The Kings Face Future Salary Cap Purgatory

You do not play hockey for good seasons. You play to win the Stanley Cup. It has to be the objective — Guy Lafleur

We all love hockey, and by all means hope our teams have ‘good’ seasons, however we choose to define the term. That being said, Lafleur was right: winning the Cup is the only acceptable objective a franchise should have. Is there any downside to that approach?

Travis Zajac contract Devils
Mike Richards carries a $5.75 million cap hit, making him a difficult player to trade (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
Yes and no. After a team wins a championship, management typically works to keep the core of the roster together as long as possible. It makes sense, of course — the talent level is high, chemistry is strong and the players have clearly bought into the system. If achieved once, logic dictates that keeping the key players around and supplementing with youth and strategic acquisitions should allow the club to compete for the Cup indefinitely. At least in theory, anyways.

However, there is a significant potential downside, and it’s a looming brick wall that potentially faces the Los Angeles Kings: salary cap purgatory.

The Slava Voynov situation

As it happens, the Kings are already experiencing cap problems due to Slava Voynov’s indefinite suspension (with pay) by the NHL. The recent news that the Los Angeles district attorney’s office has elected to charge Voynov with a felony count of ‘corporal injury to spouse with great bodily injury’ underscores their continuing cap difficulties. The NHL has already stated the suspension will continue, leaving the team with nearly $4.2 million in dead cap space.

The NHL and the Player’s Association may ultimately negotiate a degree of cap relief for Los Angeles. For now, however, the franchise must deal with having one hand tied behind their backs. Alas, it could end up being the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The Kings have eight players signed for at least five years

General Manager Dean Lombardi traded for Mike Richards in October, 2011 and acquired Jeff Carter four months later, inheriting two very long contracts in the process. He signed team captain Dustin Brown to an eight-year extension in June, 2013, and has franchise defenseman Drew Doughty, franchise goaltender Jonathan Quick, recently re-signed right winger Marian Gaborik, defenseman Jake Muzzin and the aforementioned Slava Voynov on long deals as well.

Adding it all up, the Kings have nearly $50 million of cap space (per season, for at least five years) tied up in just eight players, with the NHL’s current cap being $69 million. Worse still, early reports are that the cap may not increase next yer, with a host of key players (Kopitar, Williams, Pearson, Toffoli and Jones, to name a few) seeking new, bigger contracts soon.

Other teams have greater flexibility under the cap

When it comes to flexibility, the Kings are in worse shape than most teams.

Anaheim has just two players (Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf) signed for more than four years. Chicago has five players signed that long, headlined by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Sharks only have three contracts of that length, the Bruins three and the Blues two. The list goes on and on.

Clearly, Dean Lombardi has worked hard to keep the core together, an approach which helped lead to two Cups. Unfortunately, it may also lead to salary cap purgatory.

A number of contracts will be difficult to move

Lombardi is a top-tier general manager, and thus there is little doubt he will work the phones to solve the problem if and when it becomes necessary. However, that may not be as easy as it sounds. One rumor making the rounds on Twitter, for example, would certainly help the club’s financial situation:

But who would take him? Richards is owed approximately $29 million over the next six years. Despite outstanding leadership and intangibles, he hasn’t surpassed 44 points since 2010-11, making him a very tough sell at this point in time.

Three other long-term contracts would likely be difficult to trade as well. Fan-favorite Dustin Brown’s declining production wouldn’t exactly entice a suitor to absorb his nearly $6 million cap hit, Voynov is in legal limbo and Gaborik, although more marketable than the others, is on the wrong side of 30 and injury prone to boot.

It’s not as if Lombardi won’t have options at his disposal. The aforementioned contracts merely illustrate the downside of the go-for-it approach a Cup contender faces in trying to keep it all together as long as possible. The Kings are Exhibit A in that regard.

What should the Kings do? Trade lesser players and other contracts, move a big name to free up some serious cap space, or just ride it out and see how things go? Go ahead and add your thoughts below, or send me a message @McLaughlinWalt with your suggestions.

7 thoughts on “The Kings Face Future Salary Cap Purgatory”

  1. Should be titled: Rich Man Problems.

    Not having cap space because they have 8 players tied up (pending Slava) is not a bad problem to have. Isn’t that what you strive for, especially coming off 2 cups in 3 years? This is a production driven league but Richards and Brown are needed on the team. Yeah, I would like them at about 50% of their contract but oh well, blame the market. These are pieces you need especially in the locker room and playoffs. The Kings are built to withhold some adversity. They aren’t relying on one guy like some other teams. Kopitar, Quick, Doughty, Gaborik, Regher, Green, Mitchell (in 2012-13) have all been injured and they can still plug guys in and continue to move. The reason why its a bad problem because they are too deep in terms of veterans, the young guys, and how they build in Manchester. I’ll take this problem over 80% of the other teams. Dean is the best GM in hockey and perhaps sports. He has created an awesome blue print for everyone to follow.

  2. I’m an avid Kings fan. I’ve had season seats since 1981-1982. I think Lombardi is awesome. The best GM we ever had. I agree with you, I don’t know why we had to sign Brown for eight years when clearly he is not what he was and will only get worse. You can’t justify giving Gabby seven years either… Would these players not have taken four year deals? I’m all for loyalty but I’ve got to think that in a few years this team will be really screwed with some really bad contracts. Perhaps, he has verbal agreements with these guys that they will simply retire once they become totally ineffective? I agree with you also that while we all love Mike Richards… he clearly isn’t worth a nearly 6M cap hit.

  3. Living in Manhattan Beach, playing on a team that has won the Cup twice in three years, will allow the Kings to sign quality players at a discounted price. The question will turn to the player, is your ultimate goal to win the Stanley Cup and a big paycheck, or a HUGE paycheck stuck in 6 feet of snow getting pounded night after night on a team with no realistic shot at a championship.

    In Dean We Trust

  4. It amazes me that people still don’t get how the Kings are built. They are a team. Line numbers don’t work. Look at Kopi’s line. He centers Goborik and … sometimes King, sometimes Brown, sometimes Williams, and for the last couple of game Lewis. Lewis? Isn’t he supposed to be a “4th LIne” guy? Nope. Does Carter center “That 70’s Line” – with Taffoli and Pearson, or that other 70’s line with King in for Pearson? The last couple of games, Stoll has centered Williams and Brown. Richards plays with Clifford & King/Pearson/Lewis/Nolan. What you get is production form all 4 lines. Yeah, defend that with 3 sets of D-Men. Sutter has the luxury of tinkering with combinations now so when the Kings are in the Playoffs, no matter what happens, he has options. And don’t even get started with the defense and goalies. The LA Kings are built as a team, not a super-star and some other supporting cast guys. Yes, the unique Cap situation at the moment is frustrating, but Kings play on.

  5. I’m not seeing much of an issue. One of the reasons why Gabby gave us a “home town discount” is the same reason why others will, too. Is an extra $1 mil a year worth your health, Gabby certainly didn’t think so. When Gabby was the top dog, number 1 ace, king of the heap and got paid that extra $1 mil, it came with a bull’s eye on his back, and every arse hole taking a cheap shot at him. Now, he’s just a very good player with other very good players, no more prone to injury than anyone else. Why?

    Why because the Kings don’t have a top dog. And if you want the $$ and be some other team’s top dog? Go for it, but remember that it comes with health risks, as soon as you put on your new “cash sweater” it comes with a “bull’s eye,” just ask Gabby. Oh, yeah, and you won’t be living in Manhattan Beach, instead you’ll be living in Detroit, or Buffalo, or NYC, or Philly, or Boston. Enjoy the weather and the fans, who crawl up your aas anytime you have a bad game.

    Deano isn’t spiking anyone’s Cool Aid, during negotiations. He just lays it out nice and clear for his players to make an informed choice. Yeah, you make a few bucks less in LA, but you are seen on more TV’s in the US than anywhere else. Want to go to Minnesota and have a fan base of 2-3 mil or do you want Los Angeles with a fan base in the 10-20 mil range? Where do you think the NHL advertising dollars come? To Los Angeles, a SC Champ or Florida?

    Can you hear it? That’s the sound of the register, as the “home town discounts” are applied.

  6. The Kings are in win now, so no major pieces will be moved. As with all contending teams, nothing is going to be done until next years cap number is known. With guys like Toffoli, Pearson, McNabb, Clifford, Nolan, Jones, and Andreoff on the roster that are cost controlled, the cap situation is not that bad. A cap at 72M and they can likely fit everyone in. Otherwise they lose a guy like Stoll and replace him with Shore. Not ideal, but certainly not devastating.

Comments are closed.