LA Kings should not worry about luring big-time free agents

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kovaldevils.jpgPerhaps I’m in the minority here, but I think the Los Angeles Kings are better off without Ilya Kovalchuk … at least at the kind of money and years he seems determined to receive. Los Angeles Times writer Helene Elliott seems to think it’s a sign that the team cannot lure in high-end free agents, though.

Chara was a long shot. The Kings were bad and Chara decided to stay in the East with its infinitely easier travel, signing with the Bruins. The Kings salivated over Hossa but he wanted to play for a Cup contender and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.

So the Kings have had to settle for third- and fourth-tier free agents. The exception was defenseman Rob Scuderi, who came here last summer mainly because they gave him more security and money — four years and $13.6 million — than anyone else.

The Kings targeted the smart and steady Martin but he signed with Pittsburgh for $25 million over five years. Mobile Dan Hamhuis was Plan B but he wanted to be close to home and signed with Vancouver.

It’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma for the Kings. They can’t attract elite free agents until they become a Cup contender, but they can’t become a contender until they lure players they haven’t developed — a productive winger, second-line center and fleet defenseman.

I think that July 2009’s summer free agents are pretty much irrelevant considering the fact that the Kings were in the Western Conference basement. Frankly, there aren’t many cellar dwellers who attract big names unless they throw a reckless deal at a player.

Let’s face the facts, too, as much excitement as Martin and Hamhuis generated … are they really worth their contracts? I find it hard to believe that Paul Martin deserves a higher salary cap hit than, say, Shea Weber in Nashville (Weber makes $4.5 million per year, a half-million less than Martin). It’s my opinion that neither Hamhuis ($4.5 million, too) nor Martin are worth as much as they were paid this summer.

I’m not complaining about free agency, either. Instead, I’m just trying to dispute the notion that the Kings should be forlorn that they didn’t pay players more than they should. Why should the Kings regret exercising fiscal responsibility with  Kovalchuk? No one should pay him $10 million per year. Really, even that supposed seven-year, $60 million offer strikes me as a little bit foolish.

If anything, the Kings are simply unlucky that this year’s free agent forward pool is so shallow. Something tells me that the team could land a desirable free agent if he had, you know, realistic goals for a contract that could exist in the NHL according to salary cap restrictions. After all, Los Angeles is a huge market with sexy weather and a solid, up-and-coming team.

The Kovalchuk-Dean Lombardi stand-off isn’t a sign that big-time players are disinterested in Los Angeles. Instead, it’s a sign that the Kings might actually want to spend their money wisely.