With just a few days remaining in August (and the crucial September 15 deadline for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement fast approaching), the offseason for hockey is hopefully drawing to a close. The past three months have been a whirlwind for both the organization and Kings fans alike. Here are my top five highlights from the summer the Kings spent as champions:
#5: Minor Re-signings – Successful playoff runs usually mean big paydays for pending free agents that can take advantage of the open market. Following the Kings Stanley Cup victory, General Manager Dean Lombardi retained role players Dwight King, Jarret Stoll, and Colin Fraser, as well as the enigmatic Dustin Penner, all at reasonable cap figures. King, who was arguably the MVP of the Western Conference Finals against Phoenix, re-upped with a 2-year/$1.5 million contract. Stoll, known as a premier faceoff man in the league, was signed to a 3-year/$9.75 million contract. Fraser, now a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, signed a 2-year/$1.65 million deal. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Lombardi and Coach Darryl Sutter convinced Penner to re-sign at a term length and cap figure well below his market value (1-year/$3.25 million). All these deals keep the championship squad intact while allowing management significant cap flexibility going forward.
#4: Decision to Keep Jonathan Bernier – Earlier in the summer, reports from French Canadian media outlets surfaced that Jonathan Bernier, the Kings backup goaltender, had asked the team for a trade. Bernier has paid his dues within the organization, but after six up-and-down years since being the team’s first round draft choice, he still finds himself cemented in a second-string role. Lombardi did not cave (at least not yet) to that request because he knows the value of a dependable backup. Should anything happen to star netminder Jonathan Quick, Bernier has proven that he can be more than relied upon to carry the load. It would ill serve the organization to offload Bernier at a price below his value.
#3: Kings Hire Davis Payne – When Coach Darryl Sutter decided not to retain Assistant Coach Jamie Kompon following the Stanley Cup victory, that created a vacancy on the coaching staff. Kompon was much maligned by Kings fans for overseeing an at best average, at worst impotent power play unit. After a careful search, the Kings hired Davis Payne, the former bench boss of the St. Louis Blues. He was let go early on in the 2011-2012 season after a 6-7 start to the year, at which point Ken Hitchcock took over. While he could not stick in St. Louis, Payne’s youth and experience should make this move an upgrade over his predecessor in Los Angeles.
#2: Major Commitment to Quick – One of the major organizational uncertainties entering the offseason was how Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick would fit long-term with the club. Earlier in the season, fellow finalist Pekka Rinne signed a massive 7 year/$49 million contract with Nashville. Big money contracts are all about comparing players of similar ability. The Kings obviously had a desire to keep Quick for that length of time, but if the annual average value approached that figure, the Kings would have been less able to build a strong supporting cast around their young core. Thus, the 10-year/$58 million extension Quick signed is significant for two reasons: it locks up the Kings’ best player through his prime, and Quick’s $5.8 million salary will give the Kings financial wiggle room in the coming years.
#1: Stanley Cup Comes to L.A. – An obvious choice for number one. On June 11, the Kings won the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, ending a 45-year drought. Kings nation will forever remember the final moments of Game 6 against New Jersey. This was, and continues to be, a seminal moment for the team, its fans, and the city of Los Angeles.