While the Los Angeles Kings may not be able to catch the Detroit Red Wings at the bottom of the standings, they’re still a last place team going nowhere fast. From a fan point of view, trading Tyler Toffoli absolutely sucks. But from a purely business numbers-and-cents perspective, it makes absolute sense.
The salary cap is an absolute beast. Jeff Solomon’s official title is Executive Vice President, Hockey Operations and Legal Affairs. But former General Manager Dean Lombardi always referred to him as the team’s cap wizard. With a relatively stagnant salary cap over the last few years, it has become very tough to balance some of their heftier contracts with the simultaneous need to rebuild. The time has, unfortunately, come for the Kings to reap what was sewn in order for them to win two Stanley Cup titles in three years. Let’s take a closer look.
Looking at just the skaters, the Kings have about $56,150,000 million locked up in 21 players. That’s roughly 69% of the current upper limit of $81.5 million.
With just their “core” skaters (so, not including goalies) of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, and Drew Doughty (I’m excluding Alec Martinez due to his name being in constant trade rumors), the team is carrying a combined hit of roughly $32,150,000 for four players, or about 39% of the current salary cap.
Now let’s add in their netminders.
With Jonathan Quick’s $5.8 million hit, their five core players account for 46% of this year’s $81.5 million salary cap.
Now, let’s they let all of their unrestricted free agents walk this summer with no intention of re-signing them except for the aforementioned Toffoli. That would be Trevor Lewis ($2 million), Derek Forbort ($2.525 million), Ben Hutton ($1.5 million), and Joakim Ryan ($725k). That frees up four roster spots and $6.75 million in cap space.
They’ll still need to replace those bodies, so if the following players earn roster spots next year, here’s what that looks like: Carl Grundström is an RFA who is already signed for $925k, so let’s give him a hypothetical raise of $100k (for the ease of math) so he’ll earn $1.25 million; Jacob Moverare is most likely going to from SHL to NHL, so let’s say he brings his $705.5k hit with him next season; and let’s say Kale Clague comes up as well (since he’s probably the next closest NHL ready in their pipeline) with his $761,666 cap hit. Those three players add up to a little more than $1.25 million. That does, in theory, leave them enough room to re-sign Toffoli had they wished to do so.
However, there’s another wrinkle to this equation. Looking at just next year (2020-21), the team is carrying about $11 million in dead weight between the buyout of Dion Phaneuf and terminating Ilya Kovalchuk’s and Mike Richards’ contracts.
Richards’ $700k isn’t going to break the bank, but Kovalchuk’s $6.25 million certainly hurts a lot. Adding in Phaneuf’s $4.06 million and that’s $10+ million that could be allotted elsewhere—say, a certainly curly haired, cherub cheeked fan favorite winger. Percentage wise, that $10 million is only a little more than 1% of the cap hit, but when you’re strapped for every dollar, 1% is actually a rather significant chunk of change.
None of this takes into account the team’s numerous restricted free agents who are up for contracts this season as well: Nikolai Prokhorkin, Austin Wagner, Sean Walker, Kurtis MacDermid, Sheldon Rempal, Matt Luff, Martin Frk, Mikey Eyssimont, Austin Strand, Chaz Reddekopp, Cole Kehler, and the aforementioned Grundström.
To recap: the Kings have nine RFAs that need to be re-signed, 10 roster spots to fill (five UFAs including Tim Schaller and five currently rostered RFAs), and only $20,156,440 in available space per CapFriendly (assuming a totally flat cap).
Theoretically, Kings could have been able to keep Toffoli and made the numbers work. However, there are a lot of unknowns—even with their deep prospect pool—and if the Kings had kept him around, they’d run the risk of languishing in perpetual mediocrity much like the San Jose Sharks.
In making this trade, management is looking beyond this year, next year, and probably (hopefully) even the year after that. By the end of the 2021-22 season, the Kings only have seven players signed to long-term contracts. But remember: they currently have 13 RFAs who are on expiring deals. And none of this accounts for any of the college or those playing in juniors who are currently unsigned. Not to mention the fact that this year’s draft class is supposed to be very deep.
At 27, Toffoli is by no means “old”—he’s actually in the prime years of his career. In an ideal world, he would’ve been a truly valuable asset to keep around. Unfortunately, he’s a victim of the salary cap and the team’s dire need to rebuild. On the bright side, the Vancouver Canucks have a lot of talented players on their roster and his playoff experience will hopefully help the team make the postseason, maybe even go on a deep on run. You never know what can happen in the playoffs. Sometimes the eighth seed can sneak in and surprise everyone. Stranger things have happened!