Changes to Los Angeles Kings’ Roster will be Strictly Voluntary
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By: Ryan Kiray (@RyanK_THG)
Dean Lombardi is very good at his job. The Los Angeles Kings are fresh off their second Stanley Cup victory in three years, and while they have not yet reached the level of dynasty that some over-eager commentators wish to thrust upon them, they are not far removed. This year’s Stanley Cup winners could easily return the same roster to the ice next year, a feat that is truly unheard of in the salary cap era. Flush with personnel successes via draft, cap management, and trade, the Kings are as true a threat to become a dynasty as any team has been since the cap was instituted.
Since being appointed General Manager in 2006, Lombardi has transformed the Kings from rebuilding also-rans into one of the league’s premiere perpetual Cup threats, combining solid drafting with an aggressive approach to player acquisition to create well-balanced and competitive teams. While the Kings are an afterthought in a market that includes the NBA’s Clippers and Lakers and MLB’s Dodgers, the dominance of the Kings creates a viable hockey market in a warm weather climate, another feat that is nearly unparalleled in today’s NHL.
To-wit, essentially the same team that won the Cup in 2011-2012 took the ice in 2012-2013, with the exception of a few spare parts and benchwarmers. Compare this to the tear-down of the Chicago Blackhawks after their Cup win in 2010, which, while a testament to Stan Bowman in its own rite, was indicative of cap trouble brought about by inefficient management. While Bowman’s work in shedding overpaid and overrated players while still holding on to one of the league’s top rosters was masterful, the stability of Lombardi’s roster indicates that there was little inefficiency in his management to begin with.
What is more, the Kings could easily ice the same roster next year as they did this if Lombardi chooses. The Kings have plenty of cap space to work with, over $13 million by the best available estimate. There are a grand total of four pending free agents on the King’s active roster. Neither Willie Mitchell nor Matt Greene screams big money defenseman, and they are certainly not irreplaceable. Despite his stellar postseason, Marian Gaborik could well be in line for a pay decrease after a few seasons that were either injury-riddled or disappointing statistically, if not both. Dwight King has a promising future ahead of him, but has not yet reached his big dollar days. Replacing or resigning those four players is eminently achievable even if Gaborik hits a $7 million salary.
All of which makes the notion that the Kings must choose between Mike Richards and Gaborik patently absurd. While the Kings may opt to buy out Richards due to diminishing returns on his $5.75 million cap hit, there is no logical reason to believe that removing Richards is imperative to the integrity of Los Angeles’ roster. This is the last offseason in which compliance buyouts will be available, and that may weigh heavily on the decision to be made on Richards. That said, his salary is eminently manageable for a second line center, and while Lombardi could certainly be termed an aggressive manager, the stability of the Kings’ roster speaks to his affinity for roster continuity; there is little in Lombardi’s track record in Los Angeles to suggest that he would toss aside Richards lightly.
Perhaps the build to this point was a bit slow, but at the end of the day, buying out Richards is in no way a necessity. While analysis may show that it is advisable to take advantage of the penalty free compliance buyout while it is available, the fact of the matter is that any analysis on Richards that begins with a shortage of available cap space is fundamentally flawed. Lombardi’s assembly of a roster with a glut of high-end talent and depth to spare, all at a reasonable price, has left the Kings in a position to return a carbon copy of the previous year’s Stanley Cup champion to the ice for the second time in three years. While some roster changes may be made based on judgment, none of those changes will be forced.