NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.
Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi faces a different set of challenges in the offseason than most of his peers. While other managers focus on improving their team through free agency, Lombardi is charged with keeping his lineup intact within the NHL salary cap.
His biggest move came 12 days after the Kings won their second Stanley Cup when he signed left wing Marian Gaborik to a seven-year contract worth $34.125 million, which guarantees the 32-year-old Gaborik can remain with the Kings through 2020-21. More important, his salary-cap charge is $4.875 million, according to CapGeek.com.
"His cap number is certainly reasonable for a player his caliber," Lombardi told NHL.com. "It's just a player you decide is going to fit in. You felt good that he was going to make the commitment to train the right way, as so many of these guys can do to extend their careers and perform at a high level. Look at Teemu Selanne's career at the same age. You look at what he accomplished from 32 on to the end; it's pretty remarkable. Marian is clearly one of those players that figured out it's not about the fame and money. It's about, 'I like this winning stuff.'"
Gaborik changed the offensive dynamic for the Kings, who were No. 26 in scoring in the regular season at 2.42 goals per game. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Kings averaged 3.38 goals per game, including 62 5-on-5 goals, almost half of the total 5-on-5 goals they scored in the regular season.
After being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Gaborik provided deceptive speed on the left side and developed chemistry with Anze Kopitar almost immediately. Gaborik's 14 playoff goals were one shy of Wayne Gretzky's franchise record, set in 1993. His acquisition also allowed the Kings to move Justin Williams and Mike Richards to the third and fourth lines, respectively.
The structuring of Gaborik's new contract also allowed the Kings to re-sign left wing Dwight King and defenseman Matt Greene. The latter received a four-year extension, a move that keeps Greene, an alternate captain who was scratched in 16 of the final 22 regular-season games but returned for a regular role in the playoffs, with the team longer than many expected.
"Nobody showed his desire to stay with this organization [more]," Lombardi said of Greene. "You've got to be around here every day to appreciate what he means to this team, and he proved how much he's committed to this team again.
"To get him and Gabby in; both players, knowing what the marketplace is, [are] sacrificing dollars to stay here. I know there's a lot of focus on Gabby. But Matt Greene – don't think when people watch us play they can't see he's hard to play against. That story's been untold."
The Kings are about $208,000 under the salary cap, and Lombardi said they didn't have room to retain veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell, who parlayed a strong postseason into a two-year contract with the Florida Panthers.
With few roster questions, the only thing new for the Kings is the remodeling of their practice facility, including a sky-lighted weight room, befitting of their championship organization. The biggest challenge for the Kings remains sustaining success. Lombardi continues to pick the brains of his peers in other sports, and one piece of advice stands out.
"Your team is going to want to recapture the feeling," Lombardi said. "What they're going to have to figure out is they're going to have to rewrite the story. Because you're going to rewrite the story doesn't mean you want a different end. It's just that you're going to have to learn that there's different challenges to get there, and if you're going to try and tap the same feeling, it ain't going to happen."
The Kings could not have written their championship story much differently last season, when they won three straight Game 7s on the road. Lombardi believes that the second Cup is more difficult to win than the first, and last season revealed so much more about the group.
"There was a different air about them this time," Lombardi said. "It's not cocky, but there's a different feeling of confidence. They still have some work to do, but I think they grew immeasurably as a group again from this one. I think the challenge that they met this time around far surpassed the first."