It isn’t a huge move, but it’s a smart one.
Whether you want to call him a glue guy, utility player or defensive specialist, Lewis is the kind of hard-working grinder that every team could use to support its stars up front. The Kings retained the man himself at a very palatable cap hit.
Beyond the financial aspect of this contract, keeping Lewis on board was the right decision for a couple of reasons.
Head coach Darryl Sutter trusts Lewis. That’s crucial, and evidenced in the 27-year-old’s usage stats. Among regular Kings forwards—Colin Fraser has only played 33 games this year—Lewis has seen the fourth-toughest zone starts and logged the third-highest short-handed time on ice in 2013-14.
In situations where dependable players are of the utmost importance, Sutter has routinely turned to Lewis, and he has routinely proven worthy of such deployment.
He’s plus-five over the last two seasons and offers a sound, pesky and disciplined game. In fact, his blend of energy and hockey IQ has led to the best penalty differential (penalties drawn minus penalties taken) on the entire team. He is also tied for the third-best mark among all NHL skaters in this category.
A diligent forward who can play any position up front and consistently deliver what’s expected of him is valuable. He plays sound positional hockey, finishes checks, puts his club on the power play, kills off the penalties that his teammates take and carries a significant defensive burden.
Surely, that’s a piece worth keeping around.
Was bringing Lewis back for two years the right decision?
A quick glance at comparable players—in terms of both production and impact—such as Daniel Paille (18 points in 70 games, $1.3 million cap hit), Drew Miller (15 points in 80 games, $1.35 million cap hit) and Jay McClement (10 points in 79 games, $1.5 million cap hit) makes Lewis’ deal look fair for both player and team.
He’s tallied 11 points in 70 games this season and will count for $1.525 million against the cap in his prime years.
With Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times reporting that next season’s salary cap will rise from the current $64.3 million to at least $68 million, the signing looks even better.
Based strictly on offensive numbers, armchair general managers would have been tempted to let Lewis walk in the offseason in the hopes that a youngster in the pipeline—Linden Vey, Nick Shore, Jordan Weal or Andy Andreoff—could replace him.
However, given that the Kings are in win-now mode and demand so much of their forwards in a three-zone capacity, that wouldn’t fly.
I’ve already detailed why rookies Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli shouldn’t play on the same line. Throwing another upstart into the fire in place of Lewis would color the forward ranks in a tint too green for comfort.
Sutter doesn’t have to worry with Lewis on the ice. He has four seasons of NHL experience under his belt and is as responsible as they come in L.A.
More importantly, he has big-game experience, having taken part in back-to-back deep playoff runs. Interestingly, his offensive production is also stronger in the postseason, averaging 0.36 points per game (16 points in 44 games) with the Stanley Cup within reach and just 0.18 PPG (48 points in 274 games) in the regular season.
Instead of having to shelter a fresh face in the playoffs, Sutter can send out a veteran who actually fares better in pressure-packed scenarios.
His all-out hustle wears on opponents, as was the case in the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals. In overtime of Game 5 against the heavily favored Vancouver Canucks, Lewis pestered Vancouver blueliner Dan Hamhuis so feverishly that he turned the puck over to Jarret Stoll, who was then gifted a two-on-one opportunity with Dwight King.
Seconds later, the Los Angeles Kings had shocked the NHL by eliminating the No.1-seeded Canucks and were well on their way to their first and only championship.
Stoll may have garnered the plaudits with his shot, but it was Lewis who made the play by locking into his assignment and simply winning the battle.
Lewis will probably never produce the way a 17th overall pick should, but he’s a gritty, savvy forward who can be relied on defensively and on the PK. He's no stranger to the postseason, and his skill set complements the team's lineup no matter how Sutter configures it.
On a serious contender, there’s only so much room for unknown quantities. The Kings know precisely what they’re getting in Lewis and inked him to a deal commensurate with his performance.
Contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.