Pucks were scattered on the ice near the team bench and water bottles were filled, but the only Kings who emerged from the dressing room one day after the team was eliminated from playoff contention were those who met with the media.
In an era in which the salary cap precipitates league-wide parity and teams that win Stanley Cups are often forced to make difficult decisions about retaining valuable personnel that becomes more expensive, there are questions over whether certain players may be playing their final game for the Kings when the puck drops in tomorrow’s season finale against the San Jose Sharks.
“You guys can do all the melodrama stuff if you want. I’m not into that,” Darryl Sutter said. “We’re into winning tomorrow.”
One of those players is Jarret Stoll. A load bearing pillar of the team’s character and resolve through its rebuild, playoff rebirth and emergence as a league force, the forward is an unrestricted free agent who will be negotiating a new contract at a time when the salary cap may not rise much farther past this year’s $69-million.
“I don’t really think about it too much,” Stoll said. “I want to make sure we win our last game as a group together and let that take care of itself this summer with what happens. That is what it is. We have a great group here. I love being a part of it and hopefully that will still work out, but the business of the game and the way the game is, things happen either way. We’ll see what happens.”
Tyler Toffoli, on the other hand is a restricted free agent. It’s expected that his contract negotiations will take more time and diligence than other Los Angeles RFAs, though he’s virtually guaranteed to sign an extension with the club.
Forwards Andy Andreoff and Nick Shore are also bound for restricted free agency, while Justin Williams, Robyn Regehr, Jamie McBain and Andrej Sekera in addition to Stoll are eligible to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, the same date that Los Angeles will be able to negotiate an extension for Anze Kopitar, whose current seven-year, $46.7M contract expires after the 2015-16 season.
Based on financial information that was available when CapGeek.com operated, the Kings have roughly $64.15 million allotted to 17 players for the 2015-16 season, a figure that includes Slava Voynov’s contract.
“I haven’t heard much,” Toffoli said about contract talks. “I’ve just been trying to make the playoffs and help the team win and I haven’t really been focusing on that.”
Like Stoll, the business aspect of his job will come into focus once the team gets past Game 82.
“I think it means a lot to us,” Toffoli said about Saturday’s game. “We’re going to take a lot of pride in it and we’re going to take it like any other game…We want to win. Nobody wants to be playing a game that you want to lose and I think we’re coming into tomorrow really focused and ready to go.”
Difficult roster decisions aren’t unique to this Los Angeles Kings team.
“Teams change after every season,” Sutter said.
Jarret Stoll, on preparing for Saturday’s game for San Jose:
We had a good meeting this morning, already. We want to win our last game as a group. Every year your team changes one to five or six guys. So we want to win our last game as a group. We talked about we’re still the defending champs right now at this moment. We will be tomorrow. Obviously we’re not going to be able to take a crack at it again, but we want to win our last game for our fans especially. We’ve won two championships at Staples Center and we’ve had a lot of good years, a lot of good games there. We want to put one more together for the fans. It’s really important for us as a team and for our fans that are very, very loyal to us.
Stoll, on whether he’s taken some time to review the season yet:
Not yet, I think it’s obviously disappointing. There are a lot of words to describe this season, but I think it’s too fresh right now. It’s a weird, weird feeling and it’s a feeling we don’t like. We don’t want to relive this. You have a feeling of winning and then you have a feeling of this. It’s pretty disappointing.
Stoll, on whether missing the playoffs is an example of how difficult it is to make it:
Yeah, it’s a very good league and there’s maybe the teams who were 10th, 11th, 12th in the past and now it’s any team can make it. It’s so tough. Darryl says it all the time, it’s easy to lose, it’s very, very hard to win. It’s good for the game. The game is going in the right direction if you’ve got 30 teams that have a chance to make the playoffs at the start of the year and have a chance to make the playoffs in February. It’s a battle right down to the end and we weren’t consistent enough throughout the course of the season. We were chasing. Chasing that wild card, chasing the eighth spot, chasing the third in our division, that spot. It just felt like we were chasing it all year and we couldn’t finish it off.
Tyler Toffoli, on how Thursday’s loss impacts their approach to Saturday’s game:
We’ve just got to approach it like another game and be ready to play. San Jose is a good team and we always have good games against them and it’s going to be a good battle and we want to win.
Toffoli, on whether they want to win tomorrow since it’s possibly the last time they’re all together:
I think you want to win every year. I don’t think anyone comes into a season not expecting to win and not expecting to do well and we’re not going to get into the end of the season because we have another game left. But we’ve got to be ready to play tomorrow.
Toffoli, on whether factors that contributed to missing the playoffs:
I think we’ll look at that after the game tomorrow and evaluate ourselves and our team as a group and see where we made our mistakes and figure that out.