Tomorrow, July 1, is the start of the NHL’s signing period for unrestricted free agents. Unlike in recent years — Ilya Kovalchuk, Brad Richards, etc. — the day doesn’t figure to hold a tremendous amount of drama for the Kings. The big catch on the free-agent market, certainly among forwards, is Zach Parise. Expect the Kings to at least sniff around tomorrow, and see what the market is like for Parise, but it’s expected to be astronomical. Even if the New Jersey Devils aren’t able to retain Parise — they were expected to talk today — the Minnesota Wild is expected to make a big push, and Pittsburgh and Detroit might make big pushes as well. As Dean Lombardi indicated last week, there’s a lot of money available, and Parise is likely to get a massive offer from at least one team.
Just to reiterate, yes, the Kings still have significant salary-cap room for 2012-13, but unless you believe Parise is going to accept a one-year contract — he almost certainly won’t — that cap room dries up in following seasons, when Jonathan Quick’s contract extension kicks in and when the Kings have to re-sign Dustin Brown and either re-sign or replace other key players.
The wild card here is Dustin Penner, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent tomorrow. Remember that, last July, the Kings had something of an understanding with free agent Simon Gagne. They took a swing at Richards but let Gagne know that if they were unsuccessful, they would want to sign him, and that’s how it played out. It wouldn’t be surprising to see something similar happen with Penner, although the Kings will also take a look at other mid-range free-agent possibilities. Shane Doan, on a short-term deal, perhaps? The nice thing, from the Kings’ perspective, is that they don’t have to reach and/or overpay on July 1. Their team is almost intact, and only requires minor tweaking, not major overhauling.