What's next for the Kings
LOS ANGELES -- And here's the rub on the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings: They're not going anywhere.
OK, they might have to fight a Cup hangover next season, just as the Boston Bruins did this past season, but the 2011-12 NHL champions will be contenders for a few years to come.
"They've got a really good team, they've got a young core, they're built for the long haul,'' Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com.
Holland, who has three Stanley Cup rings during his impressive helm in Detroit, has done it like no other GM in the past 15 years, keeping the Wings in contention year after year without having to rebuild.
He sees a Kings team that will stick around.
"They look like they're going to have other opportunities down the road,'' Holland said. "They've got one of the great young defensemen in the game, I think that's a real important part to having a team that contends. And the goaltender, too. They've got a lot of important pieces, and they're built for the long haul."
The Kings' core is all but locked up. It won't be blown up like the 2010 Cup champions in Chicago.
Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams and Drew Doughty are all signed long-term. Captain Dustin Brown has two years left on his deal, same as Matt Greene, while Willie Mitchell has a new two-year extension that will kick in next season.
The Kings' only star player not signed past next season is Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick. The Vezina Trophy nominee has one more year left on his deal at a $1.8 million cap hit. The Kings will open talks with his agent this summer in an effort to extend him one year out from the expiration of his deal.
Jarret Stoll, Dustin Penner and Colin Fraser are the notable unrestricted free agents as of July 1. Stoll will get immediate attention, with the Kings hoping to get him re-signed within the next two weeks. The versatile and dependable third-line center had a $3.5 million cap hit this past season, and the Kings hope for a bit of a discount there. Either way, they want him back.
There's a desire to retain Fraser, L.A.'s fourth-line center, as long as he doesn't push for too much more than his $825,000 salary this season.
Penner? That will be interesting. The Kings want to talk with him before deciding how they move forward. They want a commitment from the second-line winger that the Dustin Penner they'll see from now on is the one who played terrific hockey in the playoffs. They don't want to see the regular-season Penner who was awful. For that, the Kings will want a commitment from him in terms of physical shape. I think L.A.'s intent is to bring Penner back, but it's not as clear-cut.
The Kings have around $54 million committed to 20 roster players for next season. With the cap expected to go up to around $70 million July 1, it gives them enough room to re-sign Stoll, Fraser and, if they end up choosing to, Penner as well.
Of course, the new collective bargaining agreement -- whenever that is finally agreed to, whether it's this summer, fall or winter -- may have a lower salary-cap number if the owners get their way. That's something for the Kings to keep in mind as they approach Quick's negotiations this summer.
The Cup champs also might try to add this summer. Despite the Carter acquisition in February -- and his big contract -- I believe the Kings will make an offer to UFA-to-be Zach Parise, whom they just knocked out in the Cup finals.
The Kings have long coveted Parise and will give it their best shot July 1. I'm not sure they'll have as much money to offer as the New York Rangers or Red Wings, but the fact that they're Cup champs should count for something.
Where they could find more money depends on Simon Gagne's future. He has one year left on a deal that carries a $3.5 million cap hit. It's been a long season for Gagne, who was able to return from another concussion in time to play the last three games of the Cup finals. Does he want to put his body through another season?
One other matter for the Kings to deal with this summer is young backup netminder Jonathan Bernier, who has a year left on his deal at $1.25 million. The Kings aren't in a hurry to move him but certainly will listen to offers. I can't imagine they would want to move him until a Quick extension is signed, sealed and delivered, though. If they moved him beforehand, it would hand Quick too much leverage in talks.
And quite frankly, if the Kings don't like what's being offered to them on Bernier, they're content with bringing him back for another season. Having said that, I think Bernier would appreciate a chance to become a No. 1 goalie elsewhere.
No matter how you look at it, though, the Kings have a locked-up core that's ready to contend for years to come. There are no guarantees in return trips to the finals, not in a parity-filled league where the difference in winning and losing is so slim nowadays, and the spreading of talent over 30 rosters has created the smallest gap ever between the haves and have-nots.
But you can at least count on the Kings being the mix for the next few years.
And now that the Kings have achieved the greatest accomplishment in hockey, they also know what it takes to do it again.