Los Angeles Kings' Complete Guide to Free Agency

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJune 29, 2015

Los Angeles Kings' Complete Guide to Free Agency

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    It's no easy task to build a championship-caliber team in the National Hockey League.

    Once you get to the top, it's even harder to stay there. Just ask the Los Angeles Kings.

    After winning two Stanley Cups in three years, the Kings have tiptoed precipitously along the upper edges of the salary-cap ceiling. Missing the playoffs in 2014-15 made general manager Dean Lombardi's desire to upgrade his team even stronger.

    Lombardi engineered an unexpected trade on draft weekend, acquiring power forward Milan Lucic to add more muscle to an already heavy lineup. On July 29, he shocked the hockey world by terminating the contract of 30-year-old center Mike Richards, alleging "a material breach of the requirements of his Standard Player's Contract," per LAKings.com (via NHL.com).

    We likely haven't heard the last of the Richards story, but for now, his full contract is off the Kings' books and gives the team an extra $5.75 million to spend when the free-agency window opens Wednesday.

    Here's a look at how Los Angeles' situation shakes down.

Depth Chart

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    With the Mike Richards contract off the books, here are the NHL players under contract with the Kings for the 2015-16 season, along with the most significant contract details:

     

    11 Forwards: $36.75 million

    • Anze Kopitar (27) has one year remaining on a contract with a $6.8 million cap hit before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
    • Milan Lucic (27) has one year remaining on a contract with a $3.25 million cap hit before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
    • Trevor Lewis (28) has one year remaining on a contract with a $1.525 million cap hit before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
    • Mike Richards' contract had five seasons remaining at a cap hit of $5.75 million per season. The buyout details for this contract are complicated. Bob McKenzie of TSN reports that the termination has removed Richards' contract from the books immediately, though it's likely the Richards camp will issue a legal challenge.

     

    5 Defensemen: $18.2 million

    • Top-four defensemen Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Matt Greene are all signed to long-term deals.
    • Brayden McNabb (24) has one year remaining on a contract with a $650,000 cap hit before he becomes a restricted free agent.
    • Slava Voynov (25) is listed as a non-roster player pending the outcome of his domestic violence criminal charges.

     

    1 Goaltender: $5.8 million

    • Jonathan Quick will need a new backup goaltender after the Kings dealt Martin Jones to the Boston Bruins as part of the Milan Lucic trade.

Salary-Cap Status

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Not including the Mike Richards contract, General Fanager reports the Kings currently have just under $61 million committed against the salary cap for 17 players in 2015-16.

    With Richards not returning and—for now—Voynov unavailable, the Kings will need to add another six players to their lineup for opening night. Assuming the money from Richards' cap hit remains available, general manager Dean Lombardi will have just over $10 million to spend.

    Roughly speaking, the Kings need two to three more defensemen, two to three more forwards and a backup goalie to fill out their roster.

Who's a Free Agent?

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    Unrestricted Free Agents

    Justin Williams (33) - right wing

    • 18-23-41 in 81 regular-season games

    Jarret Stoll (33) - center

    • 6-11-17 in 73 regular-season games

    Robyn Regehr (35) - defense (retired)

    • 3-10-13 in 67 regular-season games

    Andrej Sekera (29) - defense

    • 1-3-4 in 16 regular-season games after being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes at the trade deadline.

    Jamie McBain (27) - defense

    • 3-6-9 in 26 regular-season games

     

    Restricted Free Agents

    Nick Shore (22) - center

    • 1-6-7 in 34 regular-season games

    Andy Andreoff (24) - left wing

    • 2-1-3 in 18 regular-season games

Biggest Needs

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    Defense

    The Kings' maneuvering on the Richards contract is likely being done with an eye toward re-signing Andrej Sekera, whom the team acquired at the trade deadline in hopes of pushing it into another deep playoff run.

    Though the postseason didn't happen, Sekera fit in nicely with this Kings group, and it appears management deemed the trial run successful. The question now is whether Sekera will be willing to turn down potential big-money deals from other teams in order to continue his tenure with Los Angeles.

     

    Goal

    Yes, we know Jonathan Quick likes to play a lot. He made 72 appearances for Los Angeles in 2014-15, ranking second in minutes played behind Braden Holtby despite having a very capable backup behind him in Martin Jones.

    Just as the Kings traded former backup Jonathan Bernier two years ago for a better opportunity when he became a restricted free agent, the team dealt Jones to the Boston Bruins on draft day.

    If Lombardi is reluctant to spend significant money on a backup, Los Angeles could promote either of its Calder Cup-winning goaltenders, Jean-Francois Berube or Patrik Bartosak, from its AHL affiliate in Manchester.

Other Teams' Free Agents to Target

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    Now that the Kings have created a bit of breathing room thanks to the Richards situation, Lombardi can be a player once again on the open market.

    He has already brought in a new top-six forward in Lucic, but don't expect him to stop there.

    Always loyal, Lombardi's first passes will be at his own free agents—Sekera and, depending on his contract demands, Justin Williams. But those are two of the better-quality players who will be available on July 1. Other teams may be willing to pay significantly more than Lombardi can afford.

    If Lombardi is forced to go shopping outside his own roster, heavy forwards like Chris Stewart or Joel Ward would fit the Kings' mould nicely on the right side.

    On defense, Francois Beauchemin's an attractive mid-priced veteran who could be next season's Willie Mitchell.

Predictions

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    A week ago, I wouldn't have thought that the Kings would try to trade for Milan Lucic, especially given their tough salary-cap situation. But here we are.

    The Kings already have a pretty complete roster under contract and can pluck from a strong prospect pool on their championship AHL team to fill out the team next year. Still, you can bet that Dean Lombardi's using every trick in the book to free up salary-cap space so that doesn't have to stand pat on July 1.

    Look for the Kings to announce two free-agent signings this week. If it's not Sekera and Williams, it'll be a couple of other big names on the league's UFA lists.

The Los Angeles Kings Free-Agency Period Will Be...Litigious

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    Jarret Stoll's drug charges have been settled, but Slava Voynov's domestic violence case continues. Now, the NHL Players' Association could launch a grievance against the Kings' termination of Mike Richards' contract, per Katie Strang of ESPN.com, which might mean even more time in the courtroom for the Los Angeles Kings' management team.

    In the meantime, Dean Lombardi and his assistants are working hard to put their team back on the playoff track with some out-of-the-box contract maneuvers. Whether its their own free agents or some fresh faces, rest assured the Kings will be buyers once again on July 1.

     

    Stats courtesy of NHL.comContract information from General Fanager is sourced from CapGeek, a now-defunct website.