Los Angeles Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr, left, pushes San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski off the puck during the third period in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, Tuesday, May 28, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Defenceman Robyn Regehr agreed to a two-year, $6 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, passing up free agency this summer to stick with the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Kings announced the deal while the team travelled to Chicago for the start of the Western Conference finals on Saturday.
Regehr has appeared in just 12 regular-season games and 13 playoff contests with the Kings, who acquired him from the Buffalo Sabres on April 1 in a trade for two second-round draft picks.
But from his first game with the Kings, the 13-year NHL veteran has splendidly filled the physical void left by injured Kings defencemen Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene with relentless, hard-hitting defence and penalty-killing proficiency. Regehr also has three assists while partnering with high-scoring defenceman Drew Doughty.
"They told me that they wanted me to be a good defensive defenceman, physical guy, help out on the penalty kill, things like that, so I had a real good understanding of the things they wanted me to work on," Regehr said Thursday before his deal was announced. "(Coach) Darryl (Sutter) had mentioned that they felt they were missing a veteran presence during the season because of injury. To try to come in and help out that way, that's what they felt they needed."
The 33-year-old Regehr would have been an unrestricted free agent this summer, but general manager Dean Lombardi previously said he would aggressively attempt to re-sign Regehr before free agency. Regehr has said he's grateful to be with a championship contender after missing the playoffs in his four previous seasons in Calgary and Buffalo, and the Kings are grateful to have a stable veteran presence on the back end.
"We needed that defensive presence and that physical guy," Doughty said of Regehr on Wednesday. "For the most part, our D corps wasn't the most physical. We were more good passers. We didn't have that physical presence. In bringing him in, he's helped out a lot. He's been a great guy to have. We all love him, and he's a big part of where we are right now."
Regehr's return in the fall solidifies the Kings' blue line during a potentially busy summer. Veteran defenceman Rob Scuderi is an unrestricted free agent, while defencemen Slava Voynov, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Keaton Ellerby are restricted free agents.
Greene has returned to the Kings' lineup after a back injury kept him out for almost the entire regular season, while Mitchell won't play at all this season after two knee surgeries. Lombardi has said he doesn't know whether the 36-year-old Mitchell, who will make $3.5 million next season, will be healthy for training camp in the fall.
Regehr is in the final days of a five-year, $20 million contract signed when he was with the Calgary Flames, his team for his first 11 NHL seasons. He also played for Canada at the Turin Olympics in 2006.
Regehr and Sutter reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals with Calgary in 2004, but lost to Tampa Bay. Regehr hadn't made it past the first round of the post-season again until this spring with the Kings.
The speed of Regehr's transition to a major role with the Kings has impressed his coach and teammates, but Regehr acknowledges it wasn't as seamless as it appeared to be.
"I wouldn't say it was easy, because there's so many things that are new," Regehr said. "I didn't really know anyone on the team. There were new players, new city, new equipment, new everything. The way that teams play isn't always the same, so you're adapting to that. It's an unsettling feeling. I would say maybe that's the best way to explain it, but you just try to work on as many things as you can."