Wednesday September 2nd, 2015

You’ll have to forgive Dean Lombardi if he smells a bit like smoke lately. The general manager of the Los Angeles Kings has spent a long, frustrating summer dealing with a string of tire fires, from the long-running Slava Voynov domestic violence situation to the arrest of Jarret Stoll for drug possession to the drug charges/contract termination/NHLPA grievance drama surrounding Mike Richards.

The last thing Lombardi needs right now is for another one to start smoldering. But that’s exactly what he’s looking at.

The window opened for Lombardi to sign No. 1 center Anze Kopitar to a long-term extension on July 1, but two months down the road there’s been no indication that a deal is forthcoming. In fact, the two sides are “not even in the ballpark” of a new agreement. Those are Lombardi’s own words, expressed in an email to Kings beat writer Jon Rosen.

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Is it time for Kings fans to panic? No, not yet. Kopitar still has one year remaining on his current seven-year, $47.6-million contract, so there’s still plenty of time on the clock for the two sides to come to terms ... at least as far as the calendar’s concerned. But the truth is that an organization that has been living under a black cloud for almost a year now doesn’t need the distraction of its franchise center steaming towards unrestricted free agency. And that’s exactly what the Kings are facing if the two sides can’t find common ground before the 2015-16 season kicks off in just over a month’s time.

That ground shouldn’t be hard to find. There’s no arguing Kopitar’s place in the game. At 28, he’s played a key role in two Stanley Cup championships and has 60 points in 70 career playoff games, a scoring pace that ranks him 12th among active players. Last season, he was a finalist for both the Selke and the Lady Byng trophies and was an All-Star for the third time in his career. He’s widely regarded as one of the premier two-way forwards in the game and, arguably, is one of the top-five centers playing today.

If he’s asking for $10 million a year, he’s now out of line. Lombardi surely knows that.

So, where’s the disconnect?

Fair to say it goes well beyond the constraints of the salary cap, although that’s part of the problem. Coming off those two championships, the Kings are saddled with eight players whose contractual commitments extend beyond the 2018-2019 season and count more than $38 million against a cap that could see significant volatility in the coming years as a result of the declining value of the Canadian dollar. 

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Lombardi also has to account for the uncertainty that surrounds the suspended Voynov (on the books for $4.166 million through 2018-19) and the potential impact of a buyout or salary-cap recapture penalty for Mike Richards, which is dependent on the outcome of his contract termination grievance. And Kopitar’s far from the only King who’ll need a new deal before July 1, 2016. Milan Lucic, acquired at great expense this summer, will be in the market for something in the neighborhood of $6 million.

In other words, Lombardi is trying to keep a lot of balls in the air while blindfolded. Hard not to sympathize with that. But Kopitar is too important to this team, both now and into the future, to be left hanging. And if Kopitar is not inclined to negotiate during the season, as is rumored, then Lombardi may as well grab the marshmallows.

That tire fire would be the biggest of them all.

Hot links

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