Two of the most popular topics among hockey fans are potential trades and the salary cap. In actuality, the two topics have never been more closely related. Good ol’ fashioned hockey trades – i.e. Mike Richards for Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn – are few and far between. More often than not these days, teams are trading away players on an expiring contract (or, at best, with an additional year of term remaining) for draft picks and prospects.
Over the past three seasons, LA Kings GM Rob Blake was in a position to do just that. He was trading away players considered to still be in their prime in exchange for future assets. Now, with his team again in the playoff picture, Blake has said he’s ready to be a buyer leading into next month’s Trade Deadline.
What could that look like for the Kings?
We took an in-depth look at what a deal for defenseman Jacob Chychrun would likely look like in an article a few days ago. As noted near the end of that evaluation, one of the key aspects of that deal is the cost certainty that it would bring to LA for the next three-plus seasons. Now, let’s look at why that is so critical.
We’ll start high level and then drill into the specifics. Basically, the Kings are looking to upgrade three positions heading into next season – two forwards and one defensive position. And when all is said and done, they probably have a total of about $8M “extra” to accomplish those three goals.
In this case, “extra” means the additional money available to spend beyond paying a base player to fill that same role — i.e. a young player on an Entry Level Contract or an older vet on a one-year deal; players typically costing a team around $1M AAV.
Once we get to the math, it’s not uncommon for some readers to get caught up in the names listed (because they’d prefer a different lineup). The actual line combinations and D-pairings are somewhat irrelevant in the end, though. This is more about looking at a 23-man roster and what it would cost vs. the $82.5M salary cap expected for next season.
We’ll begin with some assumptions:
— Olli Maata and Andreas Athanasiou, will not be returning next season. Carl Grundstrom will most likely fall into this same category.
— Boxes in yellow indicate RFAs that we are assuming will be re-signed this summer, i.e. Adrian Kempe, Blake Lizotte, and Brendan Lemieux. The former is a given, the latter two are not quite set in stone. There’s always the possibility that Lizotte and/or Lemieux won’t be brought back (more on that in a minute).
What this shows is the Kings would have about $8M “extra” to upgrade those three positions they’ll be targeting. At least one of those three is expected to come from an internal promotion. Meaning, one of the Kings prospects is expected to step up.
— Hypothetically speaking, if that was Alex Turcotte being moved into a more prominent role, there could be a spot for Grundstrom to possibly return as the 13th or 14th forward.
— Gabe Vilardi enters the conversation at some point, as well. It could be him placed in that more prominent role. It also could be Turcotte and Vilardi on the roster together, with Grundstrom out. Regardless of which two of those three players eventually are placed into those boxes, the cap hit won’t change much. They’re all earning about the same money. To keep things simple, we’ll leave Turcotte on the roster for now.
— There is also the Jaret Anderson-Dolan factor to deal with. He’s no longer waiver exempt next season, so it’s either NHL, trade him this summer, or risk losing him to waivers if they try sending him to the AHL at any point, starting in September.
— Don’t forget about Dustin Brown too. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer. Let’s assume he returns to LA on a one-year deal at $2M AAV. We’ll get to that in a minute.
— While we’re fairly confident in the Kempe contract projection, Mikey Anderson’s number may be too low in our example. There’s certainly the possibility that he gets a higher-priced bridge deal. Any such increase in his AAV will come from the Kings pool of money they’re trying to use on roster upgrades.
— Brandt Clarke is very likely to make the jump to the NHL next season. He isn’t eligible for the AHL, so it’s either NHL or back to junior hockey for the Kings 2021 first round pick. Hence, Blake would either slide him into the top-six somewhere (giving up the OPEN spot among the group) or he’d need to trade somebody to free up a spot. On one hand, Sean Walker would be the most likely candidate for such a scenario. However, given the amount of time he’s missed over the past two seasons, he probably holds very little trade value at this time.
Is that enough to help the Kings need for greater offensive output? Probably not.
If they were able to land Chychrun, what would that look like?
Now, the picture starts to become a little more clear. With the cost certainty of Chychrun, what could the Kings do in free agency or via a trade for help at forward?
Could they afford Brock Boeser? Probably not. While he’s an RFA on an expiring contract at $5.875M, they would need to pay him at least $7.5M on a qualifying offer. Even if they didn’t re-sign Brown, take that $2M and add it to the $3.4M leftover at the bottom of the sheet, that still isn’t enough money to cover that new contract this summer.
Could they afford Patrik Laine? Same thing. His new contract will most likely cost at least $7.5M in AAV.
Johnny Gaudreau? No way, he’s going to cost even more.
What if the Kings forget about Chychrun… and instead added Clarke to round out the defensive group?
Well, Blake would have $7M leftover. He could combine that with the $1M in the OPEN box or even add that to the $2M allocated to Brown, and all of the sudden, the Kings can afford one of the more expensive wingers.
If they could somehow find a way to trade the Walker contract, that could free up a little bit more money too. However, they’d still have to fill the box — using a base player at $1M — which could free up another $1.6M.
Without getting too complicated, there are a few other scenarios that could be explored, if needed. For example, they could attempt to send Walker to the minors and bury the contract in the AHL. They’d save a little more than $1M in that scenario. Thus, by the time they added somebody to replace him, the net savings would likely be less than $500K.
Not re-signing Lias Andersson wouldn’t save much because we only penciled him in at $1M. He could be replaced with Vilardi, Grundstrom, Fagemo, Kupari, etc. and the cost wouldn’t be much different. Even if Lemieux isn’t brought back, there isn’t much savings there either vs. his likely replacement — maybe a savings of $1M. Still, that’s probably not enough to swing a major add on defense and a major add at forward.
Like the trades he made along the way to set up the rebuild, Blake’s upcoming additions will decide how quickly the Kings can return to Stanley Cup contention. Phillip Danault, Viktor Arvidsson, and Alex Elder proved to be valuable additions last summer.
Note to webmasters/reporters: When recapping news or interviews from this site please remember to include a link to www.MayorsManor.com