In the NHL’s current salary cap era, Stanley Cup Champions are frequently dismantled just weeks after the season ends. Franchises spend years drafting and acquiring players to build the perfect team for a championship push, just to watch other franchises raid their rosters after the task is complete. Once a team has won the Cup, their players will often leave as free agents as they search for more money, a new home, or a new challenge.
After winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins watched their shutdown defensive pair of Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi leave for Montreal and Los Angeles, respectively, for more money. The Pens also lost wingers Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan, along with backup goaltender Mathieu Garon. They were knocked out in the 2nd round the following season.
In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks were forced into a slew of trades due to cap management issues. They traded away Dustin Byufglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, Colin Fraser, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd and Marty Reasoner in mostly salary dump deals. They also lost Adam Burish, John Madden and starting goaltender Antti Niemi in free agency. The Blackhawks were knocked out in the 1st round the following year.
Most recently, in 2011, the Boston Bruins had it the easiest as they only lost Mark Recchi to retirement, as well as Michael Ryder, Boris Valabik and Tomas Kaberle to free agency. They enjoyed the smallest turnover amongst recent Cup winners, but it was not enough to repeat as champions as the Bruins were knocked out in the 1st round this past spring.
Now, it’s time for the 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings to make their offseason moves as their quest for back to back championships begins. Ten days into free agency, the Kings have only lost two minor league players, Jeff Zatkoff and Patrick Mullen. They have re-signed three players: Jarret Stoll to a 3-year deal, Colin Fraser to a 2-year deal, and Dustin Penner to a 1-year deal. The Kings even went out and took the initiative to extend goalie Jonathan Quick with a 10 year deal a full year before he’s a free agent.
So what’s left for the Kings? Almost nothing.
They only have two free agents remaining: Dwight King, who is a restricted free agent, and Scott Parse, who is unrestricted. King earned roughly $600,000 last season and will likely receive a new contract and a raise soon after a stellar playoff performance. Parse earned $900,000 this past year but has only played in 14 games over the past two seasons after undergoing surgery on both hips. There has been very little public talk about Parse’s future with the team.
With only two players left to sign IF they want to keep the entire 2012 Stanley Cup Champion roster intact, the Kings still have roughly $8.6 million in cap space to work with.
This may as well be the easiest offseason of General Manager Dean Lombardi’s life.
Or is it?
Lombardi and the Kings clearly already have an edge on previous champions since they will not lose any key players. Now they must fight another battle – complacency.
As Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
This summer, every member of the Los Angeles Kings will spend at least a day with the Cup. Meanwhile, every member of 29 other NHL teams will hear that news longingly, and work towards having that day next offseason. As Lombardi works to keep his roster intact, other GMs are working to improve their rosters drastically. The charge is led by Minnesota, who won the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter sweepstakes. The Kings pursued Parise, but did not make it very far into the contest. Vancouver is also looking to make waves, signing free agent defenseman Jason Garrison to a 6-year deal after being upset by the Kings in the 1st round this past postseason.
The next big domino to fall will likely be the signing of Shane Doan, though no one is sure where yet. Expect Lombardi to avoid complacency here as the Kings have already made an offer to Doan, who has shown an interest in quite a few of the Kings’ rivals as well. Los Angeles has the salary cap room to improve their team, and it would be in their best interests to do so.
Los Angeles Kings first team to make offer to free agent Shane Doan
— John Gambadoro (@Gambo620) July 10, 2012
If the Kings miss out on Doan and make no other moves, no one will claim the franchise had anything but an average offseason, maybe even an above-average offseason for a champion.
The question will be, is an average offseason good enough to remain a championship-caliber team? Vancouver, Minnesota and many other teams certainly hope not.
Don’t get complacent Los Angeles; the rest of the league is starting to nip at your heels already.
Meesh Shanmugam is a staff writer for Sunbelt Hockey Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @HockeyMeesh