No one can say that Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi isn't sticking with his long-term vision -- even if it means more of the same in the short term for the team.
Despite having loads of money to spend under the NHL's $56.7-million salary cap as a result of two cost-cutting trades, Lombardi said he isn't going to repeat last year's attempt to buy a winner through free agency as the annual shopping spree opens today.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, July 03, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Hockey: In Tuesday's Sports section, an article on how the Kings wouldn't be shopping for a big name in free agency said the team let winger Kyle Calder go after the season because his contract was up. Calder, in fact, is under contract for the 2008-09 season for $2.8 million.
Call it a lesson learned. It was a year ago when he struck out on the first-tier free agents and wound up with Brad Stuart, Ladislav Nagy, Michal Handzus, Kyle Calder and Tom Preissing. The Kings still wound up as the worst team in the Western Conference.
No Plan B this time. It's now Plan R -- as in rebuild.
"This plan has never deviated," Lombardi said Monday. "We've never traded a draft pick. We've never traded a young player since I've been here. We're going to continue on that path."
Players such as Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, Mats Sundin and Wade Redden are expected to be on the market and available to the highest bidders today but don't expect the Kings or Ducks to have a major part in the buying.
Both teams are putting their focus on retaining players. The Ducks are intent on re-signing Corey Perry, their leading goal scorer last season, and talks between David McNab, the club's assistant general manager, and Perry's representatives, Mark Guy and Pat Morris, are going well.
Perry is expected to command at least $4.5 million in a multiyear deal. "Nabber has been working toward a deal," General Manager Brian Burke said.
The Ducks still want to shed more payroll and are expected to shop defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who is to make $5.75 million next season. If they do dip into the free-agent pool, they'll target a second-line center at a reasonable price.
Vancouver's Brendan Morrison could fit that bill but could still be out of the Ducks' range. The Ducks also are still awaiting word from Teemu Selanne on whether he'll return for a 16th NHL season.
Meanwhile, the Kings are letting players such as Nagy and Calder walk, but want to keep defenseman Rob Blake, albeit at less than the $6 million he made last season.
Lombardi effectively put the ball in Blake's court when he said during a conference call with reporters that he wants the 38-year-old to go along with the rebuilding plan.
"I think it's great if he does want to come back, but I don't think it's fair unless we're exactly on the same page," Lombardi said. "The incredible influence that he can have on young players . . . it's critical that he understand the role. . . . "I don't speak for him, but I think there's a chance that we're going to be a match."
If Blake stays, he will mentor not only second-year defenseman Jack Johnson but prospects Peter Harrold and Alec Martinez, who'll compete for jobs on the blue line. Lombardi said first-round picks Thomas Hickey, Drew Doughty and Colten Teubert also will be given a long look.
Sunday night's trade of veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky to Edmonton in exchange for center Jarret Stoll and defenseman Matt Greene was the latest evidence of the Kings' youth movement.
After spending his first seven NHL seasons here, Visnovsky, 31, was disappointed with how the trade was handled.
"Nobody called from L.A. organization," he told Canada-based TSN. "My agent told me, 'Lubo, there was a trade.' [Edmonton GM] Kevin Lowe called me too. Nobody from L.A. A big surprise for me."
Stoll, 26, and Greene, 25, are not only younger but figure to save the Kings at least $3 million. Visnovsky, who slumped to eight goals and 41 points last season, is entering a five-year, $28-million extension he signed last season.
Greene will make $1.25 million next season. The Kings need to sign Stoll, a restricted free agent, but the center has had recent concussion issues and only 14 goals and 22 assists last season.
But with Visnovsky and Michael Cammalleri gone, there is money to spend, plus about $9 million in salary cap space. A large part of that, Lombardi said, will go toward long-term contract extensions for Johnson and center Anze Kopitar.