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Helene Elliott

Here's a tip of the cap to Ducks-Kings deal

September 13, 2008|Helene Elliott

The Ducks, still paying for their 2007 Stanley Cup championship and expecting to contend again this season, are about $3 million over the NHL salary cap limit of $56.7 million.

The Kings, hoping a core of dynamic forwards and a passel of talented but raw defensemen will lead them out of the wilderness of five straight non-playoff seasons, are about $3 million below the cap floor of $40.7 million.

With Scott Niedermayer committed to play the whole season the Ducks have a surplus defenseman.

With second overall draft pick Drew Doughty and 2007 first-rounder Thomas Hickey getting a shot to join 21-year-old Jack Johnson at the heart of a rugged defense, the Kings need the influence of a veteran and a left-handed shot from the point.

The Ducks happen to have someone who fits that bill: Mathieu Schneider, who will earn $5.75 million this season.

Trading Schneider would get the Ducks under the cap and allow them to re-sign unrestricted free-agent winger Teemu Selanne, whose scoring pop was missed during his post-Cup sabbatical.

Acquiring Schneider would get the Kings above the minimum and add experience to a young defense that's bound to make lots of mistakes while learning on the job.

It makes sense for both sides, though the Kings would be overpaying the 39-year-old Schneider for what he can do at this stage of his career.

Deal or no deal?

Ducks General Manager Brian Burke said Friday from his Anaheim office that he and his King counterpart, Dean Lombardi, have discussed a trade "but nothing lines up yet."

Lombardi, reached at the Kings' training base in El Segundo, wouldn't confirm he had talked to the Ducks. Speaking generally, he said he's still looking for an experienced defenseman and has been getting a lot of phone calls from fellow GMs.

"I'm a fairly popular guy because I have all this space and a lot of teams are pushing the cap," he said.

"I've always said there are three levels of deals -- kick the tires, matching needs and the finer strokes. We have a number of things at level B but we're still not quite there. Something can always come up during camp. We're OK right now."

Burke is eager to resolve his cap squeeze soon, for several reasons. Primarily, he has to: The NHL has a hard cap and teams must be within the limits before the first games are played in North America this season.

He also wants to solidify his roster because he can't afford more of the uncertainty that undermined the Ducks last season while Niedermayer and Selanne mulled retirement.

He intends to free the cap space before signing Selanne rather than sign the Finnish winger and then face moving an enormous amount of salary, and that makes sense.

Cap calculations are tricky this season because bonuses for certain players that haven't counted against the cap will be included. The players' union has an option to reopen the collective bargaining agreement after the season and because there's no guarantee of a 2009-10 season in which those bonuses would carry over, they'll count this season.

"Hopefully we can do something in the next week or so and then address Teemu," said Burke, whose team began its rookie camp Friday and will welcome back veterans next Friday.

Lombardi, still negotiating a deal to keep restricted free-agent forward Patrick O'Sullivan long term, can wait to see how his defense evolves. The rookies will play at El Segundo today, Sunday and Monday before traveling for a tournament in Phoenix. Veterans will begin skating Friday at the Toyota Sports Center.

"At least now I see a focus on draft picks. At least there's viable options," Lombardi said. "They're not bridges. You see hope."

So many possibilities. And so much hope for both the Kings and the Ducks.

"This is the best time of year to be a general manager," Burke said. "Starting camp is always exciting. Nobody has lost a game and everyone has potential."

Starting it with a trade between the Kings and the Ducks would make it intriguing.

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Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.

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ON LATIMES.COM

Kings: Among all the youngsters, defenseman Drew Doughty has the best shot.

Ducks: Rookies learn a little about the big leagues on the first day of camp.

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