The NHL is open to allowing some form of cap relief for the Los Angeles Kings, a source said Thursday, but it appears to be delayed awaiting the blessing of the NHL Players’ Association.
The Kings have been performing roster gymnastics this week, going a player short in Philadelphia on Tuesday because of short-term injuries and the $4.16 million cap hit from suspended defenseman Slava Voynov.
They were able to call up a player under emergency conditions Thursday -- forward David Van der Gulik (the rule is any player making $650,000 or less). But the long-term issue of Voynov’s cap hit remains.
The Kings and the league’s head office spoke again this week, and the league indicated it was open to finding a cap relief solution for the club, according to a source.
However, that would require NHLPA agreement. Right now, the players’ union is concerned that any kind of cap relief on the Voynov matter would lead to more escrow for the players at large (because any player replacing Voynov's cap hit adds to the overall players' share).
Of course, if the NHLPA could get the NHL to agree to have Voynov’s salary put outside the system -- in other words, not count against the players’ share -- then most likely the union would sign off on cap relief for the Kings on this matter. But the league likely would not go for that. Player compensation is player compensation in the NHL's eyes; it counts in the system.
From the NHLPA’s perspective, right now it’s the players, and the players only, who would be paying for the cap relief solution.
So for now, the Kings are stuck in the middle of this NHL-NHLPA back-and-forth.
Obviously, as the criminal matter involving Voynov moves along, should the NHL ever decide the situation warranted suspending Voynov without pay, then that changes things. He would no longer be earning money against the players’ share, and the Kings certainly would get cap relief.
The Kings do get sympathy from some NHL clubs on the matter.
"I don’t think it’s fair for them to get squeezed on the cap for something a player allegedly did that had nothing to do with hockey," one NHL general manager told ESPN.com, a comment echoed by other team executives I spoke with.
The fact is, this is unchartered territory for everyone involved. No easy answers here.
The league and the NHLPA not only need to find a solution to this case, but to similar future cases.
KINGS IN TALKS WITH MARTINEZ
Preliminary talks have begun between the Kings and pending unrestricted free-agent defenseman Alec Martinez's agent, Alex Schall.
Jake Muzzin recently signed a new deal that will pay him $4 million a season starting next year. The sense is the Kings would like to get Martinez below Muzzin's $4 million AAV; the Martinez camp have comparables that suggest he’s worth $4 million or more -- at least on the open market.
Martinez wants to sign an extension and remain with the Kings, no question about it, but the knowledge that he could score big on a weak July 1 UFA market is something that’s a reality, in case talks don’t progress.
The expectation is that the Kings will step up efforts in talks during the next two or three weeks.
Given how well the Kings have handled contract talks with their players during the past couple of years, my guess is that they will find a happy medium here and get this done. But it’s certainly an interesting one, especially when you consider that restricted free agents Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli will be due raises from their expiring entry-level deals as well. Lots of moving parts here for the Kings.
"No, definitely not," Francis told ESPN.com Thursday. "We've had more than our share of bumps here early on. But we'll keep working at it and find a way."
A number of key injuries have contributed to the slow start. Jordan Staal remains out long term with a broken leg.
Meanwhile, teams that start this rough usually find themselves getting the kind of attention from other GMs they’d rather not get. Brian Burke used to refer to those calls as teams offering anchor deals.
So yes, the phone has been ringing, but nothing that interests Francis so far.
"Nobody is really looking to make a hockey trade at this point, more to move bad contracts or things in our eyes that don’t make sense for us," Francis said. "We have to roll up our sleeves and find a way to make ourselves better short term, but the key is also not losing sight of what we're trying to do here long term and not sacrifice that."
As far as those Eric Staal trade rumors, which were ignited a few weeks ago, there’s nothing there at this stage.
"I've not had any conversations with anybody regarding Eric this season," Francis said. "To say you would or wouldn’t trade anybody moving forward, I think it’s the same I’ve said all along, if there’s a deal that makes sense for us, then you have to consider everything that makes your team better short term or long term. But I haven’t had any conversations [on Eric Staal] at this point."
STEWART TRADE WILL COME
There’s nothing imminent as far as we can tell. We reported earlier that the Boston Bruins have him as one of their targets, and another Atlantic Division team, the Ottawa Senators, had talks earlier this month with the Sabres. The Senators tried to acquire him before the trade deadline last spring. They spoke again to Buffalo a few weeks back but nothing came of it.
The Bruins, meanwhile, have been hammered on defense by injuries, so perhaps their need would be best served there, but a source said Thursday that Boston’s plan right now is to ride this out, knowing that within a month or so, most of their injured defensemen will be healthy. No panic trade in store.
Interesting to note that even before the tragic events in Ottawa last week, the NHL actually sent out a security memo a few weeks ago to all 30 teams reminding them of the importance of following protocol at each rink and to ensure security was as tight as possible.
And you can imagine that the NHL and NHLPA already have had talks about enhanced security measures for the Jan. 1 Winter Classic in Washington, D.C.
League security also relayed to players in preseason meetings the importance of staying vigilant and to be aware of their surroundings. In other words, players were warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack at an NHL rink.
"They prepared us for any kind of event. On the one hand it’s kind of scary, but on the other hand it’s really smart, too," one player said to ESPN.com.