UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENCY – DAY 1: After bidding farewell to Rob Scuderi and Brad Richardson, the Los Angeles Kings welcomed defenseman Jeff Schultz to the team, signing him to a one-year deal on Day 1 of unrestricted free agency.
LOS ANGELES — Day 1 of the feeding frenzy in the National Hockey League, otherwise known as unrestricted free agency, ended with what turned out to be a rather expected result for the Los Angeles Kings, who lost veteran, stay-at-home defenseman Rob Scuderi, after he signed a four-year contract valued at $13.5 million with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the end, family was the deciding factor for the two-time Stanley Cup winner, who will play his second stint with the Penguins, the team he won his first Stanley Cup with in 2009.
“Both [the Kings and the Penguins] have the ability to play deep into the spring,” Scuderi told the media during a conference call. “But Pittsburgh is much closer geographically to where I am from, and I thought at my age, I wasn’t going to get this opportunity again to pull the trigger on something like this.”
Scuderi is a native of Syosset, New York, and has many relatives who reside in New York.
“To be able to play [the three New York City area-based] teams consistently, and with Pittsburgh being a seven-hour drive or a one-hour flight as compared to a cross-country flight, is something that I missed over the last few years,” he said. “I missed having them be part of our lives and their grand kids’ lives.”
Scuderi, who was, arguably, the most sought after defenseman in this summer’s unrestricted free agent pool, added that the Kings made him a “fair offer,” and that they were the only Western Conference team he would have considered playing for.
Scuderi was the consummate professional, and was always willing to talk with the media, and speak his mind, positive or negative. He was an intellectual in the Kings dressing room, one of the team’s leaders, and was a strong, positive influence on their young defensemen, most notably, Slava Voynov. He is NHL coaching material down the road, no doubt.
LA media will miss Scuderi. Always a straight shooter. Always took the time to talk to you. Great for the younger D-men, too. #lakings—
Frozen Royalty (@frozenroyalty) July 05, 2013
It is apparent that the Kings knew Scuderi was headed elsewhere earlier in the week. A strong indication of that came when the Kings chose not to tender a qualifying offer to defenseman Keaton Ellerby, but then turned right around and signed him to a one-year deal worth $735,000—the same amount they would have had to qualify him for—on July 4.
Losing Scuderi meant the Kings had a hole to fill on the left side of their blue line corps, and they did so on July 5 by signing unrestricted free agent Jeff Schultz, 27, to a one-year contract worth $700,000.
The 6-6, 230-pound native of Calgary, Alberta played in 26 games for the Washington Capitals last season, contributing three assists, with a -6 plus/minus rating and twelve penalty minutes.
In 399 regular season NHL games, all with the Capitals, the left shot defenseman has scored eleven goals and has added 64 assists for 75 points, a +78 plus/minus rating and 133 penalty minutes.
It should be noted that the vast majority of Schultz’ +78 plus/minus rating came in the 2009-10 season, when he earned a +50 rating on a team that led the league in scoring with a whopping 3.82 goals per game. Very strong offensively, the Caps ranked 16th defensively, allowing 2.77 goals per game. The result? A rather skewed plus/minus rating.
Schultz was one of the Caps’ top four defensemen, but after the 2010-11 season, his ice time quickly dried up. He requested a trade, but there were no takers at that point. On July 2, the Capitals placed him on waivers for the purpose of buying out his contract.
What kind of player will Schultz be with the Kings, given the fact that his NHL career is not exactly trending upward at the moment? Only time will tell, but given that Schultz has top four defenseman experience, and a lot going on for him in the size department, there is potential, no doubt. In any case, he is an inexpensive insurance policy if Willie Mitchell is unable to return to the lineup.
As reported in this space on June 18, it was going to take a master magician for the Kings to keep their roster intact with eleven players with expiring contracts, including three unrestricted free agents, and eight restricted free agents.
As it turns out, the magic was not there, which should not come as a surprise, not with just $11.84 million in available salary cap space, and after defenseman Slava Voynov was signed to a four-year deal with a $4.17 million/year salary cap hit on June 19, that left just $7.67 million.
Now, with Ellerby re-signed, and with the signing of Schultz, the Kings have just slightly more than $5.2 million available under the salary cap, with five restricted free agents still unsigned: forwards Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Jordan Nolan, along with defenseman Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin.
A bit of salary cap space also became available when forward Brad Richardson signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Vancouver Canucks, a two-year deal that will pay him $1.15 million per season, also on July 5.
Many have lamented the Kings losing Scuderi. Some have bemoaned the loss of Richardson, and many are clamoring for the re-signing of veteran left wing Dustin Penner, now an unrestricted free agent. But if you’ve been paying attention, none of the roster moves the Kings have made since the 2012-13 season ended should come as a surprise, not with them scraping against the salary cap ceiling.
What should also come as no surprise is that the Kings continue to look for help on left wing, and are reportedly still interested in re-signing Penner. But given the Kings’ salary cap issues, he would have to accept a significant pay cut from the $3.25 million he earned last season.
Assuming the Kings find a forward they want, that leaves them one over the 23-man roster limit, and what stands out is that they have quite the logjam on their blue line.
As I stated in the June 18 story mentioned earlier, Martinez is likely to be the odd man out. Indeed, with the emergence of Muzzin, after Ellerby was re-signed, and with the acquisition of Schultz, look for Martinez to be traded in the coming weeks.
In other news…
Looking off into the future, the Kings will have their young prospects in town next week for the annual Development Camp.
For a report on that, including the official camp roster, click on Kitsyn, Toffoli To Participate In LA Kings 2013 Development Camp.
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