Fellow puck fanatics, I am Andrew Elkins. I am an English Major at the University of Wisconsin, a hockey player, an impassioned supporter of our 2012 Stanley Cup Champions and a new blogger for Surly&Scribe. Thanks for the welcome. It’s a pleasure to be here. Forgive me if I gloss over the pleasantries, but I thought I’d jump right in. Now that we have squandered several hours of our lives observing the annual NHL Awards, and that we are a day away from a draft in which the Kings have only one(at most, barring trades) pick before the fourth round, I figured that I’d draw your attention to the impending free agency period. This is only the beginning, as I hope to engage, inspire, and occasionally enrage you during my tenure here. Let’s drop the puck.

“When we were doing this, we said that one of the benefits of maybe going slow, so to speak, was just that, that we wanted to be in a position not only to win but to keep it together.” This is Dean Lombardi on building a championship caliber team. The aim was, essentially, not to be, in the worst case scenario, Edmonton of 2006 or, in a less severe case, Chicago of 2010. Before signing free agents, our Kings have just over 16 million left in cap space, a succulent slab of which Lombardi, our ingenious architect, will attempt to dedicate to Jonathan Quick. It is too big a risk to assume that our MVP, Quick of Connecticut, will take a home town discount to stay with our 2012 Stanley Cup Champions, and so that must be taken into account if, as Dean Lombardi stated, he intends to keep this championship team together. With the defense set until at least the end of next season when Rob Scuderi becomes an unrestricted free agent, the focus of free agency in Los Angeles is on the forwards, and in particular the slots of second line left wing and third line center.

Dustin Penner spent the entirety of his regular season time with the Kings putting up numbers that only Kevin Westgarth would envy. In the playoffs, he  managed to develop some chemistry with Richards and Carter, putting up what would amount to a 45 point regular season if maintained. This loveable lumberjack would happily return to the Kings, saying that he would even take a pay cut from his $4.5 million cap hit in order to remain with the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions (Say it again). That’s good, because no team in their right mind is paying Dustin Penner $100,000 per point. With sweet, responsible, LA loving Simon Gagne back in the fold and fully recovered, in good shape, ready for some action, Penner must make good on this pay cut in order to remain with the team. Considering that Dustin Brown (Who wears the C, consistently puts up 20-30 goals, 55-60 points, is within the top 3 in the league in hits per season every season, and has drawn the most penalties in the league since the lockout) makes $3.175 million per season, Penner shouldn’t expect more than $2.75 million per season, or 3 if Lombardi is feeling generous.

Dustin Penner is a moot point if the Kings can pry Parise from New Jersey (Is there a better pitch than “Don’t you wish you were lifting that shiny cup over your head instead of watching?”?). Boy, a Parise-Richards-Carter line has me salivating. Seriously. And as a second line? Talk about a party. What this does is leave enough money for Quick with little left for other signings, forcing  Lombardi to part ways with both Penner and Stoll, who is also an unrestricted free agent. With Parise in the lineup, and if Lomardi chooses to resign Fraser, which would be a good idea, as he is a key component of the fourth line and could likely be resigned for cheap, the lineup would look something like this:

Brown – Kopitar – Williams

Parise – Richards – Carter

Gagne- Loktionov – Lewis (Or potentially Gagne – Lewis – Toffoli, which looks like a pretty sexy third line to me)

There would be a kind of logjam on the fourth line, as King and Clifford are left wingers who slot in lower than Gagne, Fraser and Richardson are both centers, though Fraser wins that battle every time in my mind, and Nolan pushes Westgarth and Richardson both out of the right wing slot. I think that a line with both King and Nolan is too heavy though and, strangely enough, I would keep Nolan in while sending King down to Manchester, as Clifford slots in better to the left wing slot than Westgarth or Richardson do to the right wing. In this case, the fourth line would look like this:

Clifford – Fraser – Nolan

This is as titillating a lineup as I’ve seen, though it relies on Lombardi being able to sign Parise. In the case that he can’t, (And it may just be the Kings fan in me, but I tend to expect Lombardi to go in full pursuit of the best free agent on the market and lose out. It doesn’t help that the Devils are involved) the Kings should resign Penner if he will sign for $2.75-3 million, even if only for a couple of years. If not, Gagne moves up to the second line and King gets third line duty.

Stoll is stuck in a sort of limbo. He is not good enough to be a second line center, but is better than a third line center. With the limited ice time that the role of third line center offers, Stoll won’t put up many points. Additionally, he is not much of a playmaker, and, if Penner signs, Gagne’s talents might be wasted on his line. Stoll, on this Kings team, acted as a prime face-off winner and penalty killer. These are not roles to be belittled, but the Kings are also stacked at center, both the first and second lines are magnificent defensively, and the Kings have a rare opportunity to create three scoring lines. I would drop Stoll and sign Kyle Wellwood. He proved this year that he is more skilled than your average bottom six forward, putting up 47 points. Like Stoll, he is in a kind of limbo, where he is more talented than a third line center, but not good enough to be a second line center. Unlike Stoll, he is a playmaker and would likely sign for cheap. Like really cheap. Like $1.5 mil/season. This would leave plenty of cap space to sign Quick, to make Bernier a piece of a trade for a player with a reasonably large cap hit, and to maneuver in any one of the many unpredictable, nimble, supple ways that Lombardi likes to.

Brown – Kopitar – Williams

Penner – Richards – Carter

Gagne – Wellwood – Lewis

Clifford – Fraser – Nolan

Damn, that’s beautiful.

Oh, and Scott Parse is gone. Bye bye. The majority of the team stays the same. The parts that don’t, get better. Sounds good to me.