There are rumors that the NHL’s salary cap will stay put at $69 million for the 2015-16 season (see Puck Daddy). As any Kings fan who has been paying attention this season knows, they’ve been having some cap troubles in the early going thanks to injuries and the Slava Voynov suspension. But the primary reason is that as two-time Stanley Cup champions and now annual contenders they are right up against the cap as it is, so I want to examine what might be the implications for them should this rumor prove true.
For the 2015 season, the Kings’ payroll is $68,491,894 (per Capgeek), of a possible $68,950,000. They have already committed $56,164,394 to 13 players for next year, including Voynov, as for the time being I am going to assume that Bettman will not be voiding his contract. That leaves the Kings about $13 million to sign 10 players. Can they do it?
The Kings have 10 pending free agents at the end of this season, 4 UFAs and 6 RFAs. Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Robyn Regehr, and Alec Martinez are to be UFAs. Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Jordan Nolan, Andy Andreoff, and Martin Jones are all pending RFAs.
Of the 10, Pearson and Toffoli are clearly the most important. This season their cap hits are $735,833 and $716,667 respectively. As two of the team’s leading scorers, with Toffoli challenging for the Art Ross and Pearson for the Calder in the early-going, they are going to command raises. The question is how big those raises will be. If they continue to put up numbers like they have early, it’s probably not out of the question that they could get Ryan Johansen-type second contract money, i.e., in the range of $4 million per year. It’s possible they will come in a little lower, assuming they want to remain part of a championship-caliber team, so while it might be a stretch, I’m going to assume it’s $3 million apiece for each. That probably is a stretch based on how much Jake Muzzin recently signed for. It’s hard to argue that either Toffoli or Pearson is not as valuable to the team as Muzzin, but if word comes down that the cap isn’t going up, they might have to sacrifice a few sheckles.
That’s $6 million of the 13 available gone to 2 players. We’re clearly in some trouble.
You have to have a backup goalie, and Martin Jones is signed for $550,000 this year, and can probably be kept around at the same price because while he’s a good backup, I don’t see any team signing him to be a starter so the only thing he could look forward to is more ice time elsewhere. Maybe he takes the money and runs, but he seems to like it in L.A. Even if he goes, the Kings can find another backup goalie to play for the league minimum, so there’s another half million gone.
$6.5 million left and 7 players to split it.
Alec Martinez has supposedly already been negotiating with the Kings to sign a new contract. Word is that Lombardi wants to keep it around $3.5 million while Alec wants Muzzin money. Let’s say they split the difference and Marty gets $3.75 million a year. He’s a versatile and offensively gifted d-man who scored the WCF and Cup-winning goals. No way the Kings are cutting ties with him.
Only $2.75 million to go.
Nolan can stay if he’s willing to make the same amount of money he currently does, and since he’s a borderline NHLer, he should be willing to. Either way, like Jones, he’s replaceable at the same price, which is near league minimum. Same goes for Andreoff and his league minimum deal.
So we just spent another $1.25 million on those two, leaving the Kings with a scant 1.5 mill to go.
So who’s left?
Justin Williams ($3.65 million cap hit). Jarret Stoll ($3.25 million). Robyn Regehr ($3 million). Kyle Clifford ($1.075).
Bye Regehr. Derek Forbort and his $863,333 cap hit get your job.
Bye Clifford. Not sure who’s replacing you, but there are plenty of young forwards in the system making under a million a year who can be just as effective.
Bye Stoll. Your leadership will be missed, as well as your abilities in the face-off circle, but for under a mill a year, Nick Shore is going to get his chance in 2015.
I can’t say good-bye to Justin Williams. He stays with a cap hit at $3.5 million. His 2014 playoffs earned it.
So that’s $6 million, putting the Kings $4.5 over the cap.
Somehow they have to trim about $5-6 million in salary then. So the question is, who from the current lineup is gone? And it’s very tough.
Mike Richards: His $5.75 million cap hit is basically enough to cover what’s needed. Trading him could bring back valuable assets in the form of draft picks (the Kings really wouldn’t be able to take on salary). But Lombardi did not get rid of him this past summer when he could have bought him out and freed himself from his contract, and Kramer has made good on Lombardi’s commitment to him, coming out strong this season, currently 4th on the team with 2 goals and 7 points in 15 games, averaging over 15 minutes a game, and excelling at both ends of the ice. Perhaps this mini-renaissance in his career would be the best time to move him, while his stock is high, especially when he still has 5 years left on his contract after this season. But maybe he is the kind of veteran leader the team would be best not to part with. There is no question that his best years offensively are behind him, but he is still a premier defensive forward and great at the dot.
Dustin Brown: Maybe it’s sacrilege at this point to suggest trading the captain who has twice now raised the Cup as the team’s leader. But Brown carries a $5.875 million cap hit for another 7 years. That is a very long time to remain shackled to a player who has been providing diminishing returns for a few years now. Through 15 games, Brown has scored 2 goals. I’m well aware that Kopitar only has 3, Kramer 2, and Williams 1, but they all also have some assists. Brown has none. He’s also -2 and shooting 5.4%. Before you suggest a small sample size, he finished last year with only 15 goals and 12 assists in 79 games, with a shooting percentage of 7.7. We all expected a bounce back from him, but it just isn’t happening. The only way to justify that contract was if the cap went up significantly. Now, if that doesn’t happen, his contract is an albatross on the Kings for the better part of the next decade. Don’t forget that Anze Kopitar is a UFA next year and may well command $9-10 million a season.
Matt Greene: Lombardi might be wishing he hadn’t signed Greene to an extension that (over-)pays him $2.5 million a year until 2018. Without question he provides leadership in the Kings dressing room, but his on-ice performance is hardly worth that kind of money. Perhaps if Lombardi is willing to have two rookie d-men on the team at the same time, Greene can be traded for a pick, and his spot can be up for grabs among Gravel, Miller, Leslie, Bodnarchuk, LoVerde, Ebert, Roach, MacDermid, and I guess Forbort as it’s not like he’s guaranteed Regehr’s spot.
There’s really nobody else the Kings can part with as Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, and Carter are all much much too valuable to even consider letting go.
So if these rumors prove true and the salary cap doesn’t rise next year, Dean Lombardi is going to have some seriously difficult decisions to make. What would you do? Who’s more valuable, the electric young combination of Toffoli and Pearson or the aging and diminishing (though somewhat legendary for the franchise) Richards or Brown, and if you vote for the former, which of the two vets would you jettison? Because in the end that’s what it might come down to.
Hey, at least they're in a better position than the Blackhawks, who already have almost $66 million committed to only 15 players next season!