Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings.
One doesn’t have to strain to think of some rather dire scenarios for the Los Angeles Kings, especially when you look at a salary cap that’s just bursting with ugly contracts.
This post aims for something different by asking: where can the Kings turn things around, and where are they stuck?
Let’s break the situation down by categories.
[MORE: Three Questions | X-factor | Under Pressure]
Prospects waiting in the wings
Players like Alex Turcotte will be pushing for roster spots … eventually. In some cases (if Gabriel Vilardi gets unexpected health luck, maybe?), possibly soon. But for this exercise, let’s move along to the guys the Kings should phase out to open up space — roster and cap — for prospects.
If the Kings were ever going to move on from Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty — dubious at best, anyway — it was going to be before they signed either player to their current deals. Kopitar, soon to be 32, carries a $10M cap hit through 2023-24. Doughty, 29, has an $11M AAV through 2026-27.
That’s scary, but there’s a chance that 2018-19 was an anomaly, and both may age more gracefully going forward.
Probably not moving away from Quick quickly
Kopitar and Doughty share something in common with Jonathan Quick beyond being faces of the franchise: all three players see big salaries in 2019-20, while their salaries at least drop off – sometimes steeply – in future seasons.
That thought leads me to believe that Quick’s most realistic window to be traded would be after this season.
As much as I’d advise the Kings to trade the 33-year-old as soon as possible, another team would find him far more palatable in 2020-21 and beyond. Consider that 2019-20 is the final season where Quick costs more in actual salary ($7M) than his $5.8M cap hit. From 2020-21, his actual salary sinks to $3.5M, then $3M in 2021-22, and finally $2.5M in 2022-23.
A two-time champion goalie whose salary is lower than his cap hit? Now that’s a decent elevator pitch for a trade.
Speaking of players who were once important, the Kings might be wise to move on from contracts with limited term, much like they did with Jake Muzzin.
Tyler Toffoli is entering a contract year, and considering how ice-cold he was in 2018-19, he’d likely fetch the best return during the trade deadline after his production ideally stabilizes. Alec Martinez could be quite enticing as a defenseman who costs an affordable $4M in cap space for the next two seasons. Toffoli is 27 and Martinez is 32, so if the Kings are honest with themselves, they’ll likely both be a little long in the tooth by the time Los Angeles truly sorts things out.
There are players the Kings would more readily trade, but the difference is that other teams would actually want Toffoli and Martinez.
Unlikely to move
Jeff Carter‘s plummet in skill would already make it tough to trade him at his $5M+ cap hit (which runs through 2021-22, yikes). He’s also discussed possibly retiring if he were traded, making a trade even dicier.
Ilya Kovalchuk is equally difficult to trade for anything but a bad contract for bad contract swap, and that’s making the shaky assumption that he’d even waive a no-trade clause.
The bright side with Carter (expiring after 2021-22), Kovalchuk (2020-21), and Dustin Brown (2021-22) is that their contracts are expiring … reasonably soon. Ish.
And, really, with their salaries diving below their cap hits soon, they might actually be good filler if the Kings semi-tank.
The Kings have a lot of bad money on the books, so here’s hoping the Dion Phaneuf buyout lingers as a reminder of how costly it can be to go with a quick-fix approach. This team needs a rebuild, and while it doesn’t have the same ammo that the Rangers did with theirs, if you squint, you can see signs of hope.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.