Like remembering an old friend, Jeff Solomon broke into a reminiscent smile when asked about the first NHL collective bargaining agreement he ever read. Then the Kings’ executive vice president of hockey operations and legal affairs squeezed his fingers close together, leaving only an inch or two of space between his thumb and pointer.
“The first CBA I had was this thick,” he said, chuckling. “It was a little book, maybe 50 pages long. There wasn’t a lot of depth to it.”
Oh, how times have changed.
“In ‘95, it got a little heavier,” he said. “And then in ‘05, it got severely sophisticated.”
Now in his 14th season with the Kings and 34th around the NHL, Solomon is the team’s de facto CBA and salary cap expert. His background — first as an attorney in tax and estate planning, then as a player agent for 20 years — is unique among the franchise’s executives. And as the club embarks on the second rebuild of Solomon’s tenure in L.A., his insight could prove indispensable.
“We think we can count on ourselves to find the opportunities and find creative ways to try and use [the CBA rules] as best we can,” Solomon said. “As a lawyer, I was used to dissecting rules. It’s almost been a passion, to figure out how you apply and exploit them in the best way.”
Solomon, 61, admits that when he embarked upon a career representing players in the mid-1980s, he knew little about the sport’s business side. But, the University of San Diego law school graduate slowly learned, and steadily built a deep list of clientele as an agent, including former Kings players Tony Granato and Nelson Emerson.
Ahead of the 2006-07 season, Solomon was hired by the Kings. In the decade-and-a-half since, he helped them construct two Stanley Cup-winning teams (both of which used virtually all of its cap space) and navigate several complex contractual situations, from the terminations of Mike Richard’s and Slava Voynov’s contacts in 2015 to this season’s departure of Ilya Kovalchuk.
Solomon has also been instrumental in coordinating numerous contract negotiations — notably, he worked with Drew Doughty on the defenseman’s self-negotiated eight-year extension signed in the 2018 offseason — and qualifying offers for restricted free agents.
Speaking to NHL.com last summer, general manager Rob Blake described Solomon as “very methodical.” Solomon simply credits his lengthy background.
“Everybody brings their special area of expertise,” he said. “You get enough guys — just like how we put together the right team on the ice — you put the right team together in the front office. The idea is you focus on your area of expertise, and you grow from there.”
In this transitional season, the Kings aren’t flirting with the salary cap max. But for Solomon, every transaction, from minor league recalls to organizational depth signings, is considered in the bigger picture.
He looks at the Kings’ future like an ever-evolving puzzle, aiming to ensure that, when the organization’s next wave of core players arrive, there is room on the roster and in the budget to make them fit.
“That’s the part that gets you really excited,” he said. “You get to see these kids from the draft, the development team takes over, then they transition into minor league players who come up through the system. Then when they’re ready, when they get the promotion, you hope there’s a spot for them, that you get them in the lineup, that you start the transition.”