Training Camp Open, Kings Trade Coming Next

Kings Roster QuestionsLast summer, Dean Lombardi and his staff spent hours, days, and weeks-on-end agonizing over the salary cap. How were they going to get certain people re-signed, fit everybody under the cap, and make it all work without damaging their future wiggle room? In the end, Lombardi and Jeff Solomon, his key right hand in these matters, developed the solutions necessary given the facts they had to work with.

Rob Scuderi wasn’t re-signed, something that still greatly impacted Lombardi’s thinking in the short term, as although he didn’t like the idea of a four-year deal for the veteran defenseman, he spent the next eight months trying to acquire a suitable replacement via a trade. Ultimately that never happened in time for the 2014 playoffs, but they have an idea how to address that hole this season. More on that in a minute.

This summer, Willie Mitchell was allowed to walk as a free agent. Again, Lombardi loved his warrior spirit when playing, but he became too big of a question mark during his final two years in a Kings uniform. He’ll forever be loved and admired by his teammates and those in the organization, but from a business standpoint, it was time to move on.

Among the forwards, coach Darryl Sutter finally agreed to give some legitimate playing time to two of the Kings top prospects, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. Lombardi also spent several months contemplating the addition of winger Marian Gaborik and then pulled the trigger on a deal that paid huge dividends. The team wanted to re-sign him to a much shorter term deal, but at the same time just couldn’t walk away when the term climbed to seven years. Seeing him alongside Anze Kopitar for the next few seasons was considered a must, especially on a team that has been so starved for offense over the past decade.

Issues with the Kings roster moving forward can best be compartmentalized into three distinct areas:

One, this is likely the last season you will see the current group of players compete for a Stanley Cup in Los Angles. Kopitar is due a huge raise next summer and the exact cost of that contract (even though it won’t kick in until the summer of 2016, as Kopitar has a contract in place for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons) will almost immediately impact other decisions being made. Lombardi is always looking well down the road – which is also one of the primary reasons the Kings haven’t been in major cap trouble like so many other Stanley Cup contenders.

Among the forwards, two major names that will become unrestricted free agents next summer, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll. On defense, Alec Martinez and Robyn Regehr will be UFA. Plus, they’ll also need to re-sign Pearson, Toffoli, Jake Muzzin, and Martin Jones. Sure, those four will be RFAs, so they don’t have as much leverage, but if the last few years have taught teams anything, it’s that few contracts are truly easy to get done in the cap era.

Two, the organization’s top need at the moment is for a shut-down defenseman. We’ve talked about it at length over the past year and it remains at the top of Lombardi’s want list. At the moment, all hopes hinge on rookie Brayden McNabb. A former third round draft pick of the Sabres, Lombardi swapped two prized prospects to get him at the trade deadline. Our sources inside the organization say he’ll be given every opportunity to earn the spot alongside Slava Voynov, as the team’s second defensive pairing. McNabb brings a heavy, accurate shot and has just the amount of nastiness to his game that the Kings are in need of. To make things easy – and this may not the best of comparisons, but it will work – think of McNabb as a blend between Mitchell and Matt Greene. He will generate offense with the puck, as he’s smart, but also loves to play physical. We’ll continue to monitor this situation moving forward.

Finally, the only real decisions to be made during training camp are which players will secure the final five spots on the roster.

Using the NHL maximum of a 23-man roster, let’s begin with the positions that are set in stone:

Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King – Jarret Stoll – Justin Williams
[open, LW4] – Mike Richards – [open, RW4]

Jake Muzzin – Drew Doughty
Robyn Regehr – Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez – Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Martin Jones

Up to three healthy scratches:
– all three slots open for now

Now, you can argue that you don’t like those line combinations or D-pairings all day long, if you want to. However, that’s how the Kings ended the season and will most likely look on opening night next month. Better yet, it doesn’t really matter. This article isn’t about pairings, as much as it’s about focusing on who actually makes the team and who doesn’t.

One other quick comment before we move on, the salary cap isn’t an issue at the moment. Regardless of who you plug in as your two remaining wingers on the fourth line and your three healthy scratches, the Kings will end up under the cap. So, fortunately, there aren’t any cap worries right now.

Back to the task at hand…

For the five remaining roster spots, Lombardi and company will be selecting from the following seven players:

Forwards: Andy Andreoff, Adam Cracknell, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, and Jordan Nolan
Defensemen: Brayden McNabb and Jeff Schultz

Andreoff and McNabb are out of waivers, meaning they can’t be sent to Manchester without being exposed to all other NHL clubs first. They most certainly would get claimed, thus they are locks for the team come opening night. Too much time, effort, and developmental resources have been invested in them up until this point.

Lewis is versatile, he’s earned his keep. Which means three spots are essentially already spoken for.

That leaves two open spots and four players battling to get them.

In this scenario, even if you want to keep Clifford and Nolan, it’s highly unlikely that Lombardi would simply put Cracknell and Schultz on waivers. He was able to sneak Schultz through waivers at the start of last year, but people around the league saw how the big defenseman stepped right in during the playoffs and helped the Kings, plus he signed a very cap-friendly two-year deal over the summer. He’d be snatched up.

One crazy idea because you guys seem to always love those the most… Lombardi could send Pearson (and/or Toffoli, for that matter) to Manchester to start the season, as he wouldn’t need waivers. If the Kings wanted a little more time to evaluate Cracknell, that’s an option. But, they don’t really need more time to make a decision on guys like Nolan and Clifford. They’ve been in the organization long enough.

If we had to guess, right now – barring any new information that comes in during camp – we think the Kings opening night roster will look like this:

Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King – Jarret Stoll – Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford – Mike Richards – Trevor Lewis

Jake Muzzin – Drew Doughty
Robyn Regehr – Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez – Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Martin Jones

Three healthy scratches:
Andy Andreoff
Brayden McNabb
Jeff Schultz

Which means Nolan gets traded and Cracknell is likely put on waivers, with the hopes of sending him to Manchester. Although it’s always possible that Cracknell gets flipped for a conditional pick instead of going on waivers, it’s generally considered a faux pas to trade somebody you only recently signed.

Lombardi isn’t just going to give Clifford away; somebody would have to pay the proper price for his services. At 23 years old, and with two Stanley Cup rings, he likely has the most value of the few bubble guys. He was almost dealt last season, but if they were going to move him before the 2014-15 season, it would have more likely happened in the summer. Now, he’ll probably start the season with the Kings and then Lombardi will reevaluate things with Clifford closer to the trade deadline.

3 MUST-READ ARTICLES:

Brayden McNabb’s first interview since traded to the Kings

Dean Lombardi on trading for McNabb, new Greene contract

Details on new contracts for Andreoff and McNabb

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Comments

  1. Gabby Vyskocil says:

    Great article, and what a great problem to have: Too many good players, and cap space isn’t dictating what Lombardi does for this season. It’s a good time to be a Kings fan!

  2. Why would they keep 8 defenseman? McNabb will be the 7th, Nolan and Andreoff take the other two spots, unless Cracknell beats out Nolan.

  3. Good stuff John. This all of course changes drastically if the surgically repaired aren’t ready for opening day.

    If it is Stoll or Clifford, easy, they just start from the bench.

    If it is Quick, then we have problems as a roster spot gets used by a call-up AND the cap rears its ugly head.

    I think your trade thinking is not that far off.

  4. Reading this article is so enjoyable. THanks for the great reporting. But man, it sure is nice to look at this roster and think “Man, Mike Richards is our 4th line center and Trevor Lewis is our 4th line bubble right wing as an important piece of 2x cup winning teams.

  5. If Nolan gets traded, would be interesting to see if they would trade with Buffalo so he could play under his dad. Lombardi seems like the type that if he could get what he wants relative to what other teams offer, he would do what he thinks also benefits his player. He’s loyal like that. Buffalo has a lot of assets, but could also use a good young player with SC experience and some grit. They seem like a willing trade partner after the McNabb deal. Kinda like Columbus is every February. 🙂

  6. I hate that we have this problem, because I hate to see any of our players go.

    I’m guessing that we see McNabb as the 7th D with Schultz waived for the minors, but as The Mayor said, he”ll probably be claimed.

    If Schultz is waived we would need to shed one forward to get to a 23 man roster, likely: Clifford, Nolan, Andreoff, Lewis or Cracknell.

    I really liked the way Clifford played in the first preseason game, he had a great jump in his step. However, I guess he is also the most likely to be traded, based on his value.

    I kinda doubt that Cracknell gets waived, as he was just signed (he looked solid in the first game)…but if he does it would allow the Kings to keep all the players from their system. I see him as an older version of Clifford – so I’d really rather that he is the one to go, if anyone.

    I would hate to lose Lewis, he is just too versatile. I can’t see LAK getting his full value from any trade.

    Andreoof has to be at least one of our bench players. He proved too much last season with the Monarchs.

    I’d be sad to loose Nolan, as well. But I see him as more easily replaceable than these other players.

  7. John,

    I think a modified version of the crazy idea will happen. Cracknell will get his chance in the regualr season but instead of sending down Toffoli or Pearson, the Kings will simply put Stoll on the IR for a bit.

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