The NHL is the premier hockey league on the planet, right? So what is going on in Los Angeles? According to Forbes 2008 rankings of the worlds wealthiest humans, Kings owner Big Phil Anschutz ranks #89 on the list. (http://www.forbes.com/lists/2006/10/DSAK.html) But, take a glance at where his club’s payroll currently hovers and you’ll see that it’s scraping the bottom of the barrel. (http://www.hockeybuzz.com/cap-central/) The Kings are nearly 30 million dollars below the salary cap ceiling and could afford, cap-wise, to nearly double the current payroll. Also, they are approximately 10 million dollars below the salary cap floor, which were they to fail to reach would lead to their games being forfeited. This is coming on the heels of one of their worst recent overall seasons. Somehow, the Kings actually failed to “win” the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL entry draft with 71 points for the season. Oddly enough, the 71 points of 2007-2008 were three points better than the 68 the club amassed in the previous campaign of 2006-2007, which earned them the fourth overall draft pick.
Getting better? Hardly.
This off-season has seen the Kings continue to trade away established players for draft choices and younger, less costly “talent.” On draft day they were able to send former 2nd round draft choice Micheal Cammalleri to Calgary in a deal that set them up to acquire defensive prospect Colten Teubert. Later, they also moved occasional all-star defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky to Edmonton in exchange for gritty players Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greene.
But, looking closer at these deals it seems apparent that the Kings are more interested in literally passing the buck on their more expensive contracts. Visnovsky had just finished the first year of six year deal that payed $5.6 million a year. Cammalleri had just finished the first year of a five year $5 million contract, the result of an arbitration-soiled tiff that landed Cammalleri in the club dog-house. Many fans were unimpressed with his performance and stories spread that he was not performing to the best of his ability. And, after an injury that derailed an impressive start to the season he seemed to fall into the doldrums that affected the club as a whole.
Finally, a look back at the current salary structure shows us that Michal Handzus, one of managements “bridge” players is the highest paid player on the payroll. Somehow, management has budding phenomenon Anze Kopitar signed to one more year of his rookie contract with no bonuses available. (Do you hear that KHL?) Handzus, however, is the glaring problem with the Kings in terms of salary structure. Signed prior to last season as an Unrestricted Free Agent, he seems to be un-tradable at his current salary ($4 million for three more years) considering his disappointing performance (82 games, 7 goals, 14 assists; 0.26 pts per game). It also appears as though management would have the supporters of the club accept him as a checking line center as it doesn’t appear he’s likely to displace Kopitar or Stoll on the first or second lines (compare his 0.26 pts per game to his career average of 0.54 which includes 2007-2008). Add to this the failures of free-agents like Dan Cloutier, Ladislav Nagy, Alyn McCauley, Kyle Calder, and Tom Preissing and its difficult to see the forest for the trees. Cloutier, Calder, Nagy, and Handzus alone cost the Kings upwards of $15 million last season; about half of the current payroll.
Combine all this with a complete lack of movement on this years UFA market, and it doesn’t look so good in HockeyWood, or even like they’re trying.