When Dean Lombardi was asked whether the finalization of Robyn Regehr’s contract meant that Rob Scuderi wasn’t going to return, his immediate response of “No” was much simpler than the complex, multidimensional negotiations within which a theoretical Scuderi extension would have to fit.
Though eleven players’ contracts are set to expire – a list that includes eight restricted and three unrestricted free agents – the highest priority between now and the onset of free agency should be a contract extension for restricted free agent Slava Voynov. Among the remaining free agents are RFAs Jonathan Bernier, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Alec Martinez, Keaton Ellerby and Jake Muzzin, as well as UFAs Brad Richardson and Dustin Penner.
The team has roughly 11.8 million dollars to allocate to the above players. Not all will return.
“I think we can do it,” Lombardi said in regards to a Scuderi extension. “But it’s a challenge, and this is a little different too – you’ve got to remember, when you see one guy get done, you can’t work on one guy in isolation. It’s a very different challenge than anything, personally, I’ve ever faced.”
Scuderi, who as of this morning hadn’t spoken to his agent since the season concluded, was more focused on offering well-wishes to teammates who were leaving town and handling personal minutiae than he was on focusing intently on any contractual developments.
“I imagine in the next few days there will be some conversations and short discussions,” he said. “As a player, this is a place that certainly is a desirable location, it’s got everything you need for myself and most importantly for my family. The team’s good, I’ve been here, I’m comfortable here. It will just take a little more time, like I said, to gain perspective and just relax for right now.”
He also understood the team’s many revolving parts and the limited window that hastens the need for them to come together. Free agency begins on July 5.
“I’ve talked about having chemistry projects in the back room before. Well, we’ve taken this to a nuclear science now in terms of how you put these equations together,” Lombardi said.
That Voynov’s contract is likely the heaviest of those pieces is not taken personally by Scuderi, who will turn 35 midway through the 2013-14 season.
“I understand the team has other priorities bigger than just myself, and that’s the way it’s always going to be. I’m not offended. I don’t get disrespected by any of that stuff,” Scuderi said. “It’s unfortunate that maybe it couldn’t have been taken care of but it’s not like I harbor any ill will towards the Kings or the way they’ve done things. That’s just not how I think.”
On the other hand, Scuderi is an established NHL veteran, while Voynov’s RFA status means that the team would still retain his rights – as long as the process isn’t hastened by an outside club attempting to sign the 23-year-old Russian to an offer sheet, a predicament that Lombardi acknowledged “enters into the equation.”
“You can say, looking at it as a player, I’d do this, but there’s also the issue of a guy with seniority and he’s putting in more years, probably deserves consideration, not only morally because he has seniority, but also the agreement dictates that you’ve probably got to move quicker because at least the other guys you have rights to,” Lombardi said.
The reduction of the salary cap from 70.2 million to 64.3 million dollars through the most recent collective bargaining agreement comes at an inopportune time for the Kings.
“I think the hard part is it’s unfortunate how this collective bargaining agreement worked for us, because clearly you guys have been here long enough to know that one of the byproducts of ‘going slowly’ was to be able to build this thing and keep it together,” Lombardi said. “We were clearly on that path with six-million in cap space this year and brought the whole team back.”
Fortunately, a winning environment has been established in Los Angeles, and the benefits of living in Hermosa Beach should outweigh the benefits of living in the neighborhood of a less desirable NHL market.
“I think the other thing you’ve got here right now, there’s no question that this is a very tight group,” Lombardi said. “There’s no question that we’ve solved the issue that this is a great, one of the best places in the country to live. But now, we have the most important part, we have a good team with a good bunch of guys. Now that environment takes over ten-fold. I think we’re there now, where the most important thing is players want to be here because it’s a good team and they can win. Now we take advantage of the fact that this is one of the best places in the world to live. I think we’ve kind of got that, so I’m confident that these guys want to stay together without, you know, obviously depriving their families of being taken care of. We’ll see, but clearly, too, we’ve got to get working on that right now.”