COMMENTARY | So this is how the 2013 NHL offseason begins: defenseman Rob Scuderi leaves the Los Angeles Kings for four more years of the Pittsburgh Penguins; forward Ilya Kovalchuk leaves $77 million of the New Jersey Devils' money on the table for the glitz and glamor of Mother Russia; and the Kings' biggest offseason signing so far is ... defenseman Jeff Schultz?
Get used to the lack of offseason fireworks, Kings fans, because with 21 players under contract for a total of $61,331,894, they have to fill two roster spots and only have $3.1 million to do so.
Aside from adding talented 18-year-old Russian forward Valentin Zykov with his first selection in the draft, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi appears hell-bent on loading up on defensemen. After signing former Washington Capitals defenseman Schultz to a one-year, $700,000 deal and re-signing restricted free agent defenseman Jake Muzzin to a two-year, $2 million contract; Alec Martinez to a two-year, $2.2 million contract; and Keaton Ellerby to a one-year ,$735,000 deal, the Kings now have nine defensemen on the payroll for six spots on the ice.
Although these moves will likely raise an eyebrow or three, bringing in nine defensemen should create healthy competition during the preseason, especially for younger players who struggled at times like Muzzin, Martinez and Ellerby. And let's not forget that former standout defenseman Willie Mitchell is 36 years old and missed the entirety of the 2012-2013 season due to a busted knee. His return to the Kings next year sounds probable, but it's clear that Lombardi wants to cover all his bases in case things turn south for Mitchell -- or if the rest of his defensemen decide they'd rather play in sunny Russia, too.
Now, it's all great and wonderful that Lombardi has been spending so much time figuring out how the defensive core will flesh out, but he still has to figure out what to do with restricted free-agent forwards Jordan Nolan, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford. I imagine that Clifford and Lewis are shoo-ins to be re-signed to contracts under $1 million; Nolan is a nice player, but he's expendable. If all this is said and done and we pretend that Mitchell is actually going to play this year, then the Kings would have a complete roster of:
Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Jeff Carter - Mike Richards - Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King - Jarret Stoll - Matt Frattin
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Trevor Lewis
Drew Doughty - Robyn Regehr
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Jake Muzzin
There are a couple obvious issues with this current lineup. First, due to cap limitations, it assumes that unrestricted free agent and playoff wunderkind Dustin Penner has about as good of a chance as I do of making it on the roster. Second, it means that all healthy scratches would be defensive players, which would clearly not work unless the Kings are playing Quidditch.
What does this all mean? I think it's safe to say that at some point this summer we will see Lombardi orchestrate a trade to free up some cap space and reduce the number of defensemen on the team. Purely based on conjecture, I could see the Kings moving forward Jarret Stoll and his $3,250,000 plus Martinez and his $1.1 million for another forward. Hopefully, someone that doesn't carry a huge cap hit and doesn't lust for the Kontinental Hockey League.
The great thing for Lombardi is that he can go over the cap for now, so this gives him the luxury of playing wait-and-see with his young defensemen and Mitchell's health. However, with only a few million left in cap space for now, he's going to have to eventually play payroll-Tetris to remain under the cap.
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