Dating back to last season, the salary cap issues in Los Angeles have been known. In fact, the immediate concern after winning their second Stanley Cup in three seasons was whether or not the Kings would be able to re-sign playoff hero Marian Gaborik.
Well, the Kings got Gaborik under contract, extended Jake Muzzin, and otherwise stood pat. However, it didn’t stop rumors from swirling about Mike Richards, the $5.75 million man who has been deployed as the team’s third line pivot. With compliance buyouts available last off-season, it was thought the Kings might exercise theirs to free themselves of Richards’ contract and make space to fill some holes.
In the end, they didn’t. Instead, they opted to keep the 29-year-old Kenora, Ont. native and continue to utilize him in the bottom of their lineup. But now, with the situation surrounding Slava Voynov and compliance buyouts off the table, the Kings and GM Dean Lombardi are realizing just how badly they’re going to need the space moving forward.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that Richards’ name has been “out there” and that the center may be available for trade. McKenzie keenly points out that with burgeoning stars Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson coming up to restricted free agency there will be a need to free up some long-term room in order to keep the duo in Los Angeles. Jordan Nolan, who has been a fixture in the lineup for the past two seasons, will also be a restricted free agent.
Above and beyond that, the list of Kings who will need a raise in the coming years even further shines the spotlight on the need for some cap relief. Mainstays Jarret Stoll, Alec Martinez, and the Game 7 hero Justin Williams will all be entering unrestricted free agency at season’s end.
The signing of defenseman Jamie McBain to a league minimum deal, which left the Kings with a mere $14,385 of room under the salary cap, shows just how tight the Kings budget is right now. If it’s a sign of things to come, there’s going to need to be some moves, which brings us back to Richards.
Now a two-time Stanley Cup champion, once a Memorial Cup champion, and also a gold medalist at both the Olympics and World Juniors, Richards has an outstanding resume, but his level of play has been sliding in the past couple seasons. Once a back-to-back 30-goal scorer, Richards hasn’t broken the 20-goal mark since arriving in California by way of Philadelphia.
He’s been used in a largely defensive role in Los Angeles and gotten minutes on the teams’ power play, but his cap hit may just be too large for the minutes he’s used for, which may make him the perfect trade candidate for the Kings.
What will make trading Richards difficult, however, is his contract. As it stands, less than half the league has the ability to fit him under their salary cap. An interesting option, and one that was suggested during the off-season, would be working a deal with Winnipeg to bring Richards closer to his hometown. Other than that, it’d be hard to figure where the Kings could find a fit for themselves and Richards.
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine Lombardi offering a deal for Richards that includes a bit of salary retention. Short-term pain for long-term gain in a situation where the Kings will need space isn’t the worst thing and it could pique the interest of teams that would otherwise be out of the running.
The only thing that’s certain is, as McKenzie reported, the Kings will need to find space in some way, shape, or form. Unfortunately for Richards, it may be he who is the cap casualty.