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
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
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
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
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
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.