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January 30, 2013 | 12:37pm ET

Last Piece of the Puzzle
 The defining moments in Los Angeles Kings President/GM Dean Lombardi's legacy are at hand.

LOS ANGELES -- I had a lot of time on my hands during the lockout, so I started a hockey related project to keep my wits sharp.

There's an empty bedroom in the rear of our home, the decision was made to construct a play room with hockey memorabilia to allow the kids in my very large family playtime during the frequent parties we host. We needed a central piece for the room and I came up the notion of building a Zamboni bed; I knew that former Avs player Adam Foote had one built at a cost of $13,000, but needless to say, that wasn't in the budget.

It was nice to get affirmation that social media provides more than Twitter trolls and catfishing when our Facebook query for a craftsman woodworker led us to one Gary Evans, who had a woodworking shop in Burbank, California.

If you're one of those who believe there are no coincidences in life, here's some more proof.

I knew I had heard of Mr. Evans before and when we met him at his shop, I recognized him immediately as an off-ice official for the Kings games at Staples Center, specifically the official scorer. Seventeen million cats in Southern California and the craftsman building our Zamboni bed is an NHL official scorer? I played Mega Millions that night (didn't win).

So while Gary was busily putting hammer to nail over the past few months to get the job done, another master craftsman was doing likewise 10 miles south of the Zamboni project.

Dean Lombardi made all the right moves last season for the Los Angeles Kings. He dug his heels early on the Drew Doughty contract negotiation, swapped Terry Murray for Darryl Sutter at the midpoint, and ended with an all-in move by acquiring Jeff Carter. The team responded with a magical run, the convergence all championship teams require to claim a crown and with it came a reported contract extension for him and Sutter through 2017. In combination with the ring and the new deal came accolades like this:

- "Kings Look Good to Repeat"
- "LA Brings Back Entire Roster to Defend Crown"
- "Dean Lombardi, Super Genius"

Okay, I made that last one up, but truth be told, no team has brought back an entire roster (no, Scott Parse doesn't count) to defend a title in the salary cap era. One only look back to the travails of the Chicago Blackhawks to see that when people use the phrase "miraculous" to classify the roster work Deano has done, it's not an exaggeration. The timing of how the contracts layup and the fair market value of the deals his stars have positioned his pieces on the chessboard as good as any of his contending rivals.

During the Kings opening season press conference, he affirmed the solid position he holds when addressing the usage of compliance buyouts by saying, "I don't really have any bad contracts."

Somewhere, in suburban Philadelphia, Paul Holmgren is insanely jealous.

Throughout his career as a General Manager, the only rap on Lombardi is that he wasn't a championship manager. He could build an organization, did it in San Jose and here, but when it came to figuring out what it took to put a team over the top, he couldn't find the final piece of the puzzle.

It wasn't for lack of trying; intensity will never be a question with this man nor is it intelligence. When he allows himself to be available, there's not a more interesting person to talk to in sports. His knowledge of the game is on par with any and his intellectual curiosity extends to other professional sports. When he speaks with you, he prods you to see how much knowledge you have on the subject and is always thinking two queries ahead. He has no problem refusing to answer specific questions but will also disclose great insight confidentially with the recorder off.

When I heard the reports of Dean willing to go forward for four more years with the franchise, it was no surprise. He's a lifer, I can't imagine Dean Lombardi sitting on a boat off Florida fishing and making an occasional appearance on network television. I'm thinking he'd live out his final days in some rink in Halifax looking at a prospect. With the questions answered about his ability to win a title put to rest, Lombardi's motivation now is singular as he put pen to paper last week, he looks to build a hockey legacy on the corner of 11th and Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles.

Lombardi's vision of his depth chart is 20/15; he's moved assets to acquire players he felt would bring a championship and guessed right. Not known as a huge risk taker, the bold move to bring Carter when the team was dying for scoring was at the cost of Jack Johnson, who was the first big move in his era. In the moment, it was the biggest gamble he's taken in his professional career given the length of Carter's contract and questions revolving his work ethic and character. He sacrificed young talent in Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn for Mike Richards, as driven on the ice as Lombardi is in the executive suite. He got the last laugh on the Dustin Penner deal when the big man joined the band and delivered a sterling playoff performance. It's the usual chain of events that occur when an organization wins a Stanley Cup in the era of parity and salary cap, your GM's educated guesses were right every time.

There are few who progress from GM from championship caliber GM and the list dwindles to single digits of those whom have built a legacy. Tenure doesn't guarantee legacy as evidenced by Glen Sather's run on Broadway, Rangers fans hope that the move of acquiring Rick Nash is the seminal one that makes Slats a multiple Cup winner at the World's Most Famous Arena. Brian Burke thought he could replicate the magic he produced near Disney in Toronto, but without guys named Niedermayer, Pronger and Selanne, it never happened.

While you'd think this season is crucial in establishing that legacy, my feeling is that the entire Los Angeles organization gets a mulligan in the shortened season. The fans should not worry about the crown's defense, but revel in the end of a 45-year draught. The dude in Section 301 shouldn't worry about Willie Mitchell's return date, he should enjoy chirping Canucks, Sharks and Flyers fans until June.

The cold winds of reality blew through the team's practice facility in El Segundo last Monday as the news of Matt Greene's herniated disc in his back will have him missing months not weeks of the truncated season. While he's not one of the high profile players on the Kings, he's a heart-and-soul player that was essential in the championship run. Even with Anze Kopitar returning the lineup, Greene and Mitchell's absence just two games into the season is testament to why teams haven't repeated in fifteen years. We feel that Los Angeles must resist the temptation to over pay for a top four defenseman to plug the large void that the hulking Greene absence creates. The timing couldn't be worse for a buyer, the few teams that might be willing to release an asset Lombardi needs will come at the cost of multiple high value assets.

The future of this team starts the minute after the final game of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. Where this team goes for the balance of the decade has little to do with how many points Dustin Brown gets in his contract year or how Jonathan Quick back responds but how the team selects the next wave of the Royal Army.

Lombardi's track record on trades is strong, when he had only one trade partner for Ryan Smyth, he ultimately turned into useful grinder Colin Fraser. Back in the day, Justin Williams was wrangled for talented but troubled Patrick O'Sullivan and the Kings don't win the Cup if he didn't ship Lubomir Visnovsky to Edmonton for Jarret Stoll and Greene.

Although they have a high win percentage in the trade market, the Kings organization's track record in the draft at the top end leaves something to be desired. Other than Drew Doughty, the core of this team was drafted by either predecessor Dave Taylor or another organization. A less than subtle reminder came this week when the Kings waived former 4th overall pick in 2007, Thomas Hickey and was subsequently claimed by the Islanders. At the time, Hickey was a reach, projected in the mid-first rounder at best and while Every organizations has whiffs to see names like Logan Couture, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh further down the list bring forward thoughts of what might have been. In fairness, four draftees of the same draft hit an NHL roster (Simmonds, still Kings property Oscar Moller, Dwight King and Alec Martinez). In more recent history, the 2010 1st round pick Derek Forbort is still a project and the 2011 draft could be a total washout.

Lou Lamoriello is a legend because it was his crew that got Zach Parise at the 17th pick of the 2003 draft while Doug Wilson has yet to put together the winning combination from the structure that Lombardi set up in North California. The stability of the depth chart should give the Kings organization the confidence from going away from the solid, citizen two way talents to the higher risk, higher reward skill player. This challenge is welcomed as we recall the good old days in 2007 when he was reduced to signing seven free agents as "bridge" players. With that bridge built with the raw materials of players like Ladislav Nagy and Scott Thornton, so it wasn't one that was safe as any speed.

In order for Lombardi to build a legacy in Los Angeles, he must insure that one of the cornerstones of any franchise, drafting and development, must be on par with the elite managers in the NHL. While the organization has been strong in identifying two way depth players under Lombardi's stewardship, they need to start finding higher end talent among the teenagers to keep them in contender status annually. It doesn't matter who picked Anze Kopitar, it does matter who will eventually replace Justin Williams. Lombardi's received the necessary supporting from ownership in words, deeds and most importantly, the wallet that can make this team in it to win it every season. Along with the commitment come higher expectations as Team Governor Tim Leiweke conveyed to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times this week.

"The challenge for all of us is how do we stay on top for a long period of time within a new cap world and not having the second pick in the draft anymore? And that will be Dean's challenge going forward in these next few years."

In a revealing interview on FAN590 Toronto last week, Lombardi affirmed that despite all the support and infrastructure and support he supplies his charges, future success will rely solely on execution in unchartered waters for him and the franchise.

"Nobody knows what the script is for sure," he said. "I talked to a number of people about this over the summer and there are divergent opinions about this. In the end, it's going to come down to your players, it's another face of mental toughness no matter what the coach and general manager preaches. It's going to come down to the players having the right frame of mind on how to deal with success. It's a very different challenge to deal with success. You see it right away with the injuries we've been hit with. You look at a guy like Tom Brady, it comes down to great players stepping up and doing what it takes to win. Fortunately, because this team is young, they can learn and prosper from this down the road."

The luxury of having the Los Angeles core locked up is huge, but the ability to identify and develop superior talent and specifically top six forwards (other than Tyler Toffoli, there's arguably no high end forwards in their hockey gene pool) will determine if the legacy Dean Lombardi constructs is similar to Ken Holland rather than Jay Feaster.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.




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