Howard Roark is a guest writer at S&S and has made many contributions to our site in the past. Today, he brings you an issue we prodded on August 18 about next summer and, specifically, the future of Jarret Stoll. Enjoy.
While Kings’ fans anxiously await perhaps the most anticipated season in the franchise’s history, it is not too early to look ahead at what may happen next offseason. Obviously, the on ice performance of the team and players will have a huge impact on upcoming decisions, but players, at the end of the day, are human beings after all and how they are treated today can greatly impact their performance tomorrow.
This leads us to one of the key decisions that needs to be made soon, specifically the future of center, Jarret Stoll. Stoll has had a respectable career in Los Angeles, averaging 18 goals and 44 points over his three seasons here. Defensively responsible, well above average in the face off circle and above average speed are assets that make Stoll a valuable contributor to the Kings. An added bonus has been his durability which was questioned when he first arrived here given his history of concussions. Stoll played all 82 games last season and averaged 77 games per season during his tenure in purple.
The issue for Dean Lombardi as he looks at his future roster is whether Stoll is overpaid for his contribution. With a $3.6 million cap hit, he is the fifth highest paid forward on the team. When one takes into account that the Jarret Stoll many of us have come to respect over the past three seasons is all he likely is ever going be, a pay cut would seem appropriate. Moreover, it is certain that Stoll, though still playing a critical role as our shut down center and primary face off specialist, is going to see his responsibilities narrowed given the acquisition of Mike Richards. This will almost certainly be true both on the power play where it is hard to envision Stoll on the first unit and on the penalty kill where Richards has established himself as elite and Trevor Lewis has started showing the occasional flashes of brilliance.
So where does that leave Jarret? This season, he is probably slotted into a role perfectly suited to his abilities. Unfortunately, he will finish his current contract on the wrong side of 30. Working in his favor is that there is no obvious replacement in the pipeline. The Kings’ best center forward prospect, Andrei Loktionov, is better suited to a top six role and lacks the grit and defensive instincts that Stoll has. Trevor Lewis is a possibility, but he will need to take another big step in his development before he can be thrust into this critical role. No other prospects have, as of yet, proven they are anywhere near ready to play solid third line center minutes in the NHL. The good news is S&S have heard Stoll wants to remain in Los Angeles. Who can blame him when many Hollywood starlets have shown a distinct preference for hockey players, and Jarret has shown a willingness to, let’s just say, oblige them.
So it seems that there could be the basis for a deal here. What deal?
Jarret Stoll likely wants the security of years since this will be his last big contract. Four years may make sense for both sides given Stoll will be 33 in the final year of such a deal. Finding exact comparables in terms of salary is always difficult given different salary structures and the varying ages of players. The high-end for third line centers is Dave Bolland (Jordan Stall is a second line center playing on the third line) at $3.375 mm, but he has a ring and is only 25 with potential upside still remaining. Michal Handzus, whom Stoll is replacing, is at $2.5 mm and is older and slower. Beyond that, there are not many third line centers in the NHL making more than $2 mm and some, on the low-budget teams, earning considerably less. A deal paying Stoll $3 mm, $3 mm, $2.5 mm and $2.5 mm for a cap hit of $2.75 mm could work well for both sides. Stoll gets some security while the Kings lower his cap hit by almost $1 mm a year. Not bad for a potentially great third liner who can step up and play top six minutes in a pinch.
The alternative is to do nothing now and watch to see how Trevor Lewis develops. If he takes the requisite step forward, Stoll might be expendable although I can’t see the Kings, if they are in contention, dealing him anywhere during the season. If Lewis fails to step up, the Kings can always negotiate during the season. The risk here is that Stoll has a big year and/or plays a key role on a team contending for the Cup. At that point, with UFA status and a potentially big pay-day, the price may go up. My guess this is the strategy Dean Lombardi employs much like with Justin Williams last season. Since he is playing for a contract, we should see the best of Jarret while we watch Trevor Lewis’ progress. Competition, in capitalism and hockey, is a good thing. GO KINGS!