Lost in the shuffle of the Los Angeles Kings’ recent signings of 2021 draft picks Brandt Clarke and Samuel Helenius and the extension of prospect defenseman Jacob Moverare is that the team has painted themselves into a corner with the league’s contract limit. An oft-overlooked rule in the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement is that no club can have more than 50 players signed to standard player contracts at one time for the current league year. Upon signing Moverare on Friday afternoon, the Kings hit that 50-contract mark. This may force the team to make a move before heading into the season without any flexibility.
There is an exception to the rule, but it will only be of minimal use at best to the Kings in mitigating their contract crunch. Similar to the entry-level slide rule, players aged 18 or 19 and signed to an ELC do not count against the 50-contract limit if assigned to their junior team, so long as they have not played in 11 NHL games that season. L.A. has four players who fit that age range: Quinton Byfield, Helge Grans, and the recently-signed Helenius and Clarke. However, the 2020 No. 2 overall pick Byfield is not going back to junior and Europeans Grans and Helenius were never selected in the CHL Import Draft and will not be playing junior in North America. That leaves only Clarke as a potential candidate to return to junior and save a roster spot. He technically does not count against the roster limit until playing in the requisite games, so L.A. is really at 49 contracts despite having 50 players signed; and it should stay that way. Though a talented top-ten pick, it is highly likely that Clarke will return to to the OHL’s Barrie Colts this season. In the event that he astounds in training camp and cracks the roster though, the Kings would be back at the 50-contract limit.
Even at 49 contracts, the Kings could still be looking to add some flexibility. L.A. has vowed to improve their roster this season, but could be handicapping themselves in trade talks and may even prevent themselves from taking full advantage of waivers with their limited roster flexibility. While the Kings too could lose players in early-season waivers, which would open up contract slots, that is not something they can depend on. Even if the club is content with their current roster and does not want to add any players early on, having no contract flexibility could hurt them down the road at the trade deadline or during the late-season college and junior free agency rushes. Look for L.A. to make a move at some point in time to add some flexibility, regardless of the end result with young Clarke.
The Tampa Bay Lighting (48 contracts with two potential exemptions) and the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights (47 contracts with one potential exemption) could be other teams looking to add some flexibility, not to mention some salary cap space.