It is natural in the NHL’s salary cap era: for a team to win championships, individuals must perform well, and when players perform well, they become more expensive. Thus, the cap stimulates parity as teams that have won Stanley Cups may not have sufficient capital to retain key pieces. The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks’ off-season would be the most pronounced representation of the pinch facing successful teams.
The Los Angeles Kings are feeling a somewhat similar cap strain.
Forwards Tyler Toffoli, Andy Andreoff and Nick Shore, and goaltender Martin Jones are bound for restricted free agency, while Jarret Stoll, Justin Williams, Jamie McBain and Andrej Sekera are eligible to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, the same date that the club 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.
This current cap challenge comes at a time in which the salary cap may not rise above this year’s $69-million bar, so the Los Angeles futures of Williams, Stoll and others bound for unrestricted free agency are uncertain.
Dean Lombardi spoke about his efforts to retain unrestricted free agents during his availability with the media on Sunday.
“I think those type of things, you set-up meetings with the players individually and tell them what exactly we’re going to be able to do,” Lombardi said. “Obviously, though, I think we’ve got two issues here. The reality is we didn’t accomplish what we set out to accomplish, [and] two, we’ve got a cap issue. So what we’re going to be able to do here is probably more difficult than in the past, is probably the right word. And then we also have this issue, don’t forget, we don’t know what the darn cap is, and that’s really frustrating. … So you’re hearing all this speculation on where that thing is. So even if we were in position, there’s a dramatic difference, in terms of what you’re talking about here on the spread. Like, hypothetically, a million dollars might not sound like a lot, but for most teams that have had success, that’s a lot.”
“It puts us in a position of we’re not going to know, and we’re not going to know for another month. So you see what we tried to do here, in the meantime. Solly did a fantastic job and got most of the young guys done. We pecked away at that during the year, and we’ve got two more of those kids out there in Toffoli and [Jones], but we’ve cut that number down dramatically, with Martinez and Muzzin and Clifford and Nolan and Pearson now. Solly has had a busy year. So we’ve got a lot of balls out there. That cap was told to us three or four months ago as 70-71 [-million]. That’s a dramatic difference from the 69 we’re hearing now. So you have to back off anyway.”
The discussion ultimately was raised again as a philosophical query about rewarding players who have been integral parts of Stanley Cup teams.
“…If you want to talk about team and stress team, there are certain values that immediately come to mind and two in particular – competing for each other and loyalty to each other. That’s a team,” Lombardi said. “Now, in today’s day and age, and you see it in football, you see it baseball, or whatever, the system in a lot of ways turns players into independent contractors. You never had this when we were growing up. OK, I get it. But the idea of Pittsburgh, you watch those Pittsburgh Steelers or even those teams before the lockout – Yzerman and all those guys – how much they were together. But the great teams that we grew up with, whether it’s the Celtics or those Laker teams or what have you, it was probably easier to do that because there wasn’t this constant movement. And also, not only do you have movement because a player is free to go, but even if a team wanted to keep you, they can’t. So even if you had the right place. That said, I’m not giving up on the idea of ‘loyalty’ is still part of building a team. But you better exercise it very judiciously and I think that’s some of the things I’ve had to learn. That is not the point the finger at any players or anything else right now, particularly the ones you were mentioning there. But you could easily have an argument with another general manager and say ‘wake up, Dean.’ Clearly, you see this in baseball. Players are commodities. Treat ‘em as such, which means that those values of each other and loyalty don’t apply anymore. Now, I will not go that far although now I recognize OK, but that better be that when you hit that well of cap space on loyalty, it has to go to the right and it better be returned. Whether I’m right or wrong or not, this is a classic case where we’re in this position and what I grew up with, you’ve got to be careful because I could be completely all wet. Those new wave baseball guys could be absolutely right. ‘They’re commodities. Your idea of team and stuff, that’s done. Dean, grow up.’ But I’ll tell you one thing, I hate to tell you, but hockey ain’t my first love. My first love is team. And I don’t think you can expect to have a room that’s really a team unless those principles of competing for each other and loyalty are in that room, because then it’s not a sport anymore, quite frankly, and me and the dog are going hunting.”