The Kings have officially finalized the contract extensions of Jarret Stoll and Colin Fraser. Jarret Stoll's contract is for 3 years at a $3.2M cap hit. Fraser's is for 2 years with a $825,000 cap hit. Both were due to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st.
It wasn't a given going into the off-season that the team would bring back either--much less both--of the teams bottom six centermen. The swiftness of their contract agreements is an indicator that the franchise feels that the team has earned the right to stay together--at least for the most part--heading into next season.
The Colin Fraser Contract
The Fraser contract is a reward to a journeyman player who seemingly did the job that was expected of him. This past season he filled the role of a fourth line center and penalty killing forward. It wasn't necessary for the Kings to re-sign Fraser, but you sense this is an indicator the Dean Lombardi is trying to keep the same group together as much as he can. Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis, and Marc-Andre Cliche were all in-house candidates that could have filled in for Fraser next year.
In fact, Fraser ended the season being subpar in two key areas. He was the only regular center for the Kings who ended the season with a losing faceoff percentage (47%), and he took exactly the same amount of penalties that he drew. He'll need to improve in both of these areas next year in order to stave off the competition. Yet his contract has a minimal cap hit, and won't affect the Kings' flexibility moving forward to add depth.
The Jarret Stoll Contract
The Stoll contract was a bit more surprising for two reasons. The first being that even though Stoll had an off year from a goal production standpoint, he was still an integral part of a Stanley Cup winning team. He might have been able to demand a contract of at least his previous $3.6 cap hit given the shortage of 3rd line centers on the free agent market this off-season. Instead, he was willing to take slightly less to remain in Los Angeles.
Another reason it was a slight surprise was that the Kings have plenty of in-house options to replace Stoll and to save the money on him to redistribute to areas where they may have a more pressing need for depth (i.e. wingers). First off Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are all natural centers. Then behind them the Kings have Andrei Loktionov, Trevor Lewis, Brad Richardson. Loktionov is a skilled--albeit still developing--22 year old center who may soon be ready to fill the role. Trevor Lewis played right wing last season but is a natural center. He has great speed and is defensively reliable but lacks Stoll's scoring touch. Brad Richardson was in and out of the line-up, but has shown flashes of talent as a center--most notably in the 2010-11 season once the Kings had lost Anze Kopitar for the year. With Fraser centering the fourth line that would give them even more flexibility as to who could fill in the role. The Kings even without Stoll would still be pretty deep down the middle.
That being said, the contract is a favorable one for the Kings. At $3.2M, the contract is fair market value for a third line center. Even if Stoll is indeed pushed over the course of his 3 year contract, he has a very manageable cap hit (odds are that it will be more than manageable as the cap continues to rise) which could be very easily dealt. Remember, after all, the Kings themselves once traded a very decent prospect in Teddy Purcell for an older and less productive Jeff Halpern.
Also, often underrated aspects of Stoll's game such as faceoff wins and shootout ability were enough for noted hockey analyst Alan Ryder to deem Stoll the 18th best forward in the game. In addition, his shooting percentage last year was a career low 4.5%. If that normalizes next year, that could make Stoll's relatively cheap contract a boon for the Kings in the short term.
What About Dustin?
Dustin Penner is still twisting in the wind. He remains the sole Kings UFA from the Cup-winning active roster to not be brought back before the deadline. He apparently needs some off-season wrist surgery, and that along with his omnipresent conditioning concerns have been enough for the Kings to remain wary of offering him a contract. He probably won't be resigned before July 1st. The Kings have enough cap room to be competitive in the hunt for Parise (along with any other free agent wingers they may want to target).
Signing Penner would limit their flexibility in this regard. Also, if the courtship of Ilya Kovalchuk is any indication, the Kings will hold off on Penner and if they strike out they'll look to add whoever might still be available. If the Kings decide to chase Parise or Semin and miss, there is a good chance that by that time Penner will be signed or feel spurned and become the odd man out.
To see what the Kings' latest cap situation looks like, please visit Capgeek.
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