I still can't believe the Kings' last game of the season is over--but now, it's time to keep our heads up, dust ourselves off, and look to the future.
First, we know that the Kings morphed into a top puck possession team after the Carter trade in 2012, and that was instrumental in winning the Cup. They remained the league's top puck possession team for the 2013 regular season, and finished 10th overall in scoring. Though the Kings faded at the end, and injuries made for a rough road in playoffs, we do at least know what normal for LA looks like.
Ignore the pundits who cherry-pick certain playoff stats. When healthy, this team was very good.
That doesn't mean there aren't areas for improvement. But you can see why Dean Lombardi and his cap guru Jeff Solomon are up late at night trying to keep the band together, not break it apart.
The first obstacle to keeping a deep, solid roster together is navigating the lowered cap. The new ceiling is $64.3 million. That's about $6 million less to work with.
Revenues should rise with a full season of play and multiple outdoor games on the horizon, so if Kings management can navigate this tricky offseason--and the desperate hyena GMs who might be flinging offer-sheets around--their future with the core looks bright. (Thank you very much for that band-aid spending fix, Bettman.)
Uber-planner and master of charts Dean Lombardi has already been prepping for 2013-14 and the seasons beyond. He's not just thinking about this season's free agent contracts, but those of the entire core -- like Dustin Brown's next contract in 2014-15.
With that in mind, let's take a look the Kings' offseason to-do list.
Who will still be Kings?
Mitchell's knee is reportedly making progress, but there's still a lot of uncertainty here. It might heal up this time, or the injury might be career threatening if there's a setback. We won't know until he pushes it again.
If he can't play, he can go on long-term injury reserve, allowing the Kings to spend that space on a replacement.
Now let's look at which roster players would need new contracts. For UFAs, I added the amount of their last contract. For RFAs, I list the qualifying offer, although there will undoubtedly be some raises.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Rob Scuderi ($3.4M): He could command much more on the FA market today. Does the vet want to stay? Gonchar just got $5M/year.
Dustin Penner ($3.25M): Penner improves Richards' line by helping keep the puck in the zone, but he hasn't scored much. He may be a victim of the cap crunch either way.
Brad Richardson ($1,175,000): Sutter likes him, and he can slot in almost every line in a pinch. Do the Kings still want to keep him in the fold at that price?
Restricted Free Agents
It doesn't get any easier here. It'll be a work of art to juggle them all.
Slava Voynov (Minimum qualifying offer: $826,875). The prize of the bunch. A long term contract is likely $4M/year or more, short "bridge" contract less. A definite offer sheet risk.
Jake Muzzin (at least $635,250): Putting up points in his rookie year could draw interest from other clubs.
Alec Martinez (at least $774,375). Why not offer sheet two d-men and put the Kings in a bind? If I were Martinez, I'd jump at the chance to sign with another team.
Keaton Ellerby (at least $735,000): He was picked up to help the injury-riddled defense. Is his development still in LA's plans?
Trevor Lewis (at least $735,000): He's found a place as a defensive-minded utility player. Because his scoring is low, I'm not sure how much he'll command.
Jordan Nolan (at least $577,500). Can he bounce back from a rough sophomore season?
Jonathan Bernier (at least $1,525,000). The Kings can theoretically re-sign him, but a trade is the most realistic option. He has no incentive to sign cheaply with LA again, there's a big offer sheet risk, and he deserves a shot elsewhere.
Tough choices, open questions
The Kings could stand to improve their scoring depth, but they need bargains, bargains, bargains.
They also have too many defensemen--but what's the best balance? It's important to have a reliable 7th d-man as insurance in case of injuries, too.
I take it as a given that Tyler Toffoli is a lock for next season, since he found a place on the roster already. Would prospects from Manchester like Linden Vey, Tanner Pearson, Andy Andreoff, or Brandon Kozun help fill out the roster, since the cap is so tight? I think that very likely. Camp should be fun to watch. But we can speculate freely.
What's on your ideal offseason look like? Which trades do you think Lombardi could pull off? (There's already a Jonathan Bernier to Philly for Matt Read trade rumor out there.)
What would you like to see done in the Kings' 2013 offseason to help them contend?
Have fun with CapGeek's calculator. There are no wrong answers. Just more chances to debate.