This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our most recent Twitter poll, the Pacific Division won out and will be featured this week before we close out the series with the Metropolitan.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Kings currently have 10 forwards, four defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season at a price tag of $49,750,227, but remains on the hook for Dion Phaneuf's buyout and the termination of contracts for Mike Richards and Ilya Kovalchuk for a total of $11,012,500. Assuming a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $20,737,273 in cap space and seven spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: After making the jump to the NHL, Prokhorkin put together a solid rookie campaign, racking up four goals, 10 assists and 63 shots while averaging 12:06 of ice time, so the club will likely have to give him something more than his qualifying offer. Something similar to the two-year, $2.5 million contract extension the Leafs gave to Pierre Engvall in February will allow the organization to maintain Prokhorkin's RFA rights. In the case of Wagner, the 22-year-old winger couldn't avoid the sophomore slump as he failed to reach the 20-point mark but should be able to command slightly more than Prokhorkin on a similar two-year contract. The guy who can expect to see the biggest pay raise will no doubt be Sean Walker, who set career highs in goals (five), assists (19) and games played (70) this year. The blueliner should continue to take on more minutes and could even be a member of the power play in 2020-21. Locking the 25-year-old blueliner up on a four-year, $10 million deal might be considered an overpay out of the gate but could become a value contract on the back half.
Kyle Riley: Prokhorkin played pretty well in limited action with the Kings this year, notching 14 points in 43 games while skating in a bottom-six role, but he won't be getting a major raise as a 26-year-old RFA who isn't arbitration eligible. I think a two-year, $2.5 million deal is right on the money for the 6-foot-3 Russian. Wagner has appeared in 127 games with the big club over the past two seasons, so he's definitely due for a raise, but he's nothing more than a bottom-sixer with seriously limited offensive upside, so he shouldn't be expecting a major payday. I actually think a two-year, $2.5 million deal should also do the trick for the 23-year-old winger. Walker took on a larger role with the Kings this season, and he was up to the task, notching 24 points in 70 contests while averaging 18:50 of ice time per night. The 25-year-old blueliner also contributed in short handed situations and on the power play, areas in which he may become even more involved in 2020-21. I think a three-year, $9 million contract would be fitting for the right-handed defenseman.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: With youngsters Carl Grundstrom and Blake Lizotte expected to take on bigger roles, combined with Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev set to join the professional ranks, there simply isn't a reason to bring back Lewis or Schaller who would just be taking up spots on the 23-man roster. Defensively, the club isn't nearly as deep, which means keeping both Hutton and Ryan would help them on the back end. Both players should be getting modest raises and, at 27 years of age, might be worth locking up for 3-4 years. The AAV figures to come in around $2 million for Hutton and $1.5 million for Ryan.
Kyle Riley: As AJ mentioned, the Kings have a ton of talent/youth at forward that should be ready to make the jump to the NHL next year, so there's no reason for the rebuilding club to re-sign Lewis or Schaller. On the other hand, LA doesn't have much of anything in terms of pro-ready blueline prospects in the pipeline, so keeping Hutton and Ryan in the fold for a few more years would be a prudent move. Hutton primarily skated in a top-four role this season, notching 16 points while posting a plus-5 rating in 65 games, so he'll be looking for a sizable raise. I think a two-year, $5 million deal should get it done. Ryan, on the other hand, essentially served as LA's seventh defenseman this year and was often times a healthy scratch, so he won't command much in terms of a raise. Something like a one-year, $950,000 contract should do the trick for the former Shark.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: If the team does in fact retain both Hutton and Ryan, there won't be a clear spot on the 23-man roster for LaDue, so at best, the club can look to offer him a two-way deal with a modest pay increase. At the end of the day, he may find himself looking elsewhere next season. Both Grundstrom and Luff had strong AHL campaigns this year and will be candidates for a spot on the 23-man roster heading into Opening Night 2020-21. Having said that, neither player has done enough to really warrant much more than their qualifying offers, unless the club feels like they want to offer some additional term.
Kyle Riley: I expect Grundstrom's role with the big club to grow, at least marginally, in 2020-21, but as AJ alluded to, the 2016 second-round pick has only appeared in 28 top-level games through the first two years of his career, so his QO should get it done. Luff has appeared in more games (51) than Grundstrom through the first two years of his career, but he's still only got 16 NHL points to his name. He'll probably get a little bit more than his QO, but it won't be much. LaDue is already 27 years old and only appeared in two games with the big club this campaign, so I don't think there's any reason for the Kings to bring him back next year.
AJ Scholz: Looking at the above situation, I am currently projecting the Kings to have about $10 million in cap space next season, which would certainly allow them to make a big splash, or several splashes, in the free agent market. However, with a full on rebuild in the works, the organization would probably be better suited to bank the cash and focus on providing opportunities for younger players to get some NHL experience. In addition to Turcotte and Kaliyev, the club will probably need to hold open a spot on the 23-man roster for Tim Stutzle after the organization won the No. 2 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery.
Kyle Riley: The Kings will have a lot of cap space to play with this offseason, but they're still a few years out from being legitimate contenders, so I don't see them making any splashes in free agency. If anything, they may be willing to take on the last year of a bad contract from a contender in exchange for draft capital, further bolstering they're already impressive prospect pool.