The LA Kings roster needs little tampering--their management, little explanation. The Kings’ roster, and the threat they convey to every other team in the league, has been consistent since Darryl Sutter took the reins in December of 2011. Amidst the Voynov and Richards contracts, Dean Lombardi has authored a master class for the craft of GM'ing.
Anze Kopitar is one of eight LAK contracts that are at least 4M per year; it is one of three contracts (Lucic and Lewis are the other two) that will feature sought-after UFA veterans, next year. Since the team has changed very little since their first Cup win—Lombardi’s plan still seems to be to keep 2012’s championship formula—it appears that he will have to lose at least one rostered player in order to re-sign one of the NHL’s top 3 all-around players; the going rate for Kopitar, 30, being 8-10.5 million per year.
Lombardi’s challenge will be to continue the balancing act that, since the 2015 season beginning with Mike Richards’ liability, is the Kings' salary cap. The heart of his dilemma: what he will have to change in order to re-sign Kopitar? The last update on Kopitar’s contract—a summer rumor—was that the agreement was a [seemingly negotiable amount of a] quarter of a million dollars in disparity. That being said, Kopitar’s contract is so close and yet so far because of the obligation and gravity his contract will have on the Kings’ coffers.
The following work is purely a hypothetical fabrication based on the existing climates (through 25 games played) and expectations for both LAK (1st, W. Conference) and WPG (.500 win percentage).
LAK Trading Block, Subjective Hypothesis (give or take): Clifford, Brown, Martinez, King, Greene, Gaborik, Erhoff, Enroth, Lewis, Weal, Nolan, Andreoff, Pearson, McNabb, Zykov, Schultz, Mersh, Kempe, Forbort, Lintuniemi, Gravel, Leslie, MacDermid, Brodzinski, and other prospects and future draft picks.
A Kings trade for Dustin Byfuglien transforms them into a greater poised 2016 Stanley Cup finalist, and can very possibly free up some much needed cap room for Kopitar’s 2017 extension/re-signing. Byfuglien’s is in a UFA year and, in this conjecture, his hit of 5M would not be a re-sign for Lombardi thus promoting the likelihood of Kopitar and Lucic contracts.
Lombardi has a roster of players he can deal but does one of those players have to be one of the King’s eight at-least-four-million-dollar contracts? How long, how far can Lombardi get on his current 1.45M cap space? The Kings’ could offer depth forwards, rostered defenseman, and picks or prospects to lock Buf down. When you consider the player Buf is—the veteran presence, the ice presence—and then the Kings’ D-corps—there are bountifully too many similarities: Cup tested veterans. Can WPG afford to trade this type of player; what is he worth to a team that will see any playoff success as success? Can LAK afford to acquire this type of player; can they afford not to acquire Buf?. Do his playoff credentials speak loud enough to a team chasing a dynasty?
The sole purpose of a transaction like this would be for LAK to win a Cup—nothing less— and to make a good team better; WPG looking to build on a 8th place playoff berth. Lombardi does not seem prone to make a lateral move (i.e. trading Martinez, Cup tested vets, etc) so trading for Buf will not likely involve LAK’s franchise players or intangible favorites (like Brown and Greene). Jeff Schultz is a Kings’ commodity whom may yet become appreciated beyond waiver clearing prowess; Schultz is a consistent depth defenseman with notable NHL experience. All-in-all, the Kings’ have several prospects, young talent and RFAs [and UFAs] whom they can plug-in to their Cup blueprint. Whether by trade or Ice time, to make this hypothesized “fire-sale” to acquire Cup-vet-Buf a trade of convenience, Lombardi would utilize his roster’s potential as a selling point.
(With LAK being a proven team of proven leaders, veterans, character, and intangibles, Buf still has something [considerable] to add which he cannot add to team that does not make the playoffs: playoff fortune. It doesn’t make sense for LAK or WPG to fish Byfuglien [who is a franchise defenseman] for a similar player. So, this assumption allows that WPG would be willing to accept forwards or other prospective talent or draft considerations in the name of franchise development. It follows that it should make sense for LAK to be willing to part with its younger or “unlocked-in” core prospects, including but not limited to Lewis, Pearson, Shore, Nolan, etc., to secure Buf. This work supposes Dean Lombardi will be entertaining this aggressive strategy while maintaining the outline apparent in the team's long-term contracts.)
All the Kings' men never looked so impetuous. It is an intimidating image: Buf in a King’s sweater, next to Milan Lucic… standing with the rest of the only team to contest the machine that is the Chicago Blackhawks.. Buf may be one of the only players in the league who could replace the playoff impacts Richards or Williams brought to the Kings. Arguably, Lucic is another. Arguably, the Kings are the best in the West and in the same discussions as CHI. Arguably, CHI is the best team in the NHL. Not as arguable—fact—since 2012, CHI only wins a Stanley Cup unless the Kings beat them; if the Kings don’t bounce CHI, the Blackhawks go on to win a Cup.
Alternatively the Kings could explore dealing bigger contracted players as opposed to younger prospects. WPG currently has 11M in cap space. Since we have already assumed WPG as “building” and LAK as “architecting a cup run”, WPG could be inclined to trade Buf in the hopes of securing future prospects from an LA team seeking their 3rd Cup in five years. While WPG may be interested in the likes of Martinez and Brown, and even though it will also ease the Kings’ cap pressure, LAK would simply lose on any deal that doesn’t immediately say Stanley Cup run all over it (while mitigating cost per Lombardi’s conservative modus operandi). Of note is the Kings considerable knack at successfully raised players through their development system the last several years (i.e. Toffolli, Quick) and [LAK’s farm team] the Monarch’s claimed AHL’s 2015 Calder Cup, emphasizing to the depth of the Kings’ organization. Buf makes the perfect player to offer LAK if you are looking to maximize the trade value of your playoff vet for depth talent or future considerations. The WPG faithful will probably [have to] tolerate a losing season in the name of growing pains, but the LAK as a whole will not and the expectation there is nothing short of attaining dynasty status.
Undoubtedly, there are no shortage of hypothetical discussions. Any arguments [in support, against, or similar in scope involving LAK, WPG, or anything mentioned] are greatly appreciated. What other team(s) can be included in this discussion of fantasy GM’ing? (Please conjecture on details exclusively relevant to other teams in a separate blog. Messages welcomed.)