There are a bunch of factors that could be blamed for the Los Angeles Kings’ tremendously disappointing 2014-15 season. The sudden decline of Dustin Brown, the even steeper decline of Mike Richards, poor cap management by Dean Lombardi, the shootout being a poor way to determine points in the standings, the Calgary Flames being really lucky, and three consecutive years of deep playoff runs resulting in the team being completely burnt out. Whatever it was, the Kings certainly weren’t as bad their record showed, and despite having a really ugly short-term cap situation, should find themselves back in contention this year. That being said, the Kings are going to have a lot of work to do this summer in order to maintain a quality roster moving forward, and they don’t want to make the same mistakes they have in the past with handing out mega-contracts like Halloween candy.
- Signed Tyler Toffoli to a two year contract with a $3.25 million cap hit.
- Terminated the contract of Mike Richards.
- Traded Martin Jones, Colin Miller, and a 2015 first round pick to the Bruins for Milan Lucic.
- Signed Jhonas Enroth to a one year, $1.25 million contract.
- Signed Jamie McBain to a one year, $0.600 million contract.
- Signed Christian Ehrhoff to a one year, $1.5 million contract.
- IN: Milan Lucic, Jhonas Enroth, Christian Ehrhoff.
- OUT: Mike Richards, Slava Voynov, Jarret Stoll, Justin Williams, Robyn Regehr, Martin Jones.
One of the most interesting and unexpected moves the Kings made this summer was acquiring Milan Lucic from the Boston Bruins. It seemed inevitable that the Bruins would ship out the soon-to-be free agent, but I don’t think anybody expected that he would end up in Los Angeles. Lucic put together his worst season in recent memory last year, managing just 18 goals and 26 assists, the lowest totals he’s had in a full season of play since his sophomore year in 2008-09. He also managed a career-worst 51.5 even strength Corsi For percentage despite being given fairly heavy offensive zone starts. Lucic’s struggles last year can largely be attributed to the injury of David Krejci. Over the past three years, when Lucic is on the ice with Krejci, his even strength Corsi For percentage, Goals For percentage, and goals for per 60 minutes all take a massive spike in comparison to when they’re apart.
Lucic will likely slot in alongside Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik this season, which is obviously an upgrade over the guys he played with in Boston last year when Krejci wasn’t in the lineup (like Ryan Spooner, Seth Griffeth, and Carl Soderberg). Obviously it’s difficult to say whether Lucic will be as successful playing with Kopitar as he was playing with Krejci, but for what it’s worth, Kopitar and Gaborik led the Kings last season in relative Corsi For percentage, so if it doesn’t work out, you can’t blame his line-mates.
If it does click, and playing with Kopitar can bring Lucic back to the player he was when he was lauded as the most dominant power forward in the NHL, the Kings might have themselves a financial conundrum. Obviously it would be great for the team in 2015-16 if the three of them could form a dominant scoring line, but both Kopitar and Lucic are impending unrestricted free agents, and fitting them both into their long-term cap picture isn’t going to be easy.
The Kings have roughly $50 million invested in eight forwards, four defencemen, and one goalie heading into the 2016-17 season. Currently, Lucic and Kopitar make $6 million and $6.8 million per year respectively, and I’m guessing Kopitar is going to be looking at a pay raise. When looking at what some of the other elite centres are making around the league right now, there’s no reason to assume that a great two-way player like Kopitar couldn’t earn around $8 million in the open market. The Kings also have to think about where the team is going to be a few years from before handing out any more massive, long-term deals. Tyler Toffoli is going to need a new deal after the 2016-17 season, and eventually they’re going to need to find somebody to fill the hole left by Slava Voynov on their blue line.
DEFENCE & GOALTENDING
The Kings are heading into the 2015-16 with a pretty thin defensive group thanks to Slava Voynov’s legal issues and the loss of Andrej Sekera to free agency. Of course, any team that has Drew Doughty and the vastly underrated Jake Muzzin isn’t going to be in too rough of shape. Doughty logged an average of 28 minutes of ice time per game last season, managing a 55.4 Corsi For percentage despite playing against tough opposing competition. Muzzin’s possession numbers were also incredibly impressive, as he put up a 57.7 Corsi For percentage at even strength alongside Doughty.
Beyond Doughty and Muzzin, the Kings have a solid, but unimpressive group. Alec Martinez and Christian Ehrhoff, who’s freshly picked from the bargain bin, will likely be given ice time in offensive situations while the shutdown pairing of Matt Greene and Brayden McNabb will tackle more difficult defensive assignments. After that, the Kings don’t have much in terms of depth. As we all know, Ehrhoff is made of glass, and there’s a very good chance he misses some time this season due to injury. The Kings’ insurance policy if that happens would be Jamie McBain, or dipping into the prospect well for somebody like Derek Forbort or Kevin Gravel.
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s really important for the Kings to find a way to fill the void left by Slava Voynov. As of right now, they have a dominant top pairing with Muzzin and Doughty, a good start to a middle pairing in Alec Martinez, and a mediocre shutdown bottom pairing. It would be ideal if one of the aforementioned prospects could step into Voynov’s role because they would provide a cheap and easy solution for the Kings, but it’s more likely that they’re going to have to continue to go bargain bin shopping for cheap, risky veterans like Ehrhoff until they can develop another long-term option.
As I mentioned earlier, the Kings already have roughly $50 million tied into eight forwards, four defencemen, and one goalie beyond the 2015-16 season. Along with that, the Kings will also need to deal with Milan Lucic and Anze Kopitar, both of whom are set to become unrestricted free agents. If Lucic and Kopitar are both signed to long-term deals, they’ll join Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford, Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, and Jonathan Quick as players who ave money committed to them for at least three more years. So while it won’t be all too difficult to find a way to fit Kopitar and Lucic into their cap right now, considering they’ll have mover $20 million in space to do so, the Kings are going to have to live with the risks and repercussions of adding more players to their massive list of committed, long-term contracts.
Ideally, the Kings could find a way to rid themselves of Dustin Brown’s contract. They managed to throw Mike Richards’ deal out the window with only a $1.320 million penalty for five years, making their financial outlook a lot more clear. Getting rid of Brown and the $5.875 million owed to him annually until 2022 would make signing both Lucic and Kopitar to big extensions a lot easier. I mean, obviously Kopitar is worth signing to a long-term contract right now, but as we’ve seen with so many players, including Brown and Richards, anything can happen to a guy over the course of a mega-deal. Having Richards and Brown take up roughly $11 million in cap room together seemed great in like 2011 when both of them were productive players contributing to a winning team, and then within a matter of a few years, they’re both massive boat anchors that played a big part in the Kings having to let go of productive players like Andrej Sekera and Justin Williams in free agency.
Not everybody can be signed to a massive, long-term deal. I personally believe Anze Kopitar is one who should, but I would be really skeptical of committing to Milan Lucic long-term. The Kings already have one hideous deal haunting them right now, and they just lucked their way out of another with Richards. With Tyler Toffoli needing a new contract in a couple of years and a massive hole on defence, the Kings should be wary of handing out more big contracts like the ones they’ve given out in the past.