EL SEGUNDO, CA — The Los Angeles Kings have certainly gotten their off-season started with a bang.
On June 18, the Kings signed restricted free agent defenseman Slava Voynov, 23, to a six-year contract that is reported to be worth $25 million, a $4.17 million per season salary cap hit.
The 6-0, 190-pound native of Chelyabinsk, Russia played in all 48 regular season games with the Kings in 2013, scoring six goals and contributing 19 assists for 25 points, setting career-highs in assists and points.
Voynov shined in the 2013 playoffs, sharing the team lead in goals and points (six goals and seven assists for 13 points), with a +9 plus/minus rating in 18 playoff games. He also set team playoff records for most goals scored by a defenseman in one playoff year, and most game-winning goals scored in one playoff year (four).
During the 2011-12 season, Voynov scored eight goals and added twelve assists for twenty points, with a +12 rating and twelve penalty minutes in 54 regular season games with the Kings. He also scored a goal and tallied two assists for three points in twenty playoff games, helping the Kings win the first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.
Voynov, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2008 National Hockey League Entry Draft, has scored 14 goals and has added 31 assists for 45 points, with a +17 rating and 26 penalty minutes in 102 career NHL regular season games, all with the Kings. In 38 NHL playoff games, he has scored seven goals and has contributed nine assists for 16 points, with a +10 rating and four penalty minutes.
Kings assistant general manager Ron Hextall emphasized the importance of securing one of the Kings’ core players for the long haul.
“Anytime you’re trying to work your core players into the salary cap, when you get a guy like Slava under control, it gives us cost certainty,” Hextall told KingsVision. “It’s a six-year deal, [and] Slava is part of our core. He’s a big part of our hockey club. He plays big minutes, he plays a big part of our power play, and as I said, he’s a core piece for us. We’re excited to have him under contract, long-term.”
Hextall indicated that Voynov’s strong performance in the 2013 post-season had little impact on contract negotiations.
“It certainly didn’t hurt, but I think we knew what we had in Slava going in,” said Hextall.
Voynov’s partner on the Kings’ blue, for the time being, at least, veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, had high praise for the young Russian blue liner.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen in Slava is his ability to choose the situations when he’s going to be active offensively, and when he’s not going to be,” said Scuderi. “I think that’s a tremendous part of any young, offensive-minded defenseman’s development.”
“His decision-making was extraordinary this year,” added Scuderi. “He has that innate ability to know when to jump into the play, and what spot to jump into the play. He also knows when he has to stay back, and when he has to be careful. That’s a big part, maybe the biggest part, of an offensive-minded defenseman’s skill set, because they have the skills to do a lot of things. But you have to realize when you can do them, and when you shouldn’t.”
Voynov was being wooed by at least one KHL team since the Kings were eliminated from the playoffs, trying to get him to be the big star back home. But Voynov stuck to his guns—he has said several times previously that his dream was to play in the NHL.
Voynov certainly dedicated himself towards that goal. He paid his dues by playing more than three years in the AHL with the Monarchs, unlike so many highly-skilled Russian and European prospects who have returned home rather than play in North American minor leagues.
Indeed, Voynov was focused on playing in the NHL. He committed himself to improving his game with the Monarchs, and his hard work patience has really paid off with a Stanley Cup Championship under his belt, and now, a long-term contract.
“Slava played three=plus years in Manchester, and really grew as a player,” Hextall noted. “He’s grown a lot as a player since he was drafted, and since [he was 18 years old, and already playing in] Manchester. He’s a very good player for us. He put in his time, he’s earned his stripes, and he earned his contract.”
The Ripple Effect
One way or the other, the Kings had to sign Voynov, who would have become a restricted free agent in a couple of weeks, and given recent, comparable signings, Voynov got the contract, in terms of annual salary, that most expected.
The problem now is that President/General Manager Dean Lombardi, who stated that he wanted to bring everyone back from this year’s team, now has ten players with expiring contracts (three unrestricted free agents and seven restricted free agents), but only $7.67 million in salary cap space.
As explained in Unless Dean Lombardi’s Middle Name Is “Houdini,” 2013-14 LA Kings Will Look At Least A Bit Different, it seems highly unlikely, if not nearly impossible, for Lombardi to bring accomplish that feat.
Given the Kings’ salary cap constraints, it seems to be a near certainty that left wing Dustin Penner and forward Brad Richardson—both will be eligible for unrestricted free agency—will not return.
A more notable loss is likely to be Scuderi, who is all but gone as an unrestricted free agent unless he agrees to a huge pay cut, which does not seem likely.
Despite that, Scuderi knows what he would be giving up.
“As a player, this is certainly a place that’s a desirable location,” he said. “It’s got everything you need, for myself, and most importantly, for my family. The team’s good, I’ve been here, I’m comfortable here.”
As for possibly feeling slighted by not being Lombardi’s top priority this off-season, Scuderi quickly brushed that notion aside.
“I understand that there are other things that happen,” said Scuderi. “I understand that the team has other priorities, bigger than just myself, and that’s the way it’s always going to be. I’m not offended, I don’t [feel] disrespected by any of that stuff.”
“It’s unfortunate that, maybe, it could’ve been taken care of [earlier], but it’s not like I harbor any ill will towards the Kings, or the way they’ve done things. That just not how I think.”
Lisa Dillman reported in the Los Angeles Times that “…Scuderi and Lombardi had contract discussions late last week,” so the window is still slightly ajar. But it will take a skilled magician to get Scuderi back in the fold, let alone all the others with expiring deals.
As reported in yesterday’s story, unless Lombardi somehow pulls a rabbit out of his hat, players like Scuderi and Penner are likely to play elsewhere next season.
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