As we take a look at the Los Angeles Kings Summer Playbook it appears GM Dean Lombardi is already a few pages deep. A surprising flurry of activity cropped up several days before the draft that already drastically altered the makeup of the Kings. First, Ryan Smyth unexpectedly requested a trade back to Edmonton. While that was going on, Lombardi made a monster swap with Philadelphia, trading Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a 2nd round pick for Mike Richards and Rob Bordson. Then after much grief, Smyth was finally moved to Edmonton for Colin Fraser and a 7th round pick.
That’s a lot of movement before July 1st, so let’s take a look at who’s on the Kings roster:
Forwards: Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Dustin Penner, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Dustin Brown, Scott Parse, Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser, Kevin Westgarth. UFAs: Michal Handzus, Alexei Ponikarovsky. RFAs: Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis, Oscar Moller.
Defense: Jack Johnson, Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene, Davis Drewiske. UFAs: Peter Harrold. RFAs: Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez.
Goaltenders: Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier.
Of those players, I don’t think any of the UFAs, Handzus, Ponikarovsky, or Harrold will be retained. All of the listed RFAs have received qualifying offers and will likely stay after negotiating a new contract, except for Moller whom the Kings will keep the rights to as he absconds to Europe for now. The shame is, with Simmonds gone, it might have been the year for Moller to step in.
The next step for the Kings is locking up Doughty. The contract talks have been incredibly slow, which is no doubt nerve-wracking for Kings fans. Jack Johnson just got what amounts to a very affordable lifetime deal from the Kings, but Doughty will cost more. If it’s a long deal, expect a cap hit similar to Duncan Keith’s of Chicago, about $5.6 million per season. However, if Doughty opts for a shorter deal so he can become a UFA, expect a higher cap number. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go as high as $7 million per season. Comparable players land anywhere between $5.2 and $6.7 million per season, but you have to remember that Doughty will likely receive the label of “best defenseman in the league”, if not world, when Lidstrom retires. I’m not saying it’s true (I’m not saying it’s not), but that kind of title comes with a price-tag. Doughty and top-defenseman Shea Weber are going to mop up this summer, so brace your jaw from hitting the floor.
It shouldn’t be hard to retain the rest of the RFAs once Doughty is locked up, so this is what the Roster will look like:
Penner – Kopitar – Williams
(Parse) – Richards – Brown
(Richardson) – Stoll – (Lewis)
Clifford – Fraser – Westgarth
Mitchell – Doughty
Johnson – Scuderi
Martinez – Greene
You may notice that certain forwards are in parentheses. That’s because I don’t feel they belong there and will likely be replaced. I’d expect Parse to drop down to LW3, and Richardson and Lewis will play on the 4th line, either in place of Westgarth or Fraser.
With the impending restricted free agent signings, the Kings will have somewhere in the neighborhood of (estimated) $6 million to spend. While the loss of Ryan Smyth hurts, his very expensive contract has gone too, which is a great relief. That money will go primarily to his own replacement. Here are some potential targets the Kings might take a look at for 2nd line left wing:
Tomas Fleischmann, Jussi Jokinen, Ville Leino, Steve Sullivan, Alexei Kovalev, Sean Bergeheim, Simon Gagne.
No, Brad Richards is not on my list. He’s not because he’s way too expensive and he’s a Center, which the Kings no longer need. Lombardi said the Kings would go after a mid-priced option, so a free-agent’s contract demands will weigh heavily into whether the Kings are interested.
Here are some options at 3rd line right wing:
Michael Ryder, Erik Cole, Antti Miettinen, Nikolay Zherdev.
I’m not even certain the Kings will be targeting a right wing to replace Simmonds, or if they will have Lewis and Richardson plug in. However, the loss of Simmonds on that 3rd line is vital and the Kings will likely want to build a new identity there. Gone are the big bodies of Simmonds and Handzus. Will the Kings try to construct a speedier, scoring 3rd line? While the primary concern is replacing Ryan Smyth, the Kings decent amount of cap space allows them the flexibility to possibly obtain a 3rd line right wing as well.
Of course the Kings could also go to the well and see what their prospects have in store. On defense, the Kings are stacked with prospects, but no room at the Inn. To me, Martinez locked up the 6th defenseman role and Drewiske is a cheap 7th. So Hickey, Muzzin, Voynov, etc. will have to wait. Up front, Loktionov will get a chance to earn a role at training camp. The problem is that Loktionov showed last season he plays best in his natural center position. It’s possible he could play on the 3rd line and Stoll could play wing and take draws, but I’m more inclined to guess he’ll get some seasoning in Manchester, with some cups of coffee in Los Angeles.
With the Kings gap at 3rd line right wing, could Junior scoring sensation Tyler Toffoli get a crack at the lineup? Toffoli had 57 goals and 108 points in 68 games with the Ottawa 67′s last season, best in the OHL. The Kings need goals and Toffoli can score them, but he’ll have to impress at camp in order to lock up the role. Toffoli was a 2nd round pick last year, selected at the draft in Los Angeles.
In goal, Quick will take the reigns again after putting up another impressive season. Bernier stumbled out the gates last year, but managed to steady himself and finish the season strong. The Kings don’t like the idea that these two should battle for the starter role, so it will be Quick wearing that title. The question has become, “Will the Kings keep Bernier and expect him to steal the show somehow from Quick? Or will they deal him now while his value is high?” It’s a tough decision any way you shake it. The Kings either give up Bernier, who was dubbed their future franchise keeper upon being drafted, or they lose Quick who has been nothing but solid since stealing the starter role a few seasons ago. It’s a “good” problem to have and one the Los Angeles Kings aren’t used to having.
Rumor is that Colorado wants a young starting goaltender to call their own and Bernier and Vancouver’s Cory Schneider are tops on that list. Would the Kings trade Bernier and if so, would it be to a Western Conference foe? The return would have to be hefty and the rumored piece is Paul Stastny. If true, it could be enticing for the Kings, despite the fact that Stastny is another center and carries a large price-tag, $6.6 million per season. Don’t expect this rumor to go away any time soon.
The Kings are in a good position moving into the summer. They have a new, talented and cost effective center in Mike Richards. Their core is intact, and suddenly there are a few more beans in the jar for Lombardi to spend. Should be interesting come July 1st.
Oh, and what happened to that guy the Kings got along with Mike Richards from Philadelphia, Rob Bordson? The Kings did not tender him a qualifying offer. He was simply included in the deal to make room on the Philadelphia roster.
Priorities: Sign Doughty, RFAs. Sign 2nd line Left Wing. Replace Simmonds on 3rd line. Explore options with Bernier.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney