It’s Time For the Kings to Go Back to the Future

Three straight Western Conference Finals appearances. Two Cups on the mantle. If there were ever an NHL franchise with little right to complain about their current state or uncertain future, it’d be the Los Angeles Kings.

Jeff Carter Kings
Jeff Carter would have significant trade value for the Kings, which would help avoid a future cap crunch. (Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE)
And yet, there are plenty of things keeping general manager Dean Lombardi up at night. At 21-18-12 as of this writing, the Kings are just 12th in the Western Conference with 31 games left in the season. Not only are they fourth in the six-team Pacific, but they are five points outside the second wild card slot. Worse still, their prospects for this season are decidedly cloudy, as the Kings have been heading in the wrong direction for a long, long time. Not only has Los Angeles gone just 1-5-2 in their past eight game, but they haven’t been playing particularly well for months. It’s been a slow, steady slide.

But wait … there’s more.

As pointed out in these pages a few weeks ago, the Kings’ roster is stuffed to the gills with long-term contracts, severely limiting Lombardi’s ability to maneuver. It’s a problem of his own making, but on the surface, his rationale made some sense: the Kings had one of the best rosters in the league, so keeping the band together would ensure contention for years. Furthermore, the longer the contract, the lower the cap hit.

However, as every investment counselor understands, risk and reward are forever interrelated. If risk (long-term deals) is taken, then reward (on-ice production) should justify it. And for L.A., that’s the problem.

The Kings face a potential future with millions in dead cap space

Los Angeles has a number of players whose on-ice contribution (relative to their cap hits and contract terms) are worthy of discussion. Cases in point:

– Dustin Brown: Solid leader, two-way player and all-around good guy notwithstanding, Brown has been mired in a 1 1/2 year slump offensively, with just 23 goals and 48 points over his past 130 regular season games. At a $5.85 million cap hit that runs far into the future (eight years), that level of production is unacceptable.

– Mike Richards: The tale of Mike Richards has been well-documented, both here and elsewhere. Age, concussions, and perhaps his hard-drinking history may have finally caught up to him, as he hasn’t scored 20 goals or reached 45 points since his Flyers days. Yes, Darryl Sutter’s defense-first approach has something to do with that, but clearly his game wasn’t up to snuff or the Kings wouldn’t have waived him a few weeks back. His $5.75 million cap hit (minus $925,000 while he’s in Manchester) is on the books for another five years.

– Jeff Carter: Carter has impressive speed for a player his size and looks every bit the difference-maker out on the ice, but in the end, is 25 goals and 55 points — roughly his pace of production since 2013-14 — worth $5.273 million for the next seven years?

– Marian Gaborik: Like Carter, Gaborik demonstrates high-level skill on just about every shift. However, his injury history and age make his $4.875 million cap hit for six more seasons questionable.

A bit like the famed “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”, Gaborik apparently has coined his own tongue-in-cheek version:

– Alec Martinez: Despite his game five heroics in last year’s Finals, many believe Martinez is a #5 defenseman. If so, that makes his $4.0 million cap hit over the next six years a significant allocation of scarce resources.

– Matt Greene: Like Brown, a solid leader, not to mention a fierce hitter. However, at 31 years old and with an iCorsi of 94, $2.5 million for a #6 defenseman is substantial, especially considering his contract has three more seasons to run.

– Slava Voynov: By now, everyone knows the alleged domestic violence saga of Slava Voynov. With his future unclear, and even with the temporary cap relief granted by the NHL, his $4.167 million over the next four years (unless ultimately voided) looks more and more like an anchor around the team’s neck.

– Jonathan Quick: Despite his pedestrian (2.52/.909) regular season stats, there is no goaltender in the NHL who elevates his game during the playoffs better than Quick. However, some believe the Kings have a knack for producing good goaltenders out of their system, thus rendering his ten-year, $58 million contract excessive.

For the most part, it isn’t the cap hits that present the challenges. It’s the years remaining on the contracts.

A less-certain future would create greater longer-term certainty for the Kings

Despite being a playoff hero, Justin Williams may be a cap-casualty after this season.. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Despite being a playoff hero, Justin Williams may be a cap-casualty after this season.. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Without question, Dean Lombardi has demonstrated strong loyalty to his players. That being said, the Kings are now mired in salary cap purgatory, with $53.5 million tied up in just nine players.

Given how they’ve played in recent weeks and despite the fact that the wild card is five points away, Los Angeles has a steep hill to climb to get back into serious playoff contention. They’ve done it before: the 2011-12 club went on a tear that resulted not only in a playoff berth, but an improbable Stanley Cup championship.

This isn’t 2012. These Kings are nearly three years older, battle weary and squarely in the cross-hairs of every club they face. They’ve got a bevy of under-performing players on long contracts with precious little room to maneuver now or in the near future, even with Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Robyn Regehr and Jamie McBain slated to fall off the books after this season.

With the rumors swirling about the Kings attempting to add a defenseman by the trade deadline, it begets the question: should the Kings be buyers? Consider the following:

– The Kings have a number of teams to leapfrog over, with time working against them
– Their future is squeezed by the plethora of long-term contracts
– Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Martin Jones will need new contracts soon
– Jeff Carter, Alec Martinez, Matt Greene and a number of others have trade value

Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi are considered to be at the top of their respective positions, and we’ve certainly seen both men pull off minor miracles to get the Kings into position to win championships. However, with the cap not expected to rise significantly next season and a ton of money on the books for years, should the Kings resist the natural urge to fight for a final playoff spot, trade away salary in a measured fashion, and stabilize their future going forward?

The Magic Eight Ball says, “All signs point to yes.”

Leave your thoughts below, or send me a message @McLaughlinWalt

25 thoughts on “It’s Time For the Kings to Go Back to the Future”

  1. The argument in this article is this: 1) I make a super-obvious point; 2) I then way overreach in order to make a “new point” but all I do is make a horrible point. The cap dumps on this team are obvious. But to include a guy who is getting paid 5 mil who would at this point probably get 7 to 8 mil a year going forward is a disturbing idea. Carter is one of the best bargains in the league and is a better bargain than Kopitar. Maybe put him and Doughty on that list too since they make SO much money…the article discusses certainty…trading all of our star players not only will send a great message to veterans we covet, making it certain they won’t come to LA but also great certainty that we’ll suck. Yes we have cap hell because we lost a star defenseman for no good reason, totally Lombardi’s fault right? 1st world hockey problems. Not everyone gets to talk about having too many star players.

    • Assuming Richards and Brown are untradable (which may or may not be true) and considering that they have so many long-term contracts (thus, less coming off the books every year), what do you do if you’re DL? The cap isn’t projected to increase much next season and you’ve got some very key players to re-sign. No, the per-season cap hits for a number of those guys aren’t bad at all, but they will be paying them for many years. Richards’ deal didn’t look bad a few years ago, either.

      Nobody is suggesting the team be blown up, just a movable contract or two and only if the returns are worth it. As I’ve said repeatedly, fall in love with the sweater, not the names on the back of it.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. Obviously, you are not a King fan!
    5 points out! How about down 0-3 last year to the Sharks in the first round?
    How about down 2-3 to the Ducks in the second round & the Blackhawks in the third round?
    A Kings fan doesn’t give up. We don’t trade our clutch playoff players. You don’t break up
    a team that has won 2 Stanley Cups in the last 3 years! I could care less about future seasons;
    I care about this season.
    You are not objective at all. “If there were ever an NHL franchise with little right to complain about their current state or uncertain future, it’d be the Los Angeles Kings.”
    What a joke of an statement! You just want to break up the Stanley Cup champs; you could care less about our team and our fans.

    • I’ve been a Kings fan since 1976 – perhaps longer than you’ve been alive.

      You missed the point of the article. The Kings will have to do something about their utter salary cap inflexibility, especially if they plan on re-signing Kopi, Toffoli, Pearson and Jones. The trade deadline is approaching. By the numbers, they have a 25% chance of getting into the playoffs, if you’re Lombardi, you HAVE to look at all your options so that you have the ability to maneuver going forward.

      Dustin Brown is my favorite current K ings player. I have posted many pro-Brown comments over the years at However, if I could get good returns and rid myself of his nearly $6 million cap hit for 7 more years – especially considering his decline in production over the past two years – you bet I’d do it.

      That doesn’t make me “not a Kings fan.” To the contrary, I want to see them be a good team far into the future. Getting out of cap hell is one way to ensure that.

      Thanks for reading.


  3. Referring to Slava Voynov:
    “With his future unclear, and even with the temporary cap relief granted by the NHL, his $4.167 million over the next four years (unless ultimately voided) looks more and more like an anchor around the team’s neck.”

    Slava has been considered by many analysts to be a top 30 defenseman.. There are several teams on which he would be their #1 defenseman….

    Yet at 4.2/year he is an anchor???
    If he is found guilty, the NHL will void his contract. Slava ends up in the KHL…
    If he is not guilty, then he either goes back to the Kings or is traded…

    How is that an anchor?

    • There’s a small chance that Voynov would crack a top-30 fantasy list (more likely, top 60) but there is no way he’s a #1 defenseman on any team in the NHL.

      But that wasn’t my point, and I probably should have elaborated. With four more years left to go on his deal and assuming his contract isn’t voided (which I pointed out was a possible outcome), I believe it’s going to be very tough for him to overcome the adversity and excel again in the NHL. Not impossible, but there will be significant obstacles. Thus, that’s a long contract that could be a problem for the Kings down the line.

  4. It’s not realistic to expect a team to replace a 20+ minute defender like Voynov. Look at the examples this year alone; Chara gone (yes I realize he is a bigger piece than Voynov but it remains relevant) and the Bruins defense crumbles, Maatta off the Pens and their defense tanks from top 5 to ~10 in the league. It’s not realistic to replace a top 4, much less top pairing dman. Kings are an average defensive team this year unlike the two years they won the SC where they were excellent defensive teams.

  5. The Voynov loss is tough. You can lose Willie Mitchell or Voynov, 2 of your top 4 D from the Cup runs, but not both. That’s 40 minutes a game you must replace, and the Kings haven’t. Doughty playing 29 minutes every night is going to catch up with him at some point as well.

    People complain about Quick, but you are only going to stop so many outnumbered rushes. Take a look at the last two goals of the Florida loss. Muzzin passes the puck from the right boards directly to an unmarked Panther in the slot for the tying goal. Then Tiffoli turns over the puck at his red line while the last man back, doesn’t cover his guy on defense, and the Pathers score from three feet in front of the goal. Two goals in three shots, which makes for a horrible save percentage. Neither were Quick’s fault. He hasn’t been great, but he isn’t the problem with the team.

    The only contract I can really argue with is Martinez. No idea why we’re paying him $4m. Not a top 4 d-man by any stretch of the imagination. Brown is actually playing well now and, if nothing else, is a tradeable asset moving forward. Richards contract came in the trade, and I’ll take 2 cups for that burden any day. Richie wasn’t good this year or last year in the regular season, but not nearly as bad as the Kings portray him. You can’t shove him down on the fourth line with two checkers, give him 13 minutes a night and complain he isn’t putting up points. Crosby isn’t putting up points playing with Jordan and Clifford has his wings.

    An additional concern is Kopitar. Been poor, particularly on the road where he can’t be protected by Sutter with the last change. If your top center is getting beaten, you are going to lose. Kopitar has 2 goals on the road all season. Unsurprisingly, the Kings are 6-12-6 on the road.

    Ultimately, the Kings have played a ton of hockey the last three years. Winning every series but the finals last year in seven games is going to wear on you physically and mentally. Might be good to miss the playoffs this year, trade away some salary in Greene/Stoll/Martinez [agree with you – all should go] and come at it fresh next year by adding a few new defensemen.

    Still, they are only five points out…

    • I hear you. They are just five points out. I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I were Lombardi, but I sure would listen hard to offers for players I didn’t consider off the table (Kopitar, Doughty, Quick) to see if I could get young, cheap talent and unload salary in the process. All while (hopefully) still being able to contend for that 2nd Wild Card spot.

      Thanks for reading.

  6. I keep reading these articles day after day and all the writers seem to be in a panic mode concerning the so called collapse of the Kings this season. I don’t see this as a collapse. Lets set the cap issue aside for a moment and look at what the Kings are dealing with this season 1) No one could have forseen the Slava Voynov situation arising when Willie Mitchell was not resigned last year. It has left the Kings short handed on defense all year. Add to that Regehr, Greene, Muzzin, and Martinez have all missed games this year due to injury and the defense which has been the Kings strength hasn’t been what we’ve seen the last three years. 2) In the last 3 years the Kings have played 64 playoff games resulting in two Stanley Cups and a Conference final. All hockey fans know winning the Cup is the hardest championship to win of all the major American professional team sports. This is proven by the fact no team since the 97-98 Red Wings have repeated. The Kings have played just shy of 4 seasons in the last 3 years. They play hard on the ice most games this season, but mentally I believe they are exhausted.
    If one is to believe the police reports it seems the possibility of Voynov returning any time soon, if at all are quite slim. So yes the Kings will need to find another quality defenseman to replace him if he does not return. Keeping Kopitar, Taffoli and in my opinion Williams is essential so Lombardi is going to have to figure out a way to make that happen. I am not a GM so I don’t know what he will need to do, but I do not believe totally dismantling one of the best teams in the NHL is the answer.
    Hockey fans also know defense and goaltending win championships. To even suggest the Kings consider trading Jonathan Quick, arguably one of the top three goaltenders in the world, if not the best, is absolutely a ridiculous suggestion to make.

    • Thanks for the feedback. Bear in mind that I didn’t advocate “dismantling” the team. However, the odds aren’t great for them to get to the playoffs this year, and there is no question they will HAVE to do something to free up salary cap room, and soon. Yesterday’s win over Tampa Bay notwithstanding, this may just not be Kings’ year. If not, the trade deadline is an excellent time to trade higher-salaried assets (realizing that some would be all but impossible to move) and get good returns in the process.

      As for Quick, I never suggested trading him either. I merely included his deal as one of the many that give the Kings little financial maneuverability.

  7. What is wrong with not winning every year, but be a good team at the top of the NHL? Being European I think that in America we are all to obsessed with being No 1 all the time, no matter what the price is. Why can’t a writer say: The guys accomplished a lot in the last 3 years. We waited 45 years for the Cup. Now the expectation is they must be at the top of their game – every game. I like Lombardi’s human side. He knows he put together a team that brought us a cup. It’s okay to for the guys to re-charge. The awful approach is the style of a corporate world: squeeze the blood out of the worker and lay them off if their production decreases. That is a stupid approach. I believe that the Kings have a lot left in them. They are not that old. Once Slave is back, and they get some lucky bounces (just look at how many games they lost in OT or SO) I believe they will be good. We used to have way better players in the 90s but we couldn’t get it done. It is the right chemistry of the guys and great will to win what gets it done. Lombardi should do nothing. Just sit and see how it all play out. If the Kings don’t get in the playoff, so be it. Let them re-group and come back next year. We had too many distractions from the beginning. Let’s think about next season , even though I stil believe they will make the playoffs.

    • Bear in mind that by the percentages, the Kings have roughly a 25% chance to get into the playoffs (i.e., get to 95 points).

      I have no problem with the “good team” argument. If the Kings were in a better financial situation, I think you’d be spot on. But there’s a storm brewing with respect to declining and overpaid players (Brown, Richards, and most of the others I pointed out) being on such long contracts and how that may hamstring the club over the long term.

      Few would argue that they will have to do something about it. My point was they should consider doing so sooner than later.

      Thanks for reading.

  8. Why should the team break, they got two championships in three years, they’re bound to slow down don’t you think? It took a long time to put the right team to get us where we are, why should we do it? It would make no sense at all to let anyone go. It is plain to see that the team is not the same, but you can’t expect them to continue with the same intensity for a fourth season. Playing that way is suicidal and we can see that happening in some games. These players have a lot of ice time, they’re tired and need rest. It is true by fact that the salary cap is hurting us, but Dean did what was expected from him. He signed the players that gave us the cup, what would anyone have done? Break the team and brace for a brighter future and spend 40 years to get us another cup? Create an entire new identity around who? If I were to believe in your words, then we should free room in the cap, trade away, train and prepare rookies, and then what, try to get another cup with a miracle team?

    • I don’t see it as all or nothing. They don’t need to blow it up. They do need to get rid of some salary, and there are players that would fetch very strong returns and help the team shed millions.

      Consider how many millions Kopitar, Toffoli, Pearson and Jones will want (combined) and that the Kings already have about $55 million of the projected $73 million cap tied up in just nine players. Kopitar’s deal isn’t up until the 2015-16 season, but you know they aren’t going to wait until the last minute to get him done.

      Lombardi’s hand is likely to be forced here. The only question is when.

      Thanks for reading.

  9. While there is some validity to this opinion piece.I would add,there are intangibles that can’t be measured.And variables that haven’t happened yet.What if some of these guys renegotiate their contracts so they can stay.It will depend upon what each individual wants-rings or money.In a different era in a different sport let’s examine this what if.What if the Steelers had decided they wanted to trade Bradshaw,Swann,Stallworth,Lambert or Greene.It would’ve upset the chemistry in that locker room and them winning 4 SB’s in 6 years probably would not have happened.Let’s also not forget the the historic grind these guys have gone through in the last 3 years.They are human beings not machines and that grind has taken a toll on them.As a lifelong Kings fan,I’d hate to see them miss the playoffs this year.But it could perhaps be a blessing in disguise if they did with the extra time off.If they do get hot and make the playoffs then all bets are off.Everyone starts out at 0-0,it’s a new season.I wouldn’t write them off just yet or worry about things that have not happened yet.It’s good to look down the road but one cannot lose sight of the here and now.

  10. Yes, it is true that some of these contracts have crippled our chance at fixing and steering the ship in the right direction. But if we didn’t sign some of these players then they would have bolted once their contracts were up. Our main problem this year from what I have seen is that our defense is piss poor. If we can’t defend our net and keep em out then it just puts a ton of pressure on our fowards to try and score. Willie Mitchell was a warrior for us and it shows now that he’s not in the picture. Voynov’s speed and defensive stature are missed as well. Rather than blowing the team up, just make minor changes. Get a defenseman that could some could play some minutes and give Doughty a break.

  11. I think the thing that people seem to forget about this team is that the quality that made them 2 time champions goes beyond the corsi and analytics that are so popular now. This team has a collective will to win that can’t even be measured. As bad as Richards was playing, and as much as I wanted him to be replaced, a part of me felt like we were losing a piece of that will when we waived him. You can make an argument to trade at least half this team right now. If you want to base the future on the present, then get rid of Brown, Carter, Williams, Stoll, King, and Lewis. Then look at Quick. He is ranked 11th out of 14 western conference teams in save %. Imagine what you can get for him! This season has been painful to watch, but only because we have been spoiled. Management and fans need to take a long term view when assessing the current situation. In my opinion, it would be insane to start breaking up a team that has 2 cups in 3 years in an era where the salary cap has created so much parity. Look at it like a story and each season is a chapter in that story. It would be crazy to end the story just because one chapter is lousy. You have a group of guys who have proven they can win. The preds have one of the best records in the league, but if the kings slip into the playoffs and meet them in the first round, I bet the majority of the hockey experts out there will pick the kings. Why? Because the Preds have no experience playing at 100% intensity every other night against big, physical teams that pound you on every shift.

  12. This is a joke. Kings were a 8th seed last year. The Kings just have to get in the play-offs. Then the whole style of Hockey changes. The Kings are tough to be in a series. This is about the time they turn it up a notch. They were already in the playoffs last year with 15 games left in the season. The only thing that has hurt the Kings was the lost of Slava. Remember the Kings are not built to win divisions, But are built to win Cups.

  13. Blah blah blah. The Kings can be described as thus. The loss of Voynov is under appreciated. If they make the playoffs Drew Doughty elevates his game to best player in the world by far and Quick will be clutch. Don’t rule these guys out at all if Lombardi can add any additional talent on the blue line.

    • I’ll never doubt their ability to do damage in the playoffs; I’ve written about the subject in the past However, I read recently that they have about a 25% chance to get to 95 points, which is likely what it will take to get in. Can they do it? It’s possible – as I say in the piece, they did in 2012. Should they put off fixing their cap problem (knowing the deadline is when selling prices are at their highest) to buck the odds?

      Tough call.

  14. typical business school MBA bullshit again. from a business pov it makes sense to get rid of some cap space but what you do not get is team chemistry and because of that you cant trade brown kopitar or gaborik or even quick lombardi made some good hockey decisions that were bad business decisions but now you are asking him to do both is silly the salary cap is a joke when you dont limit the individual salaries of a player on a set pay scale without closing loop-holes and putting set limits on what an individual player can get based on seniority and performance the cap will not work and why not a franchise exemption and a dollar for dollar luxury tax if you go over the cap rather than a strict cap system if revenue is too much under expenses an owner with the sense of a lemur will trade to get rid of the fat on a roster one reason kings were doing so well was their 2 scouts who are no longer with us and a good farm system lombardi is far from being a genius and a broken clock is right twice a day more than 1/2 of those contracts should not have been signed but you cant trade most of the players mentioned just because they are too high. I would as a joke trade the sales office for screwing working class fans from affording a mini plan ever again I trade an ice pack for a 2008 macbook pro that is a bad hockey decision but a good business decision just my pov on how the situation affects me as a fan because of their salaries and A.E.G. greed and selfishness I can;y afford to go.

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