defencemen and one goalie is signed. That leaves about $31 million to deal with fleshing out the roster and new contracts for some pretty important players. This is definitely doable. Honestly, if the Kings can find a way to move Brown, Greene and Richards’ salaries without having to eat any money, they’ll probably be able to fit everybody in. This is very unlikely though, since all teams are in the same boat as the Kings. Everybody is facing the reality of a lower cap ceiling than they expected, and as a result, will be less prone to taking a risk on a buy low, big contract player.
Priority A is eliminating Richards and Brown’s contracts. Getting rid of Greene’s would also be nice, but it’s not quite as demanding. In essence, everything comes down to whether or not they can get rid of Brown and Richards, or at least one of them.
What the Kings may have to do, unfortunately, is make the tough decision on the players that they weren’t able to make last year. This may mean buying players out and eating their salary over time, or trading away an expensive player who holds solid trade value like Jeff Carter or Marian Gaborik in order to open up room to sign a younger guy like Toffoli to a longer deal. Lombardi avoided making difficult decisions last offseason, but he won’t be able to do the same this summer.
Previously in this series: