The Los Angeles Kings are set for another interesting offseason. Last summer, they had to flesh out a roster after terminating the contract of Mike Richards and losing Slava Voynov due to legal issues, and this summer, they’re going to have to figure out a new contracts for arguably their most important player, as Anze Kopitar is set to his free agency come July 1. Along with Kopitar, newly acquired Milan Lucic’s contract will also come to an end at the end of the season, making matters for the Kings even more convoluted.
Lucic has been solid in his first few games with the Kings after spending his entire eight-year NHL career in Boston. Through 20 games, he has six goals and five assists to go along with a Corsi For percentage of 55.4 at even strength. While 11 points through 20 games doesn’t seem all that great for Lucic, who was one of the league’s most dominant power-forwards before seeing a fairly significant drop in his production over the past few years, his overall game has made him a valuable player on the Kings. He’s making more starts in the defensive zone than he usually has throughout his career, his line has been limiting scoring chances against, and as I mentioned before, his possession numbers have been solid.
Obviously the Kings want to keep Lucic around, otherwise they wouldn’t have traded Martin Jones and a first-round draft pick to acquire him last summer. That said, it isn’t going to be that simple, as they have to deal with a pretty horrific cap crunch along with Kopitar’s inevitable pay raise. I wrote about Kopitar recently, suggesting that because of his elite two-way game he could easily command upwards of $10 million on the open market. If that’s the case, and Kopitar isn’t interested in taking a hometown discount to stay in L.A, I really can’t see how the Kings are going to be able to fit Lucic into their cap picture unless they do some major restructuring.
The Kings have 10 forwards, four defencemen, and one goalie signed into next season from their current active roster at a combined cap hit of roughly $50 million. It’s certainly doable, especially if the cap ceiling rises past the $71 million figure it’s at right now, but the Kings also have to consider contracts they’re going to have to be handing out over the next few seasons too. The main concern, obviously, is going to be Tyler Toffoli, who’s bridge deal comes to an end after the 2016-17 season. Toffoli is currently on a very friendly discount deal that pays him just $3.25 million annually this season and next, so it’s reasonable to assume he’s going to be looking for a hefty pay raise on his next deal.
So do the Kings, who already have a boat load of pretty heavy contracts, really want to fork over a bunch of money and term to Lucic?
Even though his production has dropped over the past couple years, somebody is more than likely going to see the name Lucic and think of the 6’3” 235 pound coke machine that was one of the most feared and coveted power forwards back in his glory days with Boston. I mean, there’s a reason teams draft plugs like Mitch Moroz in the second round with the sole intention of “finding the next Milan Lucic,” because having a big, strong, physical player who can score and dish out huge hits is something almost every General Manager salivates over. And now that he’s finally going to be available in free agency, there’s no doubt that a lot of teams are going to be interested in his services.
As I mentioned earlier, the Kings have a pretty ugly cap situation. They’re pressed up against the ceiling right now and that’s with Anze Kopitar making $6.8 million annually, which isn’t going to be the case this time next year. They also have four forwards — Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, and Kyle Clifford — signed until at least 2020. If they hand out a couple more mega deals to Kopitar and Lucic, and then do the same with Toffoli a year or two from now, they’ll be even further debilitating their long-term flexibility. Unless they can shed somebody’s contract, ideally the one owned by Dustin Brown, I just can’t see them dedicating term and money to Lucic. If they do, they’ll have themselves yet another boat anchor contract to deal with a few years down the road.
He’s coming off a three-year deal that paid him $6 million annually, and he’s going to be getting an increase on that figure when he hits the open market. While he has said that he’s enjoying his time in Los Angeles and he could see himself staying there, money and security are probably going to be his top priority. We haven’t heard anything that suggests he would be willing to take less term or less cash to stick with the Kings, so we’ll have to wait and see. If I had to venture a guess, I would assume this is his one and only season with he Kings.
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES: