The Los Angeles Kings should be very grateful right now.
After watching the events of free agency unfold this weekend, and seeing the fans of the New York Islanders sit on pins and needles for 48 hours, the Kings should be ecstatic they don’t have to worry about that next offseason.
That was all avoided when Drew Doughty opted to re-sign as July 1st hit to an eight year, $88 million contract. The deal includes a no-movement clause for the first half of the contract, followed by a limited no-trade clause during the second half.
As it is with most Canadian star players, when they return home to play against their hometown teams, the topic of if they will ever move back home always comes up. Nowhere does this happen more than Toronto, the closest NHL city to Doughty’s home town of London.
What we saw this weekend with John Tavares was agonizing to watch, especially if you are looking at it from the point of view of an Islanders fan. Having a midnight deadline on July 1st to know whether or not the face of your franchise will remain, or if they will have to start over with someone else, it’s a stressful thing for a fan.
Granted, there is quite the difference in situations between Tavares and Doughty. The Los Angeles Kings have been and are a much more stable organization than the Islanders have been. Obviously, the Staples Center is home and AEG (or Philip Anschutz) has given the Kings everything they’ve needed to be successful.
On the ice, the Kings have won two Stanley Cups, while being a constant playoff contender. Meanwhile it has been well documented that the Islanders have had many struggles over Tavares’ tenure where they made the playoffs three times, and got out of the first round once.
The organization has a lot to be proud of that Doughty didn’t even want to hear from other teams, it means he’s happy there and that the organization has been world class.
With all of that said, that doesn’t mean the Kings do not have their challenges. The core of the team is aging and they will have to find a way to get younger in order to maintain competitiveness.
Anze Kopitar (30): 2024
Ilya Kovalchuk (35): 2021
Dustin Brown (33): 2022
Jeff Carter (33): 2022
Drew Doughty (28): 2027
Dion Phaneuf (33): 2021
Alec Martinez (30): 2021
Jake Muzzin (29): 2020
Jonathan Quick (32): 2023
These guys are all around their thirties and by the time their contracts are up, they will be in the latter stages of their careers where their production won’t be what it is now. You could argue that Brown, Kovalchuk, and Phaneuf (maybe Carter too) could already be in that stage and they’re all signed until they are 36-38.
This means that this year and next year is really the push to win the Cup as the Kings are currently constituted before a re-tooling comes into play. In two years, when Kopitar is 32 and Doughty is 30, the Kings will have to make moves to clear cap space and make room for the younger guys to be focal points.
While it can be harder to move contracts at that stage of the game, it is not impossible. If Brown has a season that resembles what he did this year, someone might see him as a piece who can help put them over the top. Meanwhile with someone like Dion Phaneuf, teams will take him but just as the Senators did, LA may need eat some of the salary.
I’ve been harping that Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson need to become focal points of the Kings in order for the future success of the team. Toffoli finished third on the team in regards to goal scoring with 24, but even that will need to improve when it’s time for the Kings to re-tool.
The San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks are both in similar spots as the Kings right now. Their cores are good to win now but the window is shrinking and there’s uncertainty in the replacement for the aging veterans.
How well teams are able to adjust, develop, and attract free agents will decide how much longer they will be able to stay competitive.