Several noteworthy young players including Nathan McKinnon and Mark Scheifele have recently signed big extensions. Many NHL teams are seeing the wisdom in investing long-term in young, standout talent before they reach their prime. The Los Angeles Kings may have missed that opportunity with Tyler Toffoli.
Toffoli was a force of nature for the Manchester Monarchs before being called up to the NHL in 2013-14. In 77 games with the Monarchs, he scored 44 goals and was nearly a point-per-game player.
He turned a lot of heads in the 2014-15, his first full season in the NHL. He scored 23 goals in 76 games as a 23 year old. He put 200 shots on goal and had absolutely stellar possession numbers.
The Kings were put in a tough spot when Toffoli became a restricted free agent in the 2015 offseason. There was no denying his talent or potential, but lack of cap space was a major obstacle. Kings’ general manager Dean Lombardi had very few cards to play.
Even if Lombardi wanted to sign him to a long-term deal last summer, it simply wasn’t possible.
In June of 2015, Lombardi signed Toffoli to a two-year “bridge deal” with an average annual value (or AAV) and cap hit of $3.25 million. The deal kept him from being exposed to offer sheets from other teams. It will also end up putting the Kings in an even tougher spot next offseason.
Toffoli’s next contract will have a cap hit that starts at minimum $6 million. He scored 31 goals, including 20 at even strength, last season. Only 15 players scored more goals than he did last season. Of those 15, only Vladimir Tarasenko and Filip Forsberg are younger than Toffoli. Both of them were locked up with long-term deals.
But signing Toffoli for what he is worth after next season won’t be easy for Lombardi and the Kings as they still have a nightmarish salary cap situation.
Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown take up a combined $22,875,000 in cap space through at least the next three seasons. But that isn’t the only noteworthy issue with the Kings’ salary cap. Mike Richards’ terminated contract has left a wound on the cap that won’t fully heal for another 15 years.
The contracts given to Richards and former captain Brown were major missteps. Missteps that have come at a serious cost.
Milan Lucic cost the Kings a first round pick, Colin Miller, and Martin Jones last June. This offseason they had to watch Lucic leave in free agency. The team is now without a top-six winger and will likely depend even more on Toffoli to generate offense.
Ironically, the departure of Lucic will only make Toffoli’s value to the team even more evident. It won’t be something that he and his agent overlook during contract negotiations.
Will Lombardi be able to sign Toffoli to the deal that they couldn’t afford to give to Lucic this summer?
Rob Scuderi and Dwight King come off of the books after next season. Their expiring contracts will make a lengthy Toffoli extension possible. As difficult as it will be to lock up Toffoli, it is a deal that the Kings can’t afford to bungle.
The pipeline of young talent in Los Angeles has slowed. Versatile, possession-driving forwards entering their prime don’t come around every day. Toffoli is going to get paid big money and he will have earned every cent of his next extension. Just like Forsberg, Mackinnon, and Scheifele did.
Toffoli, like so many before him, will serve as an example of the risks of bridge deals. Poor contract decisions have painted the Kings into a corner. When it comes time to negotiate his next deal, Toffoli will hold almost all of the cards.