The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings had their dreams of a Cup repeat derailed by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Western Conference Final.
Though only a year removed from championship glory, everyone on the club – from management to players – weren’t happy over coming up short this time around. Making it as far as the Conference Final (something no defending champion had done since 2009) was no consolation.
And yet, despite the loss of a half-season to a lockout, their slow start when the season finally began, and having several key players hobbled by injuries in this year’s playoffs, the fact the Kings made it as far as they did suggests they’ll remain serious Cup contenders for the next several years.
They certainly don’t have to make any sweeping changes this summer. Almost all of their core players (goaltender Jonathan Quick, defenseman Drew Doughty, forwards Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams and team captain Dustin Brown) are under contract next season.
The sole exception is 23-year-old defenseman Slava Voynov, who emerged as a star in his own right this season, especially during the playoffs, when he tied Carter for the team scoring lead, tied Rob Scuderi for the best plus-minus, and had the fourth-most shots on goal.
Voynov is coming off his entry level contract and could land a nice raise between $3 – $4 million per season, especially when one considers the Nashville Predators just signed Roman Josi to a seven-year, $28 million contract. Indeed, it might be worthwhile for GM Dean Lombardi to get Voynov under wraps for a similar deal, as it could prove a bargain down the road.
Lombardi has enough cap space next season (around $11.8 million) to re-sign Voynov, but it’ll also take a significant chunk out of the remaining space, leaving him with around $7 million to fill eight more roster spots.
An additional $3.5 million in cap space could be available if Willie Mitchell’s ongoing knee problems land him on long-term injury reserve (LTIR) again next season. Mitchell’s status was cited by many observers as the reason Lombardi acquired, then re-signed, veteran blueliner Robyn Regehr.
Backup goalie Jonathan Bernier is also a restricted free agent, but it’s expected he’ll be shopped this summer, perhaps by the NHL entry draft weekend in late June. The Kings could either acquire a cheaper backup in return, promote from within or sign one via free agency.
Bernier is a decent trade chip, and Lombardi might use him to land a promising , affordable young player.
The other notable RFAs include forwards Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Jordan Nolan plus blueliners Jake Muzzin, Keaton Ellerby and Alec Martinez. All earned between $577K and $870K this season, so re-signing most of them shouldn’t be too difficult, especially if Mitchell goes on LTIR next season.
Winger Dustin Penner and defenseman Rob Scuderi are their notable unrestricted free agents. Penner was re-signed to a one-year deal last year, but while he had another good playoff this year, he was again inconsistent during the regular season. Lombardi recently said he wants to bring back Penner, but lack of cap space could make that impossible this time.
Scuderi could be re-signed, but as the LA Times noted, that could depend on Mitchell’s status.
The limited cap space and Lombardi’s desire to re-sign as many of his free agents as possible could keep him from taking on significant salary via trade or free agency. He might be able to add an experienced veteran on the cheap if the UFA market becomes flooded with compliance buyouts, but that depends upon who’s available and where they might fit in the Kings roster.
Brown will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, but don’t be surprised if Lombardi gets his captain signed to an extension later this summer.
Apart from trading Bernier, and perhaps finding affordable replacements for Penner and/or Scuderi, it should be a fairly quiet summer for the Kings.