The Kings weren’t expected to be among the most active teams on the first day of NHL free agency as the elapsing of the first 12 hours of the league’s free-spending period was more notable for who left the organization than for who joined.
Due to the salary cap’s descent to 64.3 million dollars, the need to re-sign restricted free agents and the presumed eventual contract negotiations to lengthen Dustin Brown’s stay in Los Angeles beyond 2014, amongst other factors, the Kings were not expected to agree upon anything more significant than a hypothetical extension for defenseman Rob Scuderi on the first day of free agency.
As the day developed, Scuderi signed a four-year, 13.5 million dollar contract to return to Pittsburgh, Brad Richardson signed a two-year, 2.3 million dollar contract to join Vancouver, and Los Angeles added a low-cost option by signing defenseman Jeff Schultz for one year at a friendly $700,000.
Scuderi was the Kings’ unquestioned top target among their unrestricted free agents – really, he was the top defensive target league-wide – and his departure does some shift some weight onto the need for defenseman Willie Mitchell to return in good health. Mitchell, another left-shooting defenseman, was paired extensively with 2012-13 Scuderi partner Slava Voynov during 2011-12 and has recently skated at Toyota Sports Center in attempts to test the knee that became inflamed and required a pair of surgeries that sidelined him for the entirety of the lockout-shortened season.
Should Mitchell not be able to play, his placement on Long Term Injured Reserve would free up 3.5 million dollars of cap space that could be used to address any lack of confidence in the defense.
A strong Mitchell return would be a significant benefit for the team’s blue line, though there are still plenty of options within a pool that grew to nine skaters (Doughty, Regehr, Voynov, Mitchell, Greene, Ellerby, Schultz, Muzzin-RFA, Martinez-RFA) with Schultz’s addition. Realistically, at one point one of the depth defensemen is likely to be moved, with Martinez a possible candidate due to his age, puck-advancing ability and a[n] [eventual] favorable cap-hit that has been silhouetted by intermittent usage under Darryl Sutter in 2012-13.
Though Pierre LeBrun described the team as “disappointed” in the decision, it isn’t exactly a completely unexpected surprise to see Scuderi depart Los Angeles. When the Kings and his representation never came to an agreement on an extension during the season or in the lead-up to free agency and Scuderi remained polite yet brief on the subject in interviews, the possibility of him returning to the Eastern Conference always lurked. As an intangible, geography did not play in Los Angeles’ favor as the tenured veteran cited family considerations in the explanation of his decision to return to the Eastern Time Zone.
“I didn’t really know who would be interested,” Scuderi said in a live interview with TSN. “I had an inkling…before free agency, and you try not to get too involved in it, because you’re not really sure. But I thought L.A. tabled a very fair offer, and I wasn’t going to leave Los Angeles to play for another team in the Western Conference. So it had to be an east coast team, and it wasn’t a very long list.”
Good luck to you, Rob Scuderi. Aside from winning the 2012 Stanley Cup, reaching the 2013 Western Conference Final and qualifying for the playoffs in all four seasons as a King, Scuderi received a first place Lady Byng vote this year and has been well appreciated by the contingent of writers, reporters and broadcasters who appreciate his approachability and sincerity following practices, wins and losses. Several players have referenced Scuderi as potential coach following the conclusion of his playing career; given his high hockey intelligence and level demeanor, there certainly appears to be an open-ended future within the sport should his interests align with those who speak so highly of him.
Though Schultz wasn’t favored by the last two coaching staffs in Washington, he’s still a 6-foot-6 defenseman who provides additional depth from the left side and will be looking to create momentum in a career that has not trended in a favorable direction over the last two years. He’s also an important insurance piece should Mitchell be unable to play or return to his previously established levels. At $700,000, he’s an inexpensive, experienced option, and given that he’s 27-years-old and at one point posted a 23-point, plus-50 season in the NHL, there appears to be a ceiling to Schultz’s game that hasn’t been reached recently.
The Kings’ evolution from rebuilding to respectability and the route towards their ascension as Stanley Cup champions was marked by Brad Richardson’s blood and sweat. Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Matt Greene, Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll were the only current Kings in the lineup on October 11, 2008, the night that Richardson made his Los Angeles debut.
His speed and forechecking tendencies should allow him to slot in favorably with Vancouver under new head coach John Tortorella. Never easy to play against, his feistiness will be an interesting addition on the opposite side of the frequent extracurricular activities that accompany Kings-Canucks games.
"I felt most comfortable with #Vancouver. They made me feel like they really wanted me." – Richardson
— Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks) July 5, 2013
Dustin Penner, the team’s lone unrestricted free agent following the signings of Scuderi and Richardson, is still at large and unsigned.
Jonathan Bernier, on the other hand, has reached an agreement with Toronto.
Jonathan Bernier sign with Maple Leafs. 2 years / $5.8M #RDS
— Renaud Lavoie (@RenLavoieRDS) July 6, 2013
Free agency coverage will continue as it develops, and once player movement appears mostly settled, LAKI will take a look at what the realigned division will look like and general trends of the Western-based teams. Lots more to come.