Into Next Season

I understand that the Stanley Cup Playoffs still have some time before they end.

However, I feel it is time to take a deeper look at what next season’s Kings roster can potentially look like, some UFA’s that might be targeted, whether it is to solidify the top six or bottom six as pluggers, and the pure needs for this team from my perspective.

Also, we take a look at what some of the core combined with the kids can mean for this club heading into next season.

The Kings had plenty to celebrate this season.

The Los Angeles Kings had quite the exciting season, making the playoffs for the first time in six NHL seasons and seven years overall.

Unfortunately for the Kings, though, it was a short-lived postseason as they ran into one of the top three offenses in the NHL. The Vancouver Canucks eliminated them in six games, but not without the Kings acquiring something they did not have prior: playoff experience.

Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Parse, Alexander Frolov, Jack Johnson and Jonathan Quick all skated on playoff ice and obtained their NHL ‘playoff badge’. A vital piece to this Kings future, which looks very bright.

With 15 players signed on through next season and only minor raises needed to keep the restricted free agents on board, the over $15 million in cap space the Kings have will play a key role in their off-season.

A look at the roster breakdown for free agents and salaries. Hat tip to Rich Hammond over at LAKingsInsider.com for having this posted on his site.

UNDER CONTRACT
(with next season’s cap hit)
Dustin Brown (through 2013-14) — $3.175 million
Drew Doughty (through 2010-11) — $3.475 million
Davis Drewiske (through 2012-13) — $616,666
Erik Ersberg (through 2010-11) — $750,000
Matt Greene (through 2013-14) — $2.95 million
Michal Handzus (through 2010-11) — $4 million
Peter Harrold (through 2010-11) — $583,333
Jack Johnson (through 1010-11) — $1.425 million
Anze Kopitar (through 2015-16) — $6.8 million
Jonathan Quick (through 2012-13) — $1.8 million
Rob Scuderi (through 2012-13) — $3.4 million
Wayne Simmonds (through 2010-11) — $821,667
Ryan Smyth (through 2011-12) — $6.25 million
Jarret Stoll (through 2011-12) — $3.6 million
Justin Williams (through 2010-11) — $3.5 million

BUYOUT
Alyn McCauley (through 2010-11) — $666,667

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
(with this year’s cap hit)
Rich Clune ($625,000)
Scott Parse ($550,000)
Brad Richardson ($587,500)

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
(with this year’s cap hit)
Alexander Frolov ($2.9 million)
Jeff Halpern ($2 million)
Raitis Ivanans ($600,000)
Randy Jones ($2.75 million)
Fredrik Modin ($3.25 million)
Sean O’Donnell ($1.25 million)

PROSPECTS UNDER CONTRACT
(with next year’s cap hit)
Justin Azevedo ($553,333)
Jonathan Bernier ($843,333)
Andrew Campbell ($580,000)
Kyle Clifford ($900,000)
Thomas Hickey ($1,316,666)
Bud Holloway ($650,000)
Martin Jones ($526,667)
Ray Kaunisto ($900,000)
Dwight King ($591,666)
Brandon Kozun ($575,000)
Andrei Loktionov ($845,833)
Alec Martinez ($875,000)
David Meckler ($561,666)
Juraj Mikus ($562,500)
Oscar Moller ($875,000)
Patrick Mullen ($875,000)
Jake Muzzin ($900,000)
Brayden Schenn ($3.14 million)
Colten Teubert ($945,833)
Viatcheslav Voynov ($845,833)
Kevin Westgarth ($525,000)
Jeff Zatkoff ($850,000)
John Zeiler ($558,333)

That is the entire roster for the Los Angeles Kings for those who were signed, are signed and those who have question marks as to whether or not they will return. As for unsigned and free agent prospects, you can find the list at the end of this writing.

Starting with the blue line.

What can be said about Doughty?! In only his second full season in the league he ended as a Norris finalist, won an Olympic gold medal as an integral figure to his country’s lineup, and earned his role as the team’s number one defenseman and power play quarterback.

Johnson also took strides with his game, bringing his level of play up a notch as well. He tallied career-highs in goals, assists, and points.

With veterans Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene signed on through next season, the blue line has four key contributors already locked in with these two, along with Doughty and Johnson.

Rounding out the defensemen who are locked in for next year, youngsters Davis Drewiske and Alec Martinez along with Peter Harrold could also take that next step to becoming regulars on the Kings blue line.

That leaves the Kings with seven NHL-ready defensemen and question marks to surround the future of Sean O’Donnell, who played a key role in the developments of both Johnson and Doughty.

Other prospects on the rise — Thomas Hickey, Viatcheslav Voynov and Colten Teubert — all will be part of training camp giving their best in order to impress the coaching staff and earn a roster spot of their own.

With the Kings AHL Affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, Martinez earned 30 points with a plus-12 rating and Voynov 29 points and were the top offensive defensemen for the mini-Kings.

The new wave of NHL defensemen all seem to have a very well developed two-way game and we are starting to notice a trend where the “shut down” defenseman is becoming somewhat obsolete.

Look around the NHL and you will notice that even shut down type players such as Marc Staal and Braydon Coburn, to name a few, have an offensive touch to their games even if they are known to play more of a shut down role.

Up front for L.A., the core for these Kings remains in tact and brings a very positive outlook.

Returning are the aforementioned Brown, Kopitar, Simmonds, along with veterans Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus, and Jarret Stoll. Without panicking, restricted free agents that are likely to be re-signed are Scott Parse, Brad Richardson and Richard Clune.

Andrei Lokitonov and Oscar Moeller, two youngsters who both have limited NHL-time, remain positives to make the club next season.

Moeller appeared in 43 games for the Monarchs this season earning 33 points (15g, 18a). He was a plus-six for the team. An injury limited his time, but currently has appeared in eight Calder Cup playoff games notching six points (2g, 4a). A player the Kings will need to have elevate his game to the NHL standards when looking ahead to the future.

Lokitonov, who also missed a chunk of time due to an injury, has five assists in eight playoff games in the AHL. Only appearing in 29 regular season games for the Monarchs, Lokitonov earned himself 24 points (9g, 15a) and has taken strides since returning from injury.  Another bright spot for the future here in Hockeywood, LA.

Also, it still seems to be a long shot, but Brayden Schenn who was this past seasons first round draft choice for the Kings will be given every opportunity to show what he has learned over the course of a full season in the WHL.

In 59 regular season games and 15 playoff games, Schenn earned 118 points. Something the Kings should take their time with is the development of Schenn and not rush him to Southern California.

Quick and his single-season record-breaking year has provided the Kings with quite the competition heading into training camp next season.

After their six-game elimination at the hands of the Canucks, Terry Murray made a bold statement in naming Quick the number one goaltender for next season. Of course, a bit premature, but his statement could possibly have been made to really challenge the man considered to be the future between the pipes, Jonathan Bernier.

Bernier appeared in three games for the Kings going 3-0 with a 1.30 goals against average and a .957 save percentage. Of his three wins, one came by way of a shutout.

The future looks outstanding for this Kings club. In what many experts feel, as well as myself, they are only one or two pieces away from completing the puzzle and becoming a pure Stanley Cup contender.

Let’s take a break down of the free agents and discuss who we feel should return and who is likely to walk.

UFAs:

Alexander Frolov ($2.9 million)
Jeff Halpern ($2 million)
Raitis Ivanans ($600,000)
Randy Jones ($2.75 million)
Fredrik Modin ($3.25 million)
Sean O’Donnell ($1.25 million)

RFAs:

Rich Clune ($625,000)
Scott Parse ($550,000)
Brad Richardson ($587,500)

Although many might disagree, I personally feel Frolov should be given an offer by GM Dean Lombardi. Of course, nothing near the same $4 million price tag which he earned this season, especially if both parties can find a balanced middle ground. Bringing Frolov back for another two years is something Lombardi should consider.

However, due to the unlikely scenario presented above, Frolov along with Randy Jones and Jeff Halpern are all likely candidates to test the free agent waters and find new homes.

I feel Freddy Modin, who had a strong close out to the year with LA, should be considered to stay with this club.  You can never underestimate the value of a veteran presence on a club filled with youth.  Handzus and Stoll, along with Scuderi can carry the leadership roles however, Modin can contribute just as well both on and off the ice.

Of course, his value from his original price tag has dropped.  If Lombardi is smart, a $2 million per year deal at two years brings stability to this roster when thinking ahead to next year.

Speaking of Dean Lombardi, he is neither disappointed nor frustrated with the season his Kings had.  The steps have been taken, with a few short cuts. He felt he had a competitive club but knew there were still some adjustments needed before they could be considered a true cup contender.

The entire team gained many things, that would likely be too long to list here, by making the post-season. A team many feel is one piece away from being a true threat within the wild, wild Western Conference.

The final piece to the puzzle:

One piece, who could be the absolute missing link, is Ilya Kovalchuk. Uncertain over his future with the New Jersey Devils leaves the Kings with an opportunity to throw close to the max in Kovalchuk’s direction.

If you are questioning why Lombardi did not make an attempt to acquire Kovalchuk at the trade deadline, I will explain it to you.  Why throw away pieces of your future for an uncertainty?  Or better yet, why take away from your foundation for a player that you can obtain without it costing your organization anything significant other than payroll?  Dean Lombardi answered both of those questions in a very simple matter.  You do not.

There was no reason for the Kings to over pay for a player that was not a guarantee to sign an extension with the club he was traded to.  That is proven to us as Kovalchuk has not re-signed with the Devils and with the coaching carousel that the Devils organization goes through, he likely will not return.

If he truly wants to keep to his word about playing on a championship caliber team, as well as earning a long term contract, playing for the Kings would make perfect sense.

They are a young team with plenty of talent and the  focus from the organizations brass remains to build this club from the core out to develop a dominant force out on the left coast.

An opportunity to gel and grow with an organization whose core are all players 25 years of age and younger. Surrounding Kovlachuk with the young talent of this Kings team would be a win/win for both.  Kovalchuk would not be relied upon to be “the man” and would have a solid group of playmakers dishing pucks in his direction.

Less pressure makes for a valiant performance on the ice.  In LA, Kovalchuk will be provided with less pressure and would likely provide the team, from the non-pressure cooker type atmosphere, with a valiant effort.

There is plenty of cap room, and minimal roster space. For the Kings, these are all positives in moving forward from an already stellar season. A few patches into the line up an we could very well have ourselves a force to reckon with.

Yes, Los Angeles, the future is very bright!


Quick hits:

The list of Restricted, Unrestricted and Unsigned prospects.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENT PROSPECTS
Marc-Andre Cliche ($850,000)
Vladimir Dravecky
Corey Elkins ($803,100)
Trevor Lewis ($855,000)
Brady Murray
Daniel Taylor

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT PROSPECTS
Drew Bagnall ($605,000)
Gabe Gauthier ($525,000)
Joe Piskula ($650,000)

UNSIGNED PROSPECTS
Niclas Andersen
Jean-Francois Berube
Constantin Braun
Robert Czarnik
Nicolas Deslauriers
Nic Dowd
Johan Fransson
David Kolomatis
Mikhail Lyubushin
Jan Marek
Igor Melyakov
Jordan Nolan
Martin Nolet
Michael Pelech
Garrett Roe
Andrei Shefer
Joshua Turnbull
Linden Vey
Geordie Wudrick

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About the Author: Anthony Curatolo is a 31 y/o New Yorker with a passion for the game that takes him into a different category then the regular run of the mill fan. He has an intense, creative, witty style that will either have you love him or hate him within the first paragraph you read from one of his writings. Growing up in a hockey world (his father was raised in Montreal, and his father brought that passion with him into the States) was a blessing in disguise for Anthony. Hockey has become more then a passion and infatuation for, and he hopes to one day have a career within the sport. Picked up originally by the Checking Line (from guest blogs written for HockeyBuzz), Anthony began blogging on a daily basis. When his original site, the checking line, went down the writing passion started to fall off. A few years later, Crash the Crease was born and Anthony was approached and asked to write for them. Since that time (August '08), Anthony has become a panel member on the websites Sunday talk show, as well as branching off and forming 1/3 of the talk show team called "The Hockey Guys!" Now Anthony takes his mind and his writings to the next level as he begins his journey with Hockey Independent and asks that there are many that join him. The Kings are the team, the style is Independent and the game is Hockey - there is nothing better in the universe. Although his pride bleeds for the Orange and Black (yes folks, the Philadelphia Flyers) Anthony is also a FAN of the game, and has knowledge for all 30 teams within the league coming from his true, pure love for the sport in it's entirety. As a voice of a fan for the fans (as we all know is the "Crash the Crease" and "The Hockey Guys" slogans) there will be debate, controversy, praise and love all combined into one giant thing - blogs by Anthony.

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