Jonathan Bernier and Slava Voynov are two RFAs the Kings will have to make a decision on this summer. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
The Los Angeles Kings’ elimination by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference final was a bitter disappointment for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Though the Kings fell short in their quest to repeat as champions, GM Dean Lombardi hopes to keep his roster intact as much as possible this summer. He acknowledged, however, his limited cap space ($11.8 million) for next season would make it “a little more difficult.”
Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times believes Lombardi's priorities are restricted free agents Jonathan Bernier and Slava Voynov and unrestricted free agents Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi.
For months, Bernier's been the subject of trade speculation. Dillman expects Lombardi to field trade offers for the 24-year-old, who earned $1.525 million this season as Jonathan Quick's backup.
While expensive stars such as Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, Buffalo's Ryan Miller and St. Louis' Jaroslav Halak could be available in this summer's trade market, Bernier's youth and affordability make him a desirable target for clubs with limited cap space that are seeking goaltending depth.
Voynov, who emerged as a star in his own right this season, is coming off his entry-level contract and could earn between $3 million and $4 million per season on his new contract. Considering the Nashville Predators re-signed Roman Josi this week to a seven-year, $28-million contract, Voynov's agent could seek a similar deal.
Whatever Voynov eventually gets, it'll cut deep into Lombardi's cap space, making it more difficult to re-sign not only Penner and Scuderi, but also restricted free agents Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Keaton Ellerby, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin.
Fortunately, those low-salaried RFAs won't be as expensive to retain as Voynov, Penner and Scuderi. If Willie Mitchell's ongoing knee problems sideline him next season, the Kings could get up to $3.5 million in cap relief by placing him on long-term injury reserve.
While Lombardi doesn't have to make sweeping changes, the limited cap space will be a challenge. Penner and Scuderi could become the odd men out.
This season was Phil Kessel's best with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Not only did he lead the team in scoring for the fourth consecutive season, he silenced his critics with a strong playoff performance against the Boston Bruins.
Heading into the final year of his contract, it's assumed the Maple Leafs will get Kessel re-signed to a lucrative long-term deal.
However, not everyone in the Toronto media thinks that's a good idea. The Toronto Star's Dave Feschuk believes the Leafs should trade Kessel this summer while his trade value is at its highest.
Feschuk considers Kessel the Leafs best trade chip, calling him a “perimeter-hugging winger in a net-front league,” playing for a club that will have to part with something of value to land a true first-line center.
The Leafs need a first-line center, but it makes no sense to move their best player to achieve that aim. If anything, the Leafs need to find a center to complement Kessel's skills.
Kessel's contract pays him an average annual salary of $5.4 million and it could cost the Leafs around $7-million per season to re-sign him.
If contract talks deteriorate, it would be worthwhile to move him for the best return. Otherwise, management should re-sign him this summer, or risk paying more as his value increases throughout next season.
Speaking of the Maple Leafs and their need for a first-line center, Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons believes if Tyler Bozak departs via free agency, the team should pursue Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss.
If the Washington Capitals re-sign Mike Ribeiro, Weiss would become the most sought-after center in this summer's free agent market.
The Leafs wouldn't be the only club interested in Weiss. The Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers have also been linked to the 30-year-old center, who hasn't ruled out re-signing with the Panthers.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).