Kings roster already solid for next season
A perfect storm of upward-trending player development, terrific value throughout one of the youngest rosters in the league and a high offseason retention rate has the Los Angeles Kings well-constructed to find future success, especially in the 2012-13 season.
Nine different franchises have won the last nine Stanley Cups, with first-timers Tampa Bay, Carolina, Anaheim and Los Angeles joining the mix of championship banner-hanging teams. No team has won back to back Cups since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998, placing recent history as an opposing force on the Kings' chances of repeating.
Los Angeles, however, won't have to deal with the budgetary constraints many teams face in the summer after their championship. The most notable recent case of a team shedding key pieces to fit within salary cap constraints was the 2010 offseason experienced by the Chicago Blackhawks, who were forced to shed the contracts of Antti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Adam Burish, amongst others.
All seven defensemen who appeared in a game for the Kings in 2011-12 have at least one year remaining on their contract, which should aid the team's consistency by keeping intact its primary strength.
The 2012-13 season will mark the final one the Kings get sensational value out of Jonathan Quick, who has one year remaining on a three-year, $5.4 million contract that was signed early in his emergent 2009-10 season. A contract extension will jump to the top of general manager Dean Lombardi's to-do list and will have a domino effect on several other moves that will likely be made this summer (see below).
Terrific value can also be found in the contracts of Dustin Brown, a $3.175 million cap hit through 2014, and defensemen Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez, both of whom play important minutes on a versatile blueline without necessitating as much as a $900,000 hit. Unless a contract extension is negotiated, they'll both be restricted free agents a year from now.
Writing this would have sounded absurd in the first half of the season, but considering his dynamic play at all ends of the ice throughout the postseason, Drew Doughty proved his worth far beyond his $7 million salary. After Quick, he represents the most sizable cornerpiece in the puzzle assembled by general manager Dean Lombardi.
"Hopefully for him, he can get his name on that Cup many times with us. He's an amazing player," Luc Robitaille said of Doughty as the Kings paraded around the ice with the Stanley Cup.
Lombardi's most pivotal offseason development lies in his ability to come to an agreement with Quick on a multi-year contract extension that would, at the very least, make him the most well-paid player on the team. A starting point for discussions would be Pekka Rinne's seven-year, $49 million extension with Nashville; Quick has the bargaining power to tack on a few more dollars and another year or two, considering he's the Conn Smythe Trophy winner and a Vezina Trophy candidate.
Locking Quick up long-term allows Lombardi to package goaltender Jonathan Bernier in a trade that could fill a void from one or possibly multiple defections via free agency from their forward corps. A former first round draft pick and QMJHL champion with the Lewiston Maineiacs, Bernier has nothing left to prove as an understudy to Quick's heavy workload. And there are about four or five teams -- Toronto, Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Chicago, perhaps New Jersey? -- that would be salivating over the idea of bringing in a talented young goaltender.
Their return in a potential exchange for Bernier will likely be the most significant piece acquired by Los Angeles this summer.
Of LA's four unrestricted free agents, Scott Parse -- who was drafted in 2004, but has been limited to 73 games (in which he's recorded 30 points) in an injury-abbreviated NHL career -- is almost certain to depart.
Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll and Colin Fraser are the other UFAs. The Kings will be hoping for a little hometown lovin' from the first two, who will certainly receive lucrative contract offers elsewhere beginning July 1. Fraser, whom Darryl Sutter was already familiar with after he had played for his brother, Brent, with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels, was well-admired by Sutter for his hockey instincts, positional acuity and toughness.
"I don't call them our fourth line," Sutter said early in the Stanley Cup Final. "I call it Colin Fraser and whoever is playing with him."
A two-year contract worth between $1 and $1.2 million per season sounds like a good deal for Fraser and a strong investment on a role player and character contributor who seamlessly fit into the dressing room as a first year King this year. Sutter's quote could also signal that Jordan Nolan will once again have to earn his spot in training camp, while casting some speculation that Brad Richardson, signed for one more year at a $1.175 million hit, could be a potential trading chip.
Negotiations with Stoll and Penner will be much murkier, and while plenty of reasons can be made to re-sign both, there are several viable options already within the organization that could fill their holes.
Simon Gagne could either slot in alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on the Flyers Alumni line, or with potential third-line center Trevor Lewis and Dwight King. Prospect Tyler Toffoli, who had two 50-goal seasons to his name with the OHL's Ottawa 67s, is more of a long-shot, should Los Angeles be unable to retain both Penner and Stoll, who will both receive lucrative multi-year offers from other teams.
Other than Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, this year's free agency crop
isn't one that would likely interest the Kings greatly, at least from a
high-skill standpoint. Their depth and value on a
filled-to-capacity blueline will keep them from making an honest push
for Suter, while the annual salary Parise is likely to command could
hamper them in negotiations with Jonathan Quick as they strive to remain
under the cap, which has temporarily risen to 70.3 million, as reported
by The Globe and Mail. The Kings are currently $16 million under that figure, according
Los Angeles' to-do list is considerably shorter than Colorado's, where Greg Sherman has nine restricted free agents to negotiate with, including Matt Duchene, Peter Mueller, Jamie McGinn and Erik Johnson. Instead, much of the core of this LA team -- Anze Kopitar, Carter, Richards, Doughty -- will be together through at least 2016, when Carter, the oldest of the group, will be turning 31. Doughty is signed through 2019, Richards through 2020 and Carter through 2022, when he'll be 37 and commanding $5.27 million.
"It's a great feeling," Carter said of winning a Cup during a stressful 12-month period that saw him traded twice. "Dean showed a lot of faith in me. A lot of people doubted us. A lot of people doubted me. Proved ‘em wrong."
If there's a hole to be filled it's probably at left wing. Gagne's health liabilities -- he's missed an average of 30 games the last five seasons -- could make him more appropriate in a third line role and open up a spot alongside Richards and Carter, should Penner depart.
Of course, this is a completely non-linear process, and any strain in negotiating with Quick could disrupt the team's preferred avenue of roster enhancements. Though a depth piece or two could be added to the forward corps, the most significant addition to this Kings team is likely to come in what they receive for Bernier. Minus a piece or two, next year's Los Angeles Kings should still look awfully similar to the 2012 Stanley Cup-winning incarnation, leaving the championship window wide open next April.