There was a time, earlier in the decade, when the Kings and Ducks were known to make noise during NHL free agency.
In 2019, they might only make a murmur.
Past moves and the salary cap have caught up with the local teams, who are not expected to be big players when NHL free agency begins Monday. The Kings and Ducks are no longer one or two players away from contending, and their recent humble seasons probably don’t make them attractive destinations for players about to hit the market.
That was hit home by Kings general manager Rob Blake after the NHL draft.
“As far as expecting a move in free agency, I’m not sure there’s any real need on our [end] right now,” Blake said. “We’ve got our forwards and ‘D’ in place.”
The Kings have more than $13 million in projected cap space, according to capfriendly.com, but that number will shrink in order to re-sign restricted free agents, including Adrian Kempe, Alex Iafallo and Cal Petersen. Blake’s comments would indicate that players once thought to be movable, such as Jeff Carter and Alec Martinez, aren’t going anywhere. Blake already said he’s set at goalie with Jonathan Quick, Jack Campbell and Petersen.
The Ducks have cap space but have historically operated well under the limit, and they are hindered by the recent buyout of Corey Perry that will force them to pay $5 million in the 2020-21 season. Ducks general manager Bob Murray said that funnels him into a specific strategy in this free agency.
“One-year deals always work,” Murray said. “We are going to try to surround this young group with a little more oomph. We’re just trying to do that, but I don’t know if we can. I’m going to protect them a little bit and let them go.”
Like the Kings, the Ducks are set in goal with the re-signing of Ryan Miller. Murray made a minor trade for depth Sunday when he acquired gritty left wing Nicolas Deslauriers from the Montreal Canadiens for a fourth-round draft pick in 2020.
The bigger target for both teams might be a defenseman. The Kings’ defensive unit, which lost Jake Muzzin in a trade in January, gets thin on experience after Martinez, Drew Doughty and Derek Forbort, while the Ducks could use proven help behind Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson.
The list of free agent defensemen is topped by Jake Gardiner and Tyler Myers. There are also big-bodied veterans expected to be available such as Anton Stralman, Marc Methot, Dan Girardi, Ron Hainsey, Adam McQuaid, Niklas Kronwall and former Kings defenseman Dion Phaneuf.
Overall, this year’s free-agent class is headed by the Columbus Blue Jackets’ trio of forwards Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. A contender looking for the final piece could find one in Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and former Kings forward Justin Williams.
Perry is in that group, too, and he is expected to sign a one-year deal with the Dallas Stars, TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported Sunday night. Pavelski was also reportedly headed to Dallas.
Murray said that the time Perry missed because of a knee injury might actually benefit him.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s somewhat good for him to get a break,” Murray said. “His body got time to rest and heal up.”