A day after their parade to celebrate this season’s Stanley Cup championship, the Kings will have to turn the page — and quickly.
Already in effect, the buyout period for contracts is open until June 30.
Compliance buyouts offer a rare opportunity — coming out of the last collective bargaining agreement — to make heavy salary-cap hits go away. The Kings have a player who fits that category in center Mike Richards, who was an important part of what they did in the playoffs this year and in the 2012 Stanley Cup run.
After a fairly poor second half of the regular season, Richards gave them a lot in the postseason on the fourth line with Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis. Richards is at the midpoint of a 12-year contract, a deal carrying a salary-cap hit of $5.75 million per year.
What might look to be a smart financial move — to buy out the contract because they will need money to sign unrestricted free agent Marian Gaborik, and in later years, the talented kids coming through the system — is more complex than at first glance.
The mechanism permits an organization to buy out a player’s contract but not have it count against the salary cap. This follows the same formula as garden-variety buyouts — in the case of Richards, who is 29, two-thirds of the remaining value of the contract would be paid out over the time frame of twice the remaining length of the contract.
It’s a perennial juggling act for Kings President and General Manager Dean Lombardi and his management team. It starts with Richards and continues with veteran defensemen Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell, both unrestricted free agents. Winger Dwight King is a restricted free agent.
Lombardi’s loyalty to his players is well-known and runs deep. He does understand that since Richards came over from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011, it helped changed the culture of the organization. Kings captain Dustin Brown sounded the theme of trust through the playoffs because the group has been together for a long period of time, and he hit that note again at the team’s championship rally at Staples Center.
“When I talk about my teammates and how we’ve grown that bond, it’s something that you can’t do over the course of two months,” Brown said Monday. “A big reason why we have the bond we have is because of Dean and his staff.
“…He’s a big reason why we could stick together and we’ve been together for hundreds of games and multiple years and that allows us to hopefully bring more of these [Cups] home.”
If Lombardi sticks to his track record, he will try his hardest to keep Richards and make the other pieces fit. Other less sentimental general managers would likely take the easier, colder route and give him a compliance buyout.
But Lombardi has always done things in his own way, and because of that, Richards — who has won at every level — might not get bought out.
It will be much more difficult to fit in Greene and/or Mitchell, even with the salary cap increasing next season. Greene turned down a contract offer during the regular season. Mitchell turned 37 on April 23, and is believed to be looking for a two-year deal. He might explore options elsewhere if the Kings can only offer one year.
Gaborik looms as the No. 1 off-season priority. Acquired at the trade deadline from the Columbus Blue Jackets, he was a great fit. His reputation was greatly enhanced in Los Angeles after a mediocre run in Columbus. He scored a league-high 14 playoff goals.
But there’s no way the Kings can afford his current $7.5-million salary and make all the other numbers work.
The big question: Are the Kings positioned to make another run deep into next year’s postseason? There are factors that cannot be predicted, of course. But most of the core players are signed.
When the Kings won the Cup in 2012, the main priority was to get goalie Jonathan Quick signed to a long-term extension. Lombardi and his group achieved that by the end of June.
Their biggest areas of concern last summer were taking care of Brown and defenseman Slava Voynov. Both were done expeditiously.
Realistically, the Kings are in good shape, considering the key difference-makers are almost all signed. You might say Lombardi’s off-seasons have matched the performance of his teams on the ice the last three years.