COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Kings' offseason has not been marked by any marquee free-agent signings, ownership changes, Patrick Kane-esque frat-boy drama, or players moving on for the glory of the Kontinental Hockey League.
For the first time in a few years, the Kings decided against setting their sights on bringing in the top free-agent scorers (thank the Hockey Gods that Ilya Kovalchuk spurned the Kings for the New Jersey Devils). Instead, they decided to fortify an already impressive lineup that boasts forwards Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams; defensemen Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov; and future Team USA starting goalie Jonathan Quick.
By retaining restricted free-agent forwards Kyle Clifford (two-year, $2.15 million contract), Trevor Lewis (one-year, $1.325 million contract), Jordan Nolan (two-year, $1.4 million contract), and bringing in forwards Matt Frattin and Gorilla Salad (Dan Carcillo), the Kings now have excellent scoring ability and some seriously punishing players on the bottom two lines.
It had been widely assumed that since the Kings traded with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gorilla Salad, who plays a very similar physical style to Clifford, that Clifford would be the odd-man out given that was due for a salary raise. However, this was clearly not the plan for Kings general manager Dean Lombardi.
By re-signing Clifford, who you may recognize from fights like this doozy against St. Louis Blues defenseman Roman Polak, the Kings now have a nice collection of physical players in Clifford, Gorilla Salad, and Brown that home team fans love and other fans absolutely detest. It's a combination that the Kings haven't really gone for in recent seasons, as they've relied more on defense, goaltending and finesse offense.
However, with the departures of forwards Dustin Penner and Brad Richardson and defenseman Rob Scuderi, maybe Lombardi thought it was time for a slight change. Although both Clifford and Gorilla Salad are certainly not the most important cogs in the Kings' machine, it will be interesting to see what these two players can do on a line together. Just don't tell Kings fan that they have their own Raffi Torres now.
Given that none of Lombardi's moves so far this offseason have been earth-shattering -- aside from sending goalie Jonathan Bernier to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Frattin, goalie Ben Scrivens and a second-round pick, which has a much bigger impact on Toronto than it does on Los Angeles -- it's hard to predict the impact these moves will have on the team. If everyone stays healthy and the team is able to decipher what Kings coach Darryl Sutter is saying, the Kings have arguably the best core in the game, and with the depth acquired in the offseason, the Kings could be an easy pick to make it deep into the playoffs yet again. And who knows, maybe guys like Gorilla Salad and Frattin are the push the Kings need to get back into the finals again.
Although Lombardi's team is looking great on paper, not all is gravy for the Kings when looking at their salary-cap situation. If we assume that forward Tyler Toffoli does indeed make the Kings out of camp (the likelihood of this happening is equivalent to that of a bear using a restroom in the woods), then the Kings have 25 players on the roster and are more than $800,000 over the 23-player, $64,300,000 salary cap. The good news for Lombardi is that he has until the season begins to get under the cap.
At least on the defensive end, this team has multiple question marks: the health of Willie Mitchell; the production of Alec Martinez and Keaton Ellerby; and what in the world the Kings expect out of former +50 defenseman Jeff Schultz. In all likelihood, it will be Ellerby and Schultz who are the odd men out. However, Lombardi could always have a bigger trade package to get to 23 men and under the cap.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the fact that the Kings are over the cap and need to cut some defensemen will only create healthy competition during the preseason, which will benefit the young players who struggled at times last season, like defensemen Jake Muzzin and Martinez.
Salary-cap issues aside, this Kings' roster is strong, deep, and built to last (thanks for the eight-year extension, Brown). Now, all we can do is bide our time for the Kings to make their way to Las Vegas for Frozen Fury.
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