Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi has done an outstanding job over the past few seasons of assembling a balanced, deep, championship-winning roster. The veteran core has proven to be strong, while young players have been stepping into key roles as well. One thing that inevitably happens with such a structure, however, is that those young players command bigger contracts, which creates difficulties for teams in the salary cap age.
Muzzin Locked Up
One of those young players for Los Angeles is top-pairing defenseman and fancy-stat phenom Jake Muzzin, who recently signed a 5 year, $20 million contract extension with the Kings. At age 25, Muzzin’s best years are ahead of him, and given that he plays on LA’s top defense pair with Drew Doughty, is solid at both ends of the rink, and, perhaps most importantly, drives puck possession, a salary cap hit of $4 million for the next 5 years (after this one) has to be seen as a bargain for the Kings.
Muzzin was set to become a restricted free agent at the end of this season, so a contract was coming sooner or later. Nevertheless, this makes the Kings’ salary cap positioning even tighter than it already was. According to CapGeek, Los Angeles has less than $500K in available cap space right now. Add in Muzzin’s raise next year, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli becoming RFAs, and Jarret Stoll, Justin Williams, and Alec Martinez becoming UFAs, and the Kings suddenly have quite the salary cap headache.
Cap Issues Lie Ahead
Martinez will likely command a nice increase from his current salary of $1.1 million. For Stoll and Williams, considering that they are veteran players who have likely already peaked, Lombardi and the Kings might be hopeful that the pair can re-sign for around the same amounts ($3.25 million for Stoll and $3.65 million for Williams) that they currently make. “Mr. Game 7” and reigning Conn Smythe winner Williams, however, could justifiably ask for more, even despite the fact that he’ll be 34 when next year’s regular season comes around.
The Kings will have veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr’s $3 million cap hit coming off the books after this season, and given his age and gradual decline, it seems likely that they’ll be perfectly content with letting him go to free up some room. The salary cap might also increase slightly for next season, giving LA and other teams a bit more of a cushion. Even so, the Kings will likely have too many expensive contract situations to sort out — in particular, the raises that will be due to Pearson, Toffoli, and Martinez. LA will likely have to let at least one of these players go or even consider moving another one.
Lombardi already passed on buying out center Mike Richards, which would have freed up $5.75 million in annual cap space. As a result, he and the Kings might have to sever ties with at least one of Stoll or Williams, both of whom have become critical components of the Kings’ success, as well as fan favorites. It’s more important, though, for the Kings to retain and develop young rising stars like Pearson and Toffoli. Perhaps other players with more movable contacts — such Dwight King, Trevor Lewis, or Slava Voynov — could be traded if Lombardi feels more inclined to hold onto Stoll or Williams (disclaimer: this is purely speculation). Either way, Los Angeles will likely be unable to keep its roster completely intact next season.
Lombardi did a great job keeping the vast majority of the roster together between last season and this season, but the salary cap makes it incredibly difficult to keep things 100% intact over multiple years. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The Kings should remain a solid contender for the next several years, as most of their core players — Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, and Jonathan Quick — are locked up long-term. Anze Kopitar, meanwhile, is signed through the end of next season, and it’s hard to imagine LA letting him go. With the Kings’ core likely to remain intact, it will just be interesting to see what changes they make to their supporting cast.