The biggest fish on the market going into NHL free agency is John Tavares, with a reported six teams with their lures in the water.
None of those was the Kings or the Ducks, who, while not averse to big moves, find themselves in the same boat as free agency begins Sunday: Both will likely hunt smaller game following first-round playoff sweeps as they try to build around their stars.
That can change course in an instant, but plans seem angled toward sensible hockey moves for today’s game that values skating.
“We will be looking at trying to add some depth up front, with some speed,” Ducks general manager Bob Murray said through a team spokesman. “We’ve been active, but I’m not interested in long-term deals. Things can always change in the market, so we will have to see what happens Sunday.”
The Ducks have salary-cap space, according to capfriendly.com, but adding long-term contracts would further complicate matters. The expensive base of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry has some cracks. Kesler underwent hip surgery last summer that could be classified as a life-altering procedure, and Perry’s production has dropped the last two seasons. He has a no-trade clause in his contract, which pays $8.6 million annually.
It seems more realistic for the Ducks to add complementary players, perhaps center depth or a defenseman to round out one of the better young groups around in Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour. They made a minor trade of two local products Saturday, getting La Mirada-born Chase De Leo from the Winnipeg Jets for Nic Kerdiles of Irvine.
The Kings are up against the $79.5-million salary cap with the impending signing of Ilya Kovalchuk and likewise want depth. Any major move would require moving out pieces.
“We’re tight right now,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said. “There would have to be an extreme amount of movement there.”
By securing Kovalchuk and an eight-year contract extension for Drew Doughty, Blake already has made big moves, especially if Kovalchuk is the scoring winger they’ve long desired.
“He’s a shooter on the power play, and gives you a heck of an option there,” Blake said. “When you talk about fit, it’s fit five on five. It’s fit wanting to win. It’s fit on the power play. … We felt he filled a lot of those boxes for us.”
Blake, like Murray, would probably be better served with short-term contracts. The Kings did so last summer with one-year deals for Christian Folin, Darcy Kuemper and Michael Cammalleri. The Kings are believed to want to bring back Folin, but are limited financially.
Some free agents already committed to teams by Saturday, but notable names out there included forwards James van Riemsdyk, James Neal, David Perron and defensemen Calvin de Haan, Ian Cole and Brooks Orpik.
Tavares could set in motion the free-agency wheel. The do-everything center met with teams in Los Angeles this week in the hockey equivalent of the LeBron James Watch. He is reportedly courted by his former team, the New York Islanders, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks.
His price tag looms too big for the Kings and Ducks. For what it’s worth, Blake, speaking generally, sounded the general managers’ anything-can-happen optimism when asked if he’s still open to a big move.