The Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings were the first clubs eliminated from the opening round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. Their early exits have given rise to considerable speculation about their off-season plans.
Having rebounded from missing the 2015 post-season, the Kings entered this year's playoffs considered among the Cup favorites. Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Timescites a lack of blueline depth for why they fell in five games to the San Jose Sharks. It's an issue she believes GM Dean Lombardi will have difficulty addressing this summer.
A lack of salary-cap space will hamper Lombardi's effort to bolster his defense. The Kings currently have over $65.9 million invested in 20 players for 2016-17, though center Vincent Lecavalier's anticipated retirement should free up an additional $2.25 million.
With a projected $10 million of cap room, that's not enough for Lombardi to improve his defensive depth and ease the burden upon superstar Drew Doughty. The Kings GM also hopes to re-sign pending UFA left wing Milan Lucic, who's expressed a desire to stay in Los Angeles. Even if Lucic accepts less than his current annual salary of $6 million, his new contract will eat up half of Lombardi's cap space.
ESPN.com's Craig Custance wonders if Lombardi might find any takers for right wing Dustin Brown by picking up half of his $5.875-million cap hit. Considering the steady decline in the 31-year-old Brown's production (three straight seasons averaging only 27 points) and the fact his contract runs through 2021-22, that will be a tough sell. He also has a modified no-trade clause listing eight preferred trade destinations. Assuming a trade is possible, a potential suitor could squeeze Lombardi to add a top prospect or a first-round draft pick into the deal.
After appearing in three of the last four Eastern Conference Finals and reaching the Cup final in 2014, the Rangers' championship window of opportunity has now slammed shut. There could be some changes this summer. Custance considers re-signing pending UFA defenseman Keith Yandle and restricted free agents J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Dylan McIlrath and Kevin Hayes among his three off-season keys for the Blueshirts.
Carrying nearly $57 million tied up in 16 players for '16-'17, re-signing the 29-year-old Yandle could make it difficult to find sufficient room for those RFAs. It may take around $6.5-million annually to keep Yandle in the fold, leaving just over $11 million for the others. It also leaves the Rangers with over $21 million invested in four defensemen, as Dan Girardi ($5.5 million), Marc Staal ($5.7 million) and Ryan McDonagh ($4.7 million) are already taking up over $15 million in combined salary.
The New York Post's Brett Cyrgalis speculated over Girardi's future with the Rangers, suggesting a contract buyout if a trade wasn't possible. While only $1.75 million could count against their cap in 2016-17, it will prove more costly in 2017-18 ($2.75 million) and each of the following two seasons ($3.75 million) before dropping to $1.25 million over the four remaining years of the buyout.
Bigger changes could be in store for the Red Wings. Top stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are aging and cannot carry the offensive load anymore. Datsyuk could depart for Russia after this season, leaving GM Ken Holland scrambling to trade the remaining year ($7.5-million cap hit, $5.5 million in actual salary) to a team with the cap space and the willingness to take it on. To close the deal, Holland might have to toss in a first-round pick or a top prospect.
The Wings lack scoring punch and skilled blueline depth. Trading Datsyuk's contract would free up considerable cap room to address those issues, perhaps making them a suitor for Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos via free agency. The Globe and Mail's James Mirtle claims a number of hockey people believe they have a shot at signing Stamkos. If Stamkos is unavailable, USA Today's Kevin Allen believes Lucic or St. Louis Blues right wing Troy Brouwer could bring more size and strength to the Wings' forward lines.
Trades are another possibility. The Detroit News' Ted Kulfan and Gregg Krupa, along with MLive.com's Ansar Khan, suggest forwards Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar could become trade candidates, along with goaltender Jimmy Howard. Khan believes Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets and Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues could be available.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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