The Kings were unable to bring up a replacement from the minor leagues for the injured Anze Kopitar and will be forced to play one player short tonight against the Flyers, according to Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi.
They landed in this specific situation because of Kopitar’s injury, salary-cap issues and the fact that recently suspended defenseman Slava Voynov’s salary still counts against their cap total. Voynov was suspended indefinitely by the NHL last week after his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence and is still getting paid.
He has not been charged and has missed two games. Tonight will be the third one. The Kings are too close to the salary cap to recall a player and had been trying to bring up Jordan Weal from their minor-league affiliate in Manchester, N.H., and had been trying to craft a solution with the NHL and the NHLPA.
“It’s one thing for the player to have to pay the penalty,” Lombardi said in a interview with The Times. “It’s another thing for 19 other guys to have to go out there shorthanded tonight.”
Lombardi cycled back to a theme of his from last week, saying he was mad at himself for not taking “more time’ to do a better job educating the players about issues dealing with “conduct away from the rink.”
He used the term “political football,” to describe the Voynov situation.
“I’m more mad at myself I didn’t take more time, and didn’t do a better job,” Lombardi said. “The penalty now is now not only losing the player … your team now pays the price.”
“The bottom line after talking about this for 48 hours: This is our fault. I told my owner. We have train them strength-wise, nutrition-wise. Basically we almost need a morals coach. It’s not media training.
“It’s my responsibility. This won’t happen again. Or it won’t be because we didn’t do a better job training them in strength, nutrition and development. This clearly sends a message you have a job to train your players as far as conduct away from the rink.
“The price is steep. It’s fine. I’ve learned my lesson.”
Earlier, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly acknowledged that any move made on the roster/cap-relief side had to be done in conjunction with the Players’ Assn. He had said it was “certainly possible” that no relief would be available in time for tonight’s game.
Daly added, via email: “It is not unusual for teams to have to dress short on occasion, so if that’s where the Kings are, I am sure they will manage the situation appropriately.”
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, as is his custom, would not confirm that Kopitar would miss tonight’s game. He did have some encouraging news on the progress of forward Trevor Lewis, who has been out for most of the season because of an upper-body injury.
Lewis, Marian Gaborik and Kopitar all have upper-body injuries. Sutter said on Monday that Kopitar’s injury was not serious but that the team needed to be careful.
The same obviously holds true for Lewis, who is closer to returning than Gaborik.
“He’s close. He wants to play,” Sutter said on Tuesday, of Lewis. “We’ve got a long trip here. We’ll make sure he’s ready in two days, not for a few minutes tonight.”
The season is early but it goes beyond that, Sutter said.
“You know what? We’ve had some frustrating muscle injuries already,” he said. “Just don’t want to prolong them. I’d rather be a day in, or a game off, than miss four or five weeks.”
Said Kopitar: “I felt pretty good on the ice today, so we’ll see about tonight. I’m going to prepare like I’m gong to play and we’ll see how I feel.
“I had a day off yesterday so that obviously helped.”
Captain Dustin Brown could not remember playing short at the start of a game in his long NHL run with the Kings. Kopitar was injured in the second period of Sunday’s win over Columbus.
“I don’t think anything like this,” Brown said. “Probably more where it’s happened where a guy gets hurt on the first shift. We dropped down (one) in the last game halfway through the game. Losing a guy in the first 10 minutes of a game is probably the most similar situation.
“Everyone just gets a couple more [minutes]. Everyone has a range on our team, whether it’s me or Kopi or Drew [Doughty]. The range is within two, three minutes every night.”