Earlier today we shared some comments from Kings GM Dean Lombardi regarding ongoing contract negotiations with several of the team’s young players.
In addition to re-signing Keaton Ellerby to a one-year contract, Lombardi also added unrestricted free agent Jeff Schultz last Friday. Now, when you add in the qualifying offers he made to Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin (plus the five defensemen already under contract), that would give LA nine defensemen.
Even with a healthy scratch or two on a final 23-man roster, that’s still too many blueliners to start the season with.
“We have a number of players who are at different stages of their careers, and different reasons,” Lombardi started to explain when speaking with MayorsManor on Wednesday. “All of them have potential to be better. And one of the things you do is (ask), ‘Who’s going to step up here?’ We have multiple options to piece it together and, the way it’s been done, not take significant hits on your cap. That was a better option to us than maybe going out and trying to get an older guy at $2-million or something. We’d know what he is and it’s clearly a short-term thing just to get by. So, we said, ‘Load up and make these kids better over the summer.’ Let’s see if Schultz can get back on that plus-50 season, make Keaton better, get Marty back on track and Muzz, just keep getting better. So, we have multiple options there depending on how they grasp ‘I gotta get better.'”
And then there’s the wild card in the whole conversation – the health and availability of Willie Mitchell, who has one year remaining on his contract.
“If Willie plays, it’s a different schematic. It he doesn’t, it’s another different schematic,” Lombardi said. “The bottom line is, we’re covered either way. The problem, and even the frustrating thing all summer, since we started this, is Willie’s been the wild card, right? The fact that he’s now back on track is great, but it also made it more difficult. Let’s just say he was done – then it’s easy because the $3.5M is off the cap, buy it out or LTIR, retire or whatever. At least the decision is done and the cap implications are done. Now you’re sitting here with a critical guy, a good player, a really good player. My trainers have guaranteed me he’s going to play 80 games next year [ed note: that was a joke, as head trainer Chris Kingsley was standing nearby].”
In a recent Hockey Night in Canada radio interview Lombardi made a passing comment that it looks like Mitchell is coming back. So, we asked him for some clarification on that statement.
“Well it does (look that way) right now,” answered Lombardi. “It’s fair to say that given where he’s at right now, it made us, and the proof’s in what we did, that we believe clearly he’s on the right track. And we did everything around his (salary cap) number. If we didn’t feel that way and I was smoking you, I would have done something to get out of that number.”
At that point, the normally boisterous Lombardi seemed to almost slow to a crawl. You could practically see the wheels turning.
“It’s a tough one,” he said with a measured pause, perhaps choosing his words carefully. “In some cases, if he comes back, we all know how good a player he is and how good of a partner he is with Voynov. On the other hand, it probably would have been a lot easier if three months ago, ‘Alright, I’m done’ – at least from a planning perspective. It’s probably the most difficult challenge I’ve ever had, and sitting with Solly (Jeff Soloman) and Hex (Ron Hextall) all the time – it’s hard enough to fit your guys in under the cap, and then to have a guy here who…you know. So, when I say it’s been a science project the last three months I wasn’t kidding.”
For the most up to date look at the Kings salary cap situation and how Lombardi might ultimately piece it all together – and why a trade is still very likely – click here.
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