Tim Leiweke said this to Rich Hammond last week: "We, as an organization, are going to have some decisions to make between now and July 1, and we’re going to have to see who we lose and how that affects us, and we’re going to have to see who’s ready to take a step up within the system. We will sit down with Dean and Hex and Terry and evaluate it [...] [Lombardi] has been pretty vocal, and we hear him loud and clear, that we still have a few pieces to fill in here."
Non-specific comments like this get my attention on days between games. It makes me want to make lists and charts. Who are we potentially going to lose? Who might be ready to step up? Bullet points!
Alexander Frolov. He's the big one (UFA, that is).
- Other UFAs: Sean O'Donnell, Randy Jones, Raitis Ivanans, Fredrik Modin, Jeff Halpern.
- RFAs: Brad Richardson, Scott Parse, Marc-Andre Cliche, Trevor Lewis and Corey Elkins.
- Ready to step up? Oscar Moller, Andrei Loktionov, Brayden Schenn, Kyle Clifford, Viatcheslav Voynov, Thomas Hickey, Jacob Muzzin, Colten Teubert or Jonathan Bernier?
Without those guys, this is what we've got for 2010-11:
Rich Clune - C4 - RW4
Davis Drewiske - D6
That's 16 players, cap hit of $44.6MM. I spitball that to $12MM of cap space with a bonus cushion of a further $4-5MM (more if Schenn or Hickey join the team next year).
- Before we get to the Frolov question, I want to address the most interesting cross-roads coming up this year, and that's Brayden Schenn. He almost made the team this year, as an 18 year old. He was sent back to juniors to more or less take over, be a leader, "learn to win", and just generally have a career year down there, which he has proceeded to do. He can't play in the AHL next season, because he's too young, so it's either the wheat-free Kings or the Wheat Kings next season. I think Lombardi will tell Leiweke he thinks Schenn makes the jump this fall. Although he's a natural center, I don't really see him playing 4th line minutes. I think the obvious spot for him for next year is LW on Handzus's line: Schenn/Handzus/Simmonds.
- Are there any LWs who can take Frolov's spot on the second line? The only choices from our current depth chart are Parse and Modin. Both those guys are excellent depth players right now. I personally would sign Modin and stick him on the fourth line with occasional power-play minutes. In fact, let's just do that. Fourth line: Clune/C4/Modin. But I don't think we're going to see anyone rise up from the prospect pool to be a better option at LW2 than Frolov.
- So it's Frolov or a UFA from outside. Who are these outsiders? One who comes to mind is Patrick Marleau. He's older and more experienced than Frolov, scores more points and is of course more expensive.
- The other is Ilya Kovalchuk. I don't know what's going to happen with Kovalchuk, whether Lombardi thinks he would fit within the system, whether Lombardi considers him of good character, or whether he cares. I don't know if it's true that Kovalchuk's wife wants to live in Beverly Hills. I don't know what the deal is with that picture of him in a kilt. But I do know that his cap hit would be somewhere between $7MM and $8MM (front-loaded mega-term contract) and that would suck up a lot of cap room. Of course, Marleau would too, but a couple of million less in cap hit. Do the Kings have that kind of space?
- There is a fork in the road here. Frolov (or a UFA of equal value) on one path and a bigger UFA on the other. If Lombardi wants to go for the bigger fish, then Frolov is gone, and the Kings have about $4MM to spend on three-to-five players. If they opt for Frolov (or similarly-paid UFA), they have a few million more to spend.
- However, if Schenn is assumed, his cap hit will be around $3.4MM with his bonus figured in. With maybe $1.5MM for Modin, we're over the cap with at least two defensemen and two forwards left to sign or promote. There would be about $6MM in bonus cushion which Lombardi could spend, though he would get in trouble if those bonuses had to be paid out. Let's say Lombardi is willing to take a little bit of risk there and use part of the bonus cushion. Just for fun, so we can put Schenn in.
- Of the RFAs, I think Richardson gets a new deal, for $1MM-ish. Which puts us a couple $MM over (which the bonus cushion would cover). Then we would be looking at something like this:
Rich Clune - Brad Richardson - Fredrik Modin
Davis Drewiske - D6
- And those are good lines. But we've got a problem on D. With SOD gone, Lombardi is going to want to sign another solid veteran guy (or re-sign SOD). In fact, SOD/UFA needs to be plugged in. Now we're $3MM over the cap (still covered by the bonus cushion, but in a dangerous area).
- At which point, there's the issue of, F13, F14 and D7.
- For the D, are any of the prospects going to be NHL ready? My guess is Hickey and Teubert spend an entire year in Manchester. Muzzin? Probably also AHL-bound. Voynov? Possible. And his deal wouldn't be appreciably richer than Drewiske's or Harrold's. So that probably works. Harrold can take the F13 spot.
- Having said that, I see a potential "toughness" issue coming up if and when DL cuts Ivanans loose. So maybe Muzzin is an option, instead of Voynov or Drewiske. Don't know if he's ready though.
- For the forwards, I think Moller and Loktionov probably will be looked to for a handful of games with the Kings, but will otherwise grow into their bodies in Manchester. Clifford could make it, too. He almost did this year (sort of). But I think he will be allowed to ripen for another year. Maybe Lewis or Cliche will be F14. If not them, then someone of equal cap hit or less.
- Re toughness: Clifford is an option, but not if he's going to be a frequent healthy scratch. This is the nice thing about Peter Harrold. He can sit in the press box for a month or two and then come in and play like he did last night.
- Bernier will replace Ersberg. But that doesn't effect the cap situation much.
- And with those changes, we get:
Rich Clune - Brad Richardson - Fredrik Modin [Clifford?]
(Peter Harrold, Trevor Lewis)
Viatcheslav Voynov - [SOD/UFA: Lilja/Mitchell/other]
- Cap Geek's calculator puts this line up at about $60MM cap hit (for the Kovi/Marleau end of the spectrum), which sucks up most of the bonus cushion and probably means no to Kovalchuk or else someone is going to have to get dealt to make room. Or else Lombardi goes with the Frolov (or similarly priced) option. Which probably a lot of people will see as treading water. Unless Fro scores a historically significant goal a couple of playoff rounds from now.
- Next year is Doughty's contract year, and the chances of him being in the running for the Norris are pretty decent (given that they're talking about him for Norris now). So factor that in. Sign Kovalchuk etc., and some fan favorites are going to be forced out. Something eventually will have to give.
- The more I think about it, the more I like the Fro option. Go Fro. Score some OT winners.
- It might actually be a better option to stick with Frolov and try to get a slightly pricier UFA defenseman, someone a bit more solid, like a Scuderi Jr.. You know, SOD, but not as old. Andreas Lilja and Willie Mitchell come to mind.