Lombardi on the future cap crunch: Kings are already planning around Brown's next contract (and I feel fine)

The salary cap's going down $6 million next year, but the Kings' master capologists are thinking ahead. Here's why I'm calm about the future roster turnover.

Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts column had two great bits on the Kings this week.

Dean Lombardi is already heavily into planning for the cap situation in the coming year (and years beyond):

10. Dean Lombardi had two separate three-hour conversations last week with capologist Jeff Solomon to map out some financial decisions. The biggest challenge for teams, Lombardi said, will be dealing with next year ($64.3 million US cap). That's down $6 million from this season and it looks like 2014-15 will have a higher number.

11. The Kings began talking with Rob Scuderi, "but it's not far along yet," Lombardi said. They have about $15 million in room, with some restricted free agents who are really improving -- Slava Voynov, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan and Jonathan Bernier, who's been excellent but has a murky future. Lombardi adds everything is being done with an eye on Dustin Brown, who is two years from unrestricted free agency.

The NHL will rake back the salary cap to $64.3M in 2013-14, an artificial and frankly weak attempt to erase the gap between low- and high-spending teams.

Since profits are rolling in at a healthy clip even in this lockout-shortened season, though, the lower cap should be short-lived. Revenues will likely rise once more, bringing the cap up and getting the problem teams right back in trouble again. But for a high-spending team like the Kings, that means a more wiggle room.

So the main question becomes how you navigate the $6 million dip in the bridge year.
No Kings fan should be surprised that Lombardi is already on the case. Their attention to cap management is well known, especially after their Cup winning roster remained intact. Jeff Solomon is their resident capologist devoted to these issues, and the team's structure arises from meticulous long-range planning.

One reason why I haven't written a post about the coming cap crunch is that a) Lombardi has proven himself to be a good salary planner, so I trust he has a handle on it and b) there are so many things that can affect their plans from now until next summer, it's almost impossible to sketch out the choices they'll face in the future.

For reference, take a look at Capgeek's page on the Los Angeles Kings.

Impending UFAs*: Scuderi, Penner, Richardson, Drewiske.
RFAs on the roster who need new contracts: Voynov, Martinez, Muzzin, Ellerby, Clifford, Lewis, Nolan, Bernier

*Dustin Brown's contract is up in 2014-15.

Now, here are just a few other variables still up in the air:

  • The health status of Willie Mitchell (will he be ready to play next year?).
  • Scuderi's willingness to re-sign, and for how much.
  • Which veteran defensemen or other useful players could be available on the trade/FA market.
  • What, if any, moves will be made at this year's trade deadline.
  • Ditto for moves at the draft.
  • What kind of contract Voynov's camp is looking for.
Any of these factors could wind up shifting their approach to the cap dramatically. We might have to wait until the summer to know exactly which tough choices they'll be facing.

Some roster turnover is inevitable

There's a lot to handle, but like I said, I'm fairly Zen Buddhist about all this (In Dean We Trust). Another part of this calm feeling is that I've already accepted there will be some level of roster turnover. No team can keep the same 20 players together forever; great teams like Detroit keep on trucking all the same.

Quisp was worried we'll lose one of Mitchell, Scuderi, or Stoll. I think they'll be okay if it comes to that.

The Kings' future is looking pretty good, I figure. Their core is locked up except for Brown, and as Lombardi is already laser-focused on this, they'll be sure to leave money for his contract. As for the rest: Veterans leave and are replaced with kids from the farm all the time. It's a sad but inevitable part of the life cycle of every NHL team. This $6M monkey wrench from Bettman is adding a bit more to the challenge, but compared to other contenders, the Kings are pretty well situated.

What about all those young RFAs?

Next we have the young players still in restricted free agency.

Of these RFAs, I would put only Slava Voynov as a "must sign" player, part of the future core. (I even put Martinez in a "would prefer to keep" category, despite his gorgeous Corsi.) I expect a lot of teams around the league will be getting ruthless with their RFAs next year, because they have to and they can. The Kings have identified their key players and locked them up; the rest get bridge contracts to prove themselves. Bottom six guys like Lewis are useful, but also replaceable.

If RFAs like Clifford and Nolan aren't willing to accept the Kings' offer in order to stay on a contending team, they can easily be traded. (Actually, we're sure that's what Bernier wants. Friedman brings him up, but I don't see that becoming an issue.) If some team goes nuts with an offer sheet -- not usually successful, but Edmonton is pretty desperate/dumb--take the picks and move on.

Again, you can turn to guys like Martin Jones, Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey, Tanner Pearson, and Andy Andreoff just waiting for their chance on the farm. Fortunately, they're all the right age to move up soon.

How do you feel about the great cap crunch ahead? Do you think the Kings will be able to contend after all is said and done?

Maybe I'm too calm. Tell me which players you'd like to keep. And how much you think Voynov will get.