Unrestricted Free Agents
Restricted Free Agents
LW4 - (Brad Richardson) -RW4
Jack Johnson -D4
D5 - Matt Greene
Key Prospects Who May Be Ready to Make the Jump
Oscar Moller, Brayden Schenn, Kyle Clifford, Andrei Loktionov, Viatcheslav Voynov, Jacob Muzzin, Ray Kaunisto, (Corey Elkins), (Marc-Andre Cliche), (Rich Clune), Thomas Hickey, Colten Teubert, Jonathan Bernier.
The Kings are generally thought to have a ton of cap room for signing whichever mega-expensive UFA Russian sniper strikes their fancy. Without rehashing all the numbers (for that see "Can you afford Kovalchuk NOW?" post), the bottom line is, yes, the Kings can afford to spend $8-9MM this year, but have to be careful about next year, which is when Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Wayne Simmonds, Jonathan Bernier and Oscar Moller are all due for new contracts.
Everyone on the planet seems to think the Kings need a top-six sniper and a second-pairing defenseman, sort of a Scuderi "Jr" to batton down Jack Johnson. The Kings are stacked on the right and down the middle. Stoll will gradually become redundant as Brayden Schenn gets on solid ground, er, ice. Clifford will likely take one of the bottom six spots on the left side, Parse and/or Clune will take the other one. That leaves the glaring hole at LW2 (or LW1, if you care to look at it that way).
I have maintained for a while that, as much as I love the idea of Kovalchuk, I frequently prefer another strategy, which is to split the Kovalchuk money on a lesser LW2 and a UFA defenseman, like...
...Anton Volchenkov. (Surprised you by starting with defensemen, didn't I?) Lombardi has dropped a couple of hints that he is content to let the prospects fight it out for at least one of the open spots, seemingly also considering a low-rent UFA veteran option for the second spot (a la Sean O'Donnell, but maybe not the actual Sean). My guess is that a big-ticket UFA defenseman like Volchenkov, Dan Hamhuis, Sergei Gonchar, etc., is not on Lombardi's radar. The non-big ticket options include, let's see, the aforementioned O'Donnell, Willie Mitchell (if in fact he's due for a cut in pay; I think he must be), Andreas Lilja (ex-King!), and beyond that I'm out of decent ideas, though there are literally dozens of old-ish cheap defensemen looking for work.
(Even then, I'm rooting for both Muzzin and Hickey to make the team, making whichever old-timer we sign a more-or-less seventh wheel.)
Now, onto the forwards. Lombardi is also on record acknowledging the Kings' need for 5-on-5 scoring and this thing you call a "pure sniper." There is of course but one guy among this year's population of UFA forwards and that is Patrick O'Sullivan. Wait. Alexander Frolov. Pavol Demitra? Olli Jokinen? Robert Lang? Craig Conroy? Eric Belanger? Jon Sim? Adam Mair? Jamie Lundmark, Brian Willsie, Derek Armstrong, Mark Parrish, Kyle Calder...WHAT IS UP WITH ALL THESE EX-KINGS AVAILABLE AS FREE AGENTS?
Anyway, I'm referring to you-know-who. No, not Voldemort. Ilya Kovalchuk. Yes, he has some defensive "issues." Yes, he's expensive. I'm sure Lombardi has a number (a cap number) that he's not willing to exceed. If I were to guess, I would put that number at around $7MM, as much as $8MM maaaaaybe. I have previously outlined the 10 or 12 year deal that I think could get it done. My latest favorite is 12 years / $72MM, $6MM cap hit, salary starting at 11MM and tapering down to 1MM, something like 11, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 4, 2, 2, 1, 1. Voila. Kovalchuk gets to be the highest paid player in history for a couple of years, and we get a totally affordable cap-hit.
Keep in mind.
Lombardi has dropped several hints that he is at least as open to trades as to UFA signings. And if you consider that, for example, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Michal Handzus and Ryan Smyth all have expiring contracts either next summer or the summer after -- combined with a prospect pool that is the envy of the league -- it's pretty easy to start picturing blockbuster trades for other clubs' beleagered superstars. I don't know if a mega-trade, or one or more regular-sized trades, is Lombardi's plan-B, or if a trade is the real plan A. I have previously mentioned my crack-pot notion of Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, prospects and picks for Jarome Iginla, as an example of the genre of trade I'm talking about. Yes, yes, I know the Iginla trade is unlikely. But that's the general idea. Struggling team, frustrated star willing to waive NTC. Whether it's Iginla or Jeff Carter, or Danny Briere, or whoever (Andrew Ladd, for example, may well be traded over the summer, unless I'm just nuts). I'm just saying, don't rule it out.
As far as plan B UFA forwards, there are plenty of them, some good ones, but none of them that exciting in terms of what the Kings need. Ray Whitney (ugh, please no), Lee Stempniak, Matthew Lombardi, Raffi Torres, Colby Armstrong. Fredrik Modin is not a bad option for LW3. Aside from Ugh Whitney, I would not have a problem with any of those guys, other than they don't fill the spot we need filled.
Of course, my original idea was sign Volchenkov and re-sign Frolov to a home-town discount. Sadly, I don't think that's going to happen. So I guess we'll have to settle for Voldemort. Ilya. Whoever.