Lost in all those press gatherings with all those NHL general managers on trade deadline day was an interesting nugget, tossed out by Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi, about the direction of next year’s salary cap – and how that will have an impact on how teams operate this summer.
According to Lombardi, because of the abrupt decline of the Canadian dollar in the past few months, the 2014-15 salary cap – which had originally been projected at $71-million (U.S.) – could come in closer to $68-million. That represents a significant shift in the NHL’s revenue stream and may force some of the free-agents-to-be that changed teams this past Wednesday to revise their off-season contract expectations.
As it was, the Kings had to send a player (Linden Vey) to their minor-league affiliate and get the Columbus Blue Jackets to pick up half of Marian Gaborik’s contract just to wedge him in under this year’s $64.3-million cap.
In adding Gaborik, the Kings are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again. Two years ago, just before the 2012 trading deadline, they added Jeff Carter, also in a trade with the Blue Jackets – a move that helped the eighth-seeded Kings unexpectedly win the Stanley Cup that spring.
Gaborik is a different sort of player, a three-time 40-goal scorer who played for a defence-first head coach in Jacques Lemaire during his early years with the Minnesota Wild and still found a way to make a contribution. So he’s had success playing for a demanding coach and he’ll get that again in L.A. with Darryl Sutter, who preaches the gospel of defensive accountability first and foremost.
Thankfully for Gaborik, if he ends up playing on the Kings’ No. 1 line with Anze Kopitar, he will be paired with an excellent playmaker plus a perennial candidate for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, as the NHL’s top defensive forward. The Kings are all about making the whole greater than the sum of the individual parts and targeted Gaborik in part because they believe they can sign him to a contract extension after this season.
“He wants to be part of the fabric of this team, versus somebody who’s already told you, ‘I want to go to July 1,’” Lombardi said during a conference call with reporters. “To me, it’s too hard in the playoffs. It’s too hard not to be completely invested in that process … I don’t know if that’s going to cut it when you’ve got [St. Louis Blues defencemen Roman] Polak and [Barret] Jackman out there looking, staring you down.”
So Lombardi is clearly anticipating the road to the Stanley Cup to go through St. Louis. L.A. defeated the Blues in each of the past two postseasons, but St. Louis added goaltender Ryan Miller and agitator Steve Ott to its mix this past Friday.
But the Kings were not about to let the deadline pass without adding reinforcements, too, not after winning five in a row going into Thursday’s date with the Winnipeg Jets (which kicked off a three-game Western Canada road trip).
Even though they entered this week’s play with the 27th-ranked offence in the league, the Kings believe they remain a team with a chance to contend, featuring all-star goaltender Jonathan Quick, a deep defence corps led by Drew Doughty, and Kopitar, one of the league’s most-underrated two-way players.
That, in turn, will take some of the pressure off the 32-year-old Gaborik, who, according to Lombardi, “doesn’t have to come in here and be the man” – which he might have, had he signed with the Kings as a free agent four years ago, in the middle stages of their rebuild.
“That’s what I like,” the GM said. “You don’t have to be the centrepiece. Just fit in and play. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s had to be the box-office guy. Our box office is winning. We have other top players where you just can fit in and not worry about the billboard stuff.
“A lot of players at his stage would welcome that.”