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With Toffoli signed, pressure on Blake to navigate rocky salary cap waters

The Kings locked Tyler Toffoli up to a three-year deal Wednesday, leaving Los Angles with little more than $5 million in cap space as they head into a crucial off-season.

Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake has been taking care of business in the first two months of his tenure. One month after taking the reins in Hollywood, Blake made his first big signing, bringing back restricted free agent Tanner Pearson on a four-year, $15-million pact, and Blake followed that up almost exactly one month later with the announcement the team has locked up RFA Tyler Toffoli to a three-year, $13.8-million deal.

The signing of Toffoli is an important one for the Kings, especially with their apparent interest in switching to a more up-tempo and high-scoring style of play in the coming years. While Toffoli, 25, is coming off of a down year in which he scored 16 goals and 34 points, his raise of $1.35 million per season from his last contract comes as a result of his production over the past three seasons. Since the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign, only two Kings, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar, have found the scoresheet more often than Toffoli, and Carter is the only goal scorer to have lit the lamp with greater regularity than Toffoli, who has 70 goals to his name.

On a Kings team that doesn’t have much in the way of young, offensive talent, it’s hard to pick apart Toffoli’s signing. The $4.6-million cap hit is likely lower than some would have expected, though the off year could help explain why, and the commitment isn’t long-term. For a team that has made a number of mistakes by handing out or bringing in long-term, big-money contracts, it was wise for Blake to err on the side of caution with Toffoli. And while there’s no doubt the positives of the contract outweigh the negatives, that doesn’t mean there are no concerns about the deal.

And the biggest question when it comes to Toffoli’s contract is what it means in the immediate. Cap space was always going to be a concern for Los Angeles this summer regardless of the cost of contracts for Pearson and Toffoli, but with both players inked, there’s now a clear view of what the situation is for the Kings. Waking up Thursday morning, Blake and the Kings are $5.32 million below the salary limit as they head into one of the franchise’s most important off-seasons of the modern era.

After three consecutive campaigns ended in disappointment, this summer is a chance for Los Angeles to take stock of what they have and make the moves necessary to bale out a ship that’s slowly sinking. And a big part of that, as noted, is turning a low-scoring team into one that can actually put some points on the board. The Kings finished with the sixth-fewest goals for of any team in the league last season, making it awfully evident some offensive tools needed to be added. But with a scant $5.32 million, plus whatever extra spending room the Kings receive post-expansion and via a potential increase in the salary cap, it’s hard to see how Los Angeles can chase any major pieces to improve their attack.

In fact, the most likely scenario at the moment is the Kings will have to rely on bottom-six signings or veteran players who may have already reached their peak in terms of offensive upside in order to improve the roster. 

Unless, of course, the Kings can manage to offload the salaries of Dustin Brown or Marian Gaborik in some way. There has been talk about buyouts for either player or a deal with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights that sees one of the two cap hits for the veteran players disappear off of Los Angeles’ books. It’s something the Kings will look into and seriously consider, to be sure, but both remain on the roster for the time being.

So, with little money to chase after one of the top scoring free agents on the market for the time being, exploring a trade to bolster the offense would be the next-best move. The issue with that, though, is Los Angeles is in a situation where any trade has to be a near one-for-one exchange when it comes to money. That’s to say every dollar in has to essentially become a dollar out, which is important to note with the speculation circling the Kings and Buffalo Sabres winger Evander Kane.

Let’s say a deal involving Kane goes through and he’s shipped off to Los Angeles. Kane is set to earn $5.25 million this coming season, so if the Kings were able to somehow make the deal without giving up a current roster player, Kane would eat up almost every free dollar Los Angeles has to spend. Of course, that won’t be the case, but even if the Kings traded a Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez to land Kane, there’s an increase in $1.25 million in salary incurred by Los Angeles. That limits the Kings to $4 million to fill the hole left by the potential departure of a rearguard, find some additional speed and scoring for the bottom six and sign remaining RFAs Kevin Gravel, Andy Andreoff and Nick Shore.

Again, there’s no way to really pick apart the Toffoli contract itself. It’s a short-term deal that will force Toffoli to perform in each of the next three seasons if he wants another big raise when he hits unrestricted free agency, and it gives the Kings leeway to get out from under the deal should he underperform as he did this past season. That’s a safety net Los Angeles hasn’t had with other signings in recent years. And should Toffoli meet or exceed expectations, the Kings will have enough money to retain him before he hits the open market. Los Angeles is currently projected to have more than $30 million available to spend in July 2021.

But that’s the long look at the deal, and Blake will only need to be concerned with the present. He has to ensure the signing and the Kings’ current salary structure doesn’t prevent him from improving his club. If that means buying out Brown or Gaborik or moving either along using some GM wizardry, so be it, because Los Angeles isn’t going to be satisfied with another low-scoring season that ends unceremoniously after Game 82.

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