Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi has done an outstanding job of keeping the core of the best team in the NHL so far. The key, of course, has been an uncanny ability to identify which players are essential to the cause and which are expendable.
And Lombardi has done a masterful job at that. Only six players that were a part of the 2012 Stanley Cup team were not around to hoist it two years later – defenseman Rob Scuderi, forwards Dustin Penner, Brad Richardson, Simon Gagne and Andrei Loktionov and backup goalie Jonathan Bernier. It would be difficult to make a case that the Kings have missed a single one of those players and that the ones with whom they replaced them, both from acquisitions from other teams and within the organization, aren’t actually better.
That happy gang should remain relatively intact for a run at another Cup next season. As it stands, if the salary cap is $70 million for next season, the Kings have $12.1 million to re-sign unrestricted free agents Marian Gaborik and Willie Mitchell as well as restricted free agent Dwight King. They also have to re-sign or replace Matt Greene. And that’s about it.
Based on that, don’t be surprised if the Kings mount another deep playoff run next season. But it’s the year after that which will test the mettle of the Kings GM because that’s when he’ll encounter the most difficulty keeping his team together.
And much of that work will actually begin this summer and if I know Lombardi, he’s already got a plan in place to keep the Kings a contender. He’s like that. That’s why Michael Futa is the director of player personnel in L.A. instead of being GM of the Calgary Flames or Vancouver Canucks or someone else. Futa has essentially become Jim Nill with the Kings, a guy who could be a GM somewhere else, but has decided to stay for more money and responsibility, a more prestigious job title and a chance to win the Cup again. In exchange for that, he can’t even talk to another team about a GM opening for two years. The same goes with John Stevens, who was promoted to associate head coach to keep him from taking whichever coaching vacancy he would have wanted.
So Lombardi is going to have to be just as proactive with his players, because there’s a whack of them coming up for free agency in the summer of 2015. And they’re enormous parts of the Kings roster. Defenseman Jake Muzzin, forwards Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli and Jordan Nolan are all due to become restricted free agents July 1, 2015. Defenseman and overtime hero Alec Martinez, ‘Mr. Game 7’ Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll, who never, ever seems to be out of position, are all up for renewal as unrestricted free agents the same day. The Kings will also have to re-sign or replace Robyn Regehr after next season.
And this is where having so many good players tends to come back and bite you. Not only are they all going to want raises, but also winning another Stanley Cup might not be as big a motivator as it was before. Williams and Stoll, for example, come in at a combined $6.9 million, which is a steal for players of that ilk. Even if Muzzin just runs on the fumes of Drew Doughty, he’s going to be worth a lot more than $1 million a year and if Martinez keeps scoring in overtime to win series, he’s going to be after a big raise over the $1.1 million he’ll make next season.
If that’s not enough, Anze Kopitar’s contract comes up for renewal in two seasons and he’s the kind of player Lombardi will want to have locked up for the rest of the player’s career if possible.
It will all pose a formidable challenge, one Lombardi has to begin to address this summer. The guys who have one year left on their deals can sign an extension anytime after July of this year and Lombardi won’t want to have that many contract demands hanging over his head going into next season. It will also affect what he offers to Gaborik, since any money Gaborik gets beyond next season will affect the Kings ability to spread out their cap room among their other players.
There really is no rest for the wickedly good and Lombardi knows that better than anyone.