LOS ANGELES — No matter what Dean Lombardi does over the next couple of days in terms of draft selections and trades, those actions—or inactions—will be the defining moments of his tenure to date as the President/General Manager of the Los Angeles Kings.
Indeed, with Lombardi apparently intending to take giant steps towards a youth movement in the 2008-09 season as part of the first (actual) rebuilding effort in franchise history—something he has been building towards since he took over the reins from Dave Taylor, nothing else has been more important since he joined the Kings back in April, 2006.
To be sure, what Lombardi does over the next two days will, in all likelihood, determine if the Kings can turn things around and become a Stanley Cup contender in the foreseeable future, or if they will continue their long history of doing little more than circling the drain.
If you have been following the hype leading up to the 2008 National Hockey League Entry Draft, which starts at 4:00 PM PDT on Friday (televised on Versus in the United States), the pundits have the Kings doing everything from selecting defensemen Zach Bogosian or Drew Doughty with the second overall pick, trading down, packaging a veteran player or two to acquire an additional first round pick…the list goes on.
I will leave most of the prognosticating and predicting to others…there is way too much of that going around anyway. But conventional wisdom, along with a few rumblings heard along the way, point to Lombardi keeping the number two pick and selecting either Bogosian or Doughty—either one would be a gem on a team that has big holes on their blue line, both with the Kings and throughout their minor league system, in terms of legitimate number one or number two defensemen.
There is also a better-than-average chance that forward Michael Cammalleri will be traded, possibly in a package deal involving another Kings veteran, in exchange for an NHL-ready defenseman or so the Kings can acquire another top-10 or top-15 pick in the first round, perhaps going after highly-rated center prospect Nikita Filatov.
And with the Kings having fifteen picks in this draft, the potential for additional deals is tremendous, and other teams are clearly interested in acquiring some of those draft picks. You can bet Lombardi will be wheeling and dealing after the number two pick, no question.
Whatever the case might be, when the dust settles, especially after the first round on Friday, but also after rounds 2-7 on Saturday, one thing is crystal-clear.
Dean Lombardi must not screw up this weekend.
Whether or not Lombardi screwed up in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by selecting defenseman Thomas Hickey with the fourth overall pick, quite frankly, remains to be seen. However, the pick is more suspect now than it was on Draft Day last June because Hickey did not have the eye-opening season one might expect such a high draft pick to have. In fact, Hickey’s numbers declined slightly from his 2006-07 statistics.
Indeed, after the selection of Hickey was announced, you could hear a loud gasp, both at the Kings’ draft party in Hollywood and throughout the network of web sites, blogs and chat forums dedicated to the team.
Once the shock and disbelief dissipated, the stunned silence quickly turned into anger, as many fans viewed Hickey as a smallish defenseman who was not the best player available at the number four position in the 2007 draft. As a result, the angry comments began to fly in Lombardi’s direction—the invective hurled reflected the many years of deep-seated anger and frustration that a massive multitude of Kings fans still feel—many fans are still up in arms about the selection of Hickey to this day.
Again, the jury is still out on whether these enraged fans are correct or not. However, it is quite clear that the fans are watching Lombardi very, very closely and have raised the stakes for this draft even higher.
Nevertheless, while fan reaction is important in terms of whether or not they will support the team, Lombardi must stick to his plan of building the Kings into a contender from the ground up, regardless of fan outcry. But the question is, will he make the right choices towards that goal?
The troubling factor here is that Lombardi has a reputation for being a maverick at the draft table, known for going off the board and making unorthodox moves that often leave people scratching their heads—last year’s move to select Hickey was certainly one of those decisions.
This year, it would seem that sticking to conventional wisdom in terms of the second overall pick would be wise, unless Lombardi is presented with an offer that no one in their right mind would refuse. Indeed, Bogosian and Doughty appear to be “can’t miss” prospects who would also fill the biggest holes in the Kings’ lineup.
After that, if Lombardi can swing a deal to pick up a better-than-average NHL-ready defenseman or another high-to-mid-round pick in the first round without giving up too much, that would be icing on the cake.
Kings fans might even nominate Lombardi for sainthood if he could pull that off.
But if he gives up too much in such a deal, or if he makes a poor decision with the second overall pick—and those are just two potential pitfalls, Lombardi’s three-year rebuilding plan will surely extend to five or six years…or beyond, sending the Kings deeper into the abyss, otherwise known as irrelevance.
Aside from their Stanley Cup run in the 1992-93 season and a couple of huge playoff upsets of the Edmonton Oilers in 1982 and the Detroit Red Wings in 2000, the Kings have given their fans more than their share of frustration and grief—they deserve far, far better and should not have to continue to be told to be patient for several more years.
As such, what Lombardi does or fails to do in terms of draft picks and trades over the next 48 hours or so will unquestionably be the defining moments of his tenure with the Kings, not to mention that of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
In short, and as stated earlier, Lombardi must not screw this one up. There is way, way too much riding on his success (or failure) at the draft table this time around.
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