Lombardi’s Rebuilding Plan Making Unexpected Progress

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – PART 3: Frozen Royalty is back with Part 3 from an exclusive interview with Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi. In this, the third and final installment, Lombardi discusses the Kings’ player development and evaluation infrastructure and the progress made in his rebuilding plan. And in case you missed parts one and two, you can read them here. Part 1: Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi Excited About Defense and Part 2: Lombardi Talks About Goaltending, Top Defenseman Prospects.

LOS ANGELES — For long-time fans of the Los Angeles Kings, the wait has been interminable.

Aside from one run to the Stanley Cup Finals led by Wayne Gretzky in 1992-93, the Kings have been a big disappointment, qualifying for the playoffs just twenty-two times in their forty-plus seasons in the National Hockey League but advancing past the second round just once.

To be sure, that is a rather dismal record filled with mediocrity.

A big reason for that long history of mostly lousy hockey has been their propensity for trading away first round draft picks for way-over-the-hill NHL stars who gave the Kings next to nothing. Meanwhile, the traded away draft picks were used to select future NHL stars such as defenseman Raymond Bourque, to name just one out of way too many who went on to lead their teams to great success, including a number of Stanley Cup championships.

To make matters worse, even when the Kings held onto their draft picks they either selected poorly or they were often unable to develop those prospects into solid NHL players. To illustrate, a quick review of their draft history from 1967-2003 (later draft years are likely too recent to be evaluated yet) reveals a relatively miniscule handful of players drafted and developed by the Kings:

Butch Goring (center; fifth round, 51st overall, 1969 NHL Entry Draft)
Don Kozak (right wing; second round, 20th overall, 1972)
Mario Lessard (goalie; ninth round, 154th overall, 1974)
Dave Taylor (right wing; 15th round, 210th overall, 1975)
Jay Wells (defenseman; first round, 16th overall, 1979)
Mark Hardy (defenseman; second round, 30th overall, 1979)
Larry Murphy (defenseman; first round, fourth overall, 1980)
Jim Fox (right wing, first round, tenth overall, 1980)
Bernie Nicholls (center; fourth round, 73rd overall, 1980)
Garry Galley (defenseman; fifth round, 103rd overall, 1982)
Luc Robitaille (left wing; ninth round, 171st overall, 1984)
Jimmy Carson (center; first round, third overall, 1986)
Rob Blake (defenseman; fourth round, 70th overall, 1988)
Eric Belanger (center; fourth round, 96th overall, 1996)
Alexander Frolov (winger; first round, 20th overall, 2000)
Lubomir Visnovsky (defenseman; fourth round, 118th overall, 2000)
Michael Cammalleri (center; second round, 49th overall, 2001)
Dustin Brown (right wing; first round, 13th overall, 2003)

In case you’re counting, that is just eighteen players drafted by the Kings over thirty-six years who came up through their system to play for the big club and leave a mark, some bigger than others.

But wait…it gets worse, as the Kings have also traded away the likes of Billy Smith, Larry Murphy, Kevin Stevens, Alexei Zhitnik, Kimmo Timonen, Olli Jokinen, Cristobal Huet—homegrown players who the Kings gave up on sooner rather than later and then watched as they went on to become stars elsewhere—Smith and Murphy are honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame with their time in a Kings jersey as close to being totally irrelevant to their induction as you could get.

Talk about a dreadful, pathetic history of drafting, developing and evaluating young players. It is difficult to imagine another franchise having a record worse than that.

But that may be changing.

With serious question marks in goal and a considerable number of young players expected to be in the lineup going into the 2008-09 season, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi figured, like just about everyone else, that his team was not among the top sixteen teams in the league.

“If you look at it on an objective basis, usually the quality of your team—you look at your seven-man core,” Lombardi explained prior to his team’s contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 29. “You’re always looking at your competitors to see where you’ve got to go. One of the exercises you do is put up your core against the other thirty teams and say ‘OK boys…where do we rank?’ So try and take off your rose-colored glasses and evaluate your players objectively and see where you rank.”

“[Before the season began], our team was not in the top eight or sixteen teams,” Lombardi elaborated. “Does that mean you’re not going to [make the playoffs] or try [to make the playoffs]? No. But the one thing I liked about our core was that it was finally young, so at least it had upside. So maybe you’re ranked twentieth [and it should improve] as opposed to being twentieth and having a bunch of forty-year-olds.”

Despite having a young team, the Kings are still in the hunt for a playoff spot almost halfway through the season, even though virtually everyone (including this writer) predicted that the Kings would be near the bottom of the league pretty much throughout the season. Indeed, the Kings find themselves just three points behind eighth-place Minnesota going to action on January 6.

In stark contrast, last season, the Kings were way out of playoff contention by mid-December—they could have started scheduling their spring and summer tee times on the golf course before Christmas.

Sure, one could argue that the Kings are also just five points out of the Western Conference cellar. But that would be ignoring the stingy team defense that leads the league in shots allowed per game along with solid goaltending from Erik Ersberg and now rookie Jonathan Quick—the defense and goaltending has the Kings in the top ten in the NHL in goals allowed per game. Add to that some rather surprising contributions from some even younger players—these are major factors in the team’s obvious improvement.

“The goals against [has improved dramatically],” said Lombardi. “I think I like it when you hear, ‘Boy you guys play hard.’ We’re starting to get to where we’re not easy to play against and most nights, after thirty-five games in, other than probably three or four games, I’d say they’ve given the best they could.”

Playing their best most nights has made it easier for Lombardi to evaluate what he’s got.

“When you’re building and evaluating your holes, it’s really hard if your team isn’t playing the best they can,” he said. “If you’re playing at the top of your game, it’s easier for us to sit there and say, ‘There’s a hole, there’s a hole. We’ve got to address this.’ It’s frustrating for a general manager if you don’t think your team is playing as well or as hard as it can. You’re saying, ‘I’m not sure that’s a problem because he should be doing more.’”

Indeed, the young Kings appear to be trending upward and their atrocious record of drafting, developing and evaluating young prospects appears to finally be changing for the better as there is solid evidence of a scouting and player development program that is on the rise.

Already, young forwards Wayne Simmonds and Oscar Moller, along with standout rookie defenseman Drew Doughty—all made the team straight out of junior hockey—are making an impact with the Kings this season.

“The goaltending issue is still—coming into camp was a variable, and arguably still is, although it looks like Ersberg kind of stepped up,” said Lombardi. “But the biggest thing I was looking at was how the young kids progressed.”

“Whenever you’ve got young players, you’ve just got to take it day-to-day,” added Lombardi. “I’ve seen it work the other way. The New York Islanders threw all those kids in the lineup and said ‘we’re going to make the playoffs’ and they didn’t make it right away and they ended up trading them all.”

Despite the upward trend, Lombardi warned against raising expectations too high because there is still a long way to go.

“There’s so many things that have to go into building a team,” Lombardi cautioned. “If you try and go too far, you’re going to go crazy and do stupid things. That’s kind of my motto. You’ve got to get better every day and eventually, if you keep doing that, you’re going to get to the top. That might sound like bull, but that’s the only way I think you keep your sanity when you’re going on a total rebuilding program like we’re doing.”

Nevertheless, Lombardi is not completely surprised at the progress his team has made.

“I can go the other side and say ‘Well, does this totally surprise me,’” he said. “No. But to say did I expect it? Well, I said this before. A smart guy told me a long time ago that when you’re building a team like you’re trying to build it, you just have to try to get better every day, whether it’s making a scout better or making a young player train harder.”

Lombardi took a big risk by keeping young players such as Moller and Simmonds, and to a lesser degree, Doughty, up with the big club. If the Kings continued to lose games in bunches as they did last season, their development could have been jeopardized. But the gamble has paid off so far.

“If you go back early in your career, if you start in the summer putting kids in your lineup who’ve never played in the league, you’re setting yourself up for failure and setting the kid up for failure,” said Lombardi. “What we were trying to do is cover ourselves, make sure we had veterans there, but if the kid made the team there was a job there, they weren’t going to get boxed out.”

“They made the team and actually, they went ahead of [right wing prospect Teddy] Purcell, [center prospect Brian] Boyle and [left wing prospect Matt] Moulson, who had been in the minors who I expected, ‘OK…now’s your time. You’ve done what I wanted, you paid your dues. You’ve done everything we asked and now grab the job,’ and technically, they didn’t. [Moller and Simmonds] came in and beat’em out.”

Indeed, Boyle, Purcell and Moulson were prospects that Lombardi identified during training camp as having jobs to lose with the big club and each of them did just that, although both Boyle and Purcell have returned to the Kings as of this writing.

“We’ll see if these guys regroup—Boyle [was] playing really well [with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate] and sometimes these guys have to go through that,” Lombardi stressed. “They need to be sent back and we say, ‘OK, we’re serious, but you’ve got to do it. We’re not going to hand it to you.’ Same with Purcell. He got sent down and he’s been much better since he’s been back.”

“But those other two kids? They came in and grabbed the job,” Lombardi added. “I wish I could say, ‘Oh yeah. I saw this coming.’ But no. You just take it day-to-day.”

Lombardi cautioned against raising expectations too high for any of the Kings’ young prospects.

“The thing you have to be careful with when they’re at that stage too, the learning curve doesn’t go straight up,” he emphasized. “What’ll happen with these guys—they’re showing they can play in the league, but what I tell them all the time and what they’re reminded of is that there’s a big difference between playing in the league and winning in the league.”

“So you prove to me you can play on a bad team or a non-playoff team,” he elaborated. “That don’t count. You’ve got to keep getting better because you have to show us that you can play on a playoff team then you can play on a contender. So this ain’t good enough.”

But that is where player development comes in and the infrastructure Lombardi has built and continues to build towards that end appears to be moving into high gear.

“We’re fine with [the players] who are nineteen and twenty years old, but If we don’t do our job and continue to develop them and push them, then you’re just young for the sake of being young,” said Lombardi.

When prospects are sent back to the minors, there is often an adjustment period where the young player has to get over the frustration and disappointment of not sticking with the big club, and Kings prospects have been no exception. But Lombardi’s development system is working to quickly alleviate such problems and get the player back on track.

“They all go though that,” said Lombardi. “There’s the pouting for a couple of weeks, ‘Oh I got screwed.’ But you know what, this is all part of the infrastructure I’ve been talking about. [Kings Coordinator of Player Development and Systems Integration] Nelson Emerson with our development—he goes right back down there with them and he goes over it with them and shows them, ‘OK, this is what you didn’t do.’”

“Everything is shown to them about why you weren’t sticking here,” added Lombardi. “Now you’re going to go down there and you’re going do it right and then when the time comes we’re going to give you another chance. So you can sit here and sulk or you can work on the things we’re showing you.”

“If you do it the right way and you show the kid and, like I said, Nelson goes down there and so they get the coaches down there and they get Nelson flying back and forth to make sure they’re in synch with what’s going on up here, now they start believing, ‘Oh, OK. I see it.’ “If you just throw them down there and say [they need] to work harder, that’s not good enough. We have to work harder to give you the tools to work harder.”

A quality development program is essential to the success of a franchise and Lombardi’s program appears to be generating results. But it is not yet where he would like it to be.

“We’re finally getting close to where you can see the infrastructure start to develop symmetry,” he said. “It’s getting closer every day and that’s key to what I’m talking about. When you bring in thirty [new] people, [things don’t mesh immediately]. People have to feel their roles. The development book starts to get built. People [start] to feel comfortable. The dialogue—remember, you have dialogue with the minor league coaches, you have dialogue here, you have Mike O’Connell (handles Pro Development and Special Assignments) who’s there working with the defensemen, you have junior [hockey]—it all has to stay in synch.”

“By moving Nelson to that area and having Mike on the East Coast, I’d say we’re where I was in San Jose now, in terms of that development program that I envisioned,” he added. “We’ve got to continue to make it better, but at least now we’re at the stage where the way we operate now is pretty close to the way I had it in San Jose.”

“I still think we can do better in terms of—I always use that baseball analogy where baseball’s attention to detail is incredible and probably the next is football,” Lombardi explained. “Baseball can technically do it because people think it’s more of a stagnant game. But it’s something I always believed in when I started this in San Jose that so is hockey if you stop the tape. All of these things can be broken down. A cut-off man is no different from your net coverage. It’s being in the right place at the right time and reading the play, but it’s a lot harder and a lot more time consuming and requires a lot more correlating.”

Much of that correlation is now done through the use of video.

“The video—the one thing that gets integrated—LA never did any video scouting,” said Lombardi. “We completely built that. That machine is running at full bore. Being able to take that now and put it into your development camps so that every guy is broken down exactly into the areas he needs.”

“The problem you’ve got, and there’s three phases, when they’re young, they probably need a little bit of everything,” added Lombardi. “But…like for Teddy Purcell, for him to either make or break or become a good player, he’s down to three or four things at the most and he needs to focus solely on that. To still get to the point where you can say ‘OK…here’s where it is and here’s ten to fifteen clips and we’re following up on these,’ that’s really micro-managing and you can do that now and I think we’re close to where I was in San Jose and now the technology is so much better we should be able to go well beyond. But if you don’t have the people it don’t matter. You can have all these gadgets—guys buying stuff right and left, but if you don’t use it, what the hell good is it? It’s like having 500 TV channels.”

Now in his third season with the Kings, Lombardi said that it has been a huge challenge to get his hockey operations infrastructure to where it is now.

“We’re still not where we could be, but the long and the short of it is after three years, I didn’t realize how hard this was because I took it for granted in San Jose,” he explained. “But now I see where we are and the boys [the hockey operations staff, including scouts, coaches, etc.] see it now, too. We’re getting in synch, everyone’s having fun, you start to get chemistry. It’s like the [players]. They have to get along in the room. You’ve got thirty guys in the trenches and they’ve got to get along or you’re never going to succeed.”

So where does that improved development program have the Kings in terms of their rebuilding plan?

“Phase two, in some parts already phase three and in some parts, phase four,” said Lombardi. “If you had to break it down, if you had to synthesize it, the first thing was just to put talent in the system. That’s number one, that’s why we had all those draft picks. I think we’ve clearly done that. We had fifteen picks last year, we were loaded with picks. That’s part of building the reserve list. Regardless, we had to add talent to that reserve list. I think in the last twenty-four months, we’ve done pretty good there. I would’ve like to have hit a few more times, but I think that part has come along.”

“The development part—phase two—we’ve already talked about (see above),” added Lombardi. “Phase three is getting them in the league and some are already here. So that part [has come along] quicker.”

The final phase just might be the hardest of them all, but there is even progress in that area.

“The fourth part is learning to win and that’s the ultimate thing and we’ve already heard this with a lot of the games this year when we’ve lost games in the third period,” Lombardi emphasized. “A lot of that is being in those pressure situations and learning to win. And you already hear [left wing Patrick] O’Sullivan, ‘We’re tired of hearing about learning. We have to win now.’ That part is already phase four.”

“If you break it down like that, that’s usually the phases it goes,” Lombardi elaborated. “Some parts are already starting to get done beyond phase one that are [mental]. When you see some of those guys already saying, ‘We should’ve beat Detroit the other night,’ that’s a very different feeling. You just went into Detroit and you’re pissed off? That’s a good thing. It’s not a good thing you lost, but just the fact that you’re pissed off is progress.”

“You have to go through that turmoil and lose and then the next time say, ‘This ain’t happening again.’ Just like you’re hoping the next time they get a lead in Detroit you know what’s gonna go through their minds. Their either going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, let’s not blow it,’ or, ‘This ain’t happening again.’ It’s very different and when those guys are sitting there looking at each other, yeah, we’re going to think back to what happened. But we’re going to say ‘This ain’t freakin’ happening again,’ and they go out and do something about it. You see another team that’s not ready, they’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re gonna blow it again.’ When that team crosses that other threshold, now you’ve got it.”

A big reason for the progress has been the team leadership.

“There’s a difference between ‘We played well,’ the moral victories and that’s usually where you’re at [at this point], but they’re already there,” said Lombardi. “That’s part of the leadership in [the dressing room]. [Right wing and team captain Dustin] Brown really cares about this team. [Center and assistant captain Anze] Kopitar is starting to learn that. We’ve got some good guys. [Defenseman and assistant captain Matt] Greene came from Edmonton but it’s already clear he has adopted this as his team.”

So…just to be crystal-clear, where are the Kings in their rebuilding program?

“I think phase one we’ve kind of almost completed in a short time with all those picks,” Lombardi said. “We’re moving in some areas rapidly in phases three and four, but we’ve still got to finish [phase] two.”

But in these times of severe economic malaise, the question comes to mind: with a significant number of empty seats at Staples Center for the majority of their home games this season, will the Anschutz Entertainment Group, owners of the Kings, continue to allow Lombardi to invest in scouting and player development?

It would seem rather unwise for Kings to go back to their old ways by not investing enough in those areas and Lombardi would be the first person to tell you that.

“I have a meeting [with ownership] coming up, and I don’t want to give up on [infrastructure],” Lombardi stressed. “It’s like any company—research and development—the tendency sometimes is to cut ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ and I think that’s really shortsighted as we’re already showing with our own young players as opposed to going out and getting all those free agents.”

“I hope we do stick with that because that was the whole thing when I came in here,” Lombardi added. “I don’t need the biggest payroll, but I want to invest in scouting and development. No cutting corners there. I don’t mean to be wasteful, but that has to be done if you’re ever going to build this right. I’m hoping that we don’t have to go that route for sure.”

A clear sign of how misguided it would be to cut back on their development program is another dividend of that investment: the development of a team identity and soul.

“I’m starting to see a soul and this is why I’ve been harping on this,” Lombardi stressed. “You’re not going to develop a soul in this franchise unless it comes from within your system. I’m starting to feel that, that these guys care.”

“Everybody thinks, all these guys jumping around and everything, it’s the old saying, ‘Everybody likes to win. You’ve got to get twenty guys who hate to lose,’” Lombardi added. “There ain’t nobody who doesn’t like to win! Everybody likes to win. What a bunch of crap! You get twenty guys who hate to lose and the only way you develop ‘hate to lose’ is, I’m convinced, is those little things—coming through the minors, the way Dustin Brown asked about [defenseman prospects Thomas] Hickey and [Colten] Teubert at the [2009 World Junior (Under-20) Championships]. This only happens when kids come through your system.”

Lombardi said the development system is biggest reason that his team is moving closer to being able to answer the question, “What is a King?”

“It’s a feeling,” said Lombardi. “You can’t define it. I had John Ferguson with me in San Jose. He won five Stanley Cups. He talked all the time about what it meant to be a [Montreal] Canadien. You knew right away.”

“I’ve always said, ‘What’s a King?’ What has been the Kings identity for forty years? You can look back in history and think of what the [Philadelphia] Flyers stood for, what the [Boston] Bruins stood for,” added Lombardi. “Montreal. What about the Kings? The first thing that comes to mind is Gretzky. But in reality, it was a three-year run. So again, the only thing we can do is go back to scratch. They have to come up together and care and I’m starting to see that. It’s a feeling you get.”

“Murph [Kings head coach Terry Murray] has been around, You don’t fool Murph. He’s seen a lot and he’s no friggin’ politician. When he says, ‘You know what, these guys are coming together quicker than you think. They’re good kids and they care, they’ve got a lot to learn.’ That’s what I’ve always said. A franchise needs a soul and I’m starting to feel that. It’s got a long way to go. But you’re getting a little of that feeling.”

If Lombardi’s rebuilding plan continues to progress at its current pace, the light at the end of the tunnel will be far more than a tiny glimmer a lot sooner than anyone thought, finally giving Kings fans something to really cheer about after a long, long history of misery.

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38 thoughts on “Lombardi’s Rebuilding Plan Making Unexpected Progress

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  1. This is my favorite part of the interviews. Lombardi’s really got a lot of fires burning within the organization and it’s starting to show. He’s drafting well, scouting, developing and building a soul. You know this team is headed in the right direction.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into this but, when Lombardi was off to meet with ownership, did you get the sense that they would reign in his developmental budget due to the economy? I honestly doubt that they would but I thought I’d ask.

  2. Lombardi is concerned about ownership pulling tight on the budgetary reins (in terms of infrastructure), but only because of the economic downturn, which is affecting everyone. He did not indicate, or give me the impression, that the axe was hanging over his head, so to speak.

    As for Dave Taylor…he’s a great guy. But he held everything so close to the vest that even when you talked to him, he’d talk but rarely say anything…you knew about as much going into the interview as you did after.

  3. Great work on the interview. DL has such a clear and well thought out plan, it is very exciting to see it begin to bear fruit.

  4. Dean says a lot of the right things and does not seem bashful about sending a guy down. However, it sounds like he does it with the purpose of development rather than just “you suck and we think we can do better so off to the minors”. It seems like everything he does is with the intent of making a player better. Hopefully, if a young player understands that, he will go in with the right attitude and develop properly. So far, I think he is putting his money where his mouth is and it is working out. Gann, any difference btw comments Dean makes and Dave Taylor made about development ?

    To hear him say that he feels he is now where he was with SJ makes me feel a whole lot better. Although he has not been there five or six years, I still feel he is partially responsible for at least some of the current success they are enjoying. They have not won a cup or gone far in the playoffs but at least they are a perennial contender with a good balance of youth and veterans.

    Hearing him talk about building a team off-ice and investing in equipment like video is encouraging as well.

    Now if he can only work on those trading and free agent signing skills…

  5. Gann,

    Awesome stuff here. Thanks a million!

    One thing that really surprised me was Lombardi’s quote that there was no video scouting being used in LA. What was that all about? Was that AEG not wanting to spend money on equipment, or management being shortsighted?

  6. “I’ve always said, ‘What’s a King?’ What has been the Kings identity for forty years? You can look back in history and think of what the [Philadelphia] Flyers stood for, what the [Boston] Bruins stood for,” added Lombardi. “Montreal. What about the Kings? The first thing that comes to mind is Gretzky. But in reality, it was a three-year run. So again, the only thing we can do is go back to scratch.

    “Three Year Run”… that lasted almost EIGHT seasons… OK… what am I missing? Was DL asleep for five years?

  7. I know that not everything will work out exactly according to plan, but I like that Lombardi’s focus has been on the entire infrastructure of the team. Scouting, drafting, and development are the foundation for long-term team success, and I’m glad that he’s made it a priority from the top down. I also like that he places a premium on players with character who wear the Kings jersey with pride. I think if you have that core identity in place, then younger guys stepping into roles know what’s expected of them. The most talented teams aren’t necessarily the teams that win – the ones that win time and time again are those that are focused top-to-bottom on the same goal.

    I think that many fans’ frustration with Lombardi stems from the fact that while he’s made great strides throughout the organization, before this season there had not been much improvement on the big club. In the end, that’s the bottom line by which he will be judged. I wish that he had not tried the high-risk, low-reward FA signings to bolster the big club, when it was clear the path to improvement would have to come from homegrown players.

    It’s nice having a prospect system that’s stocked with kids that have a very real shot at being good NHLers. It wasn’t long ago that we were hoping that low-end prospects like Pavel Rosa and Brad Smyth would be difference makers.

  8. htxt: those older free agents like Thornton, Willsie, etc. were important. They sucked, yes. But they were there to bide time until the younger players were ready to play in the NHL. Without them, this story would not be as positive.

  9. Dan: Regarding the lack of video scouting prior to Lombardi, I think two things were at work there. 1) I can’t say that Taylor had the foresight to do that kind of scouting and even if he did, 2) With AEG calling the shots and looking over his shoulder on every move he made, I doubt it would’ve gone over well with ownership, which knows far less about hockey than it thinks it does.

  10. Gann: I was referring more to guys like Nagy and Alyn McCauley, where the Kings were taking a gamble. Even Calder was signed with the hopes that he could rediscover his scoring touch. I didn’t mind the likes of Thornton or Willsie – they were low-risk guys to fill out the roster, and they were good for the locker room.

    Then again, had all those FAs worked out the Kings would not be seeing Doughty on the blueline, so I can be thankful for that.

  11. Geezus,

    War and Peace, mate.
    All that to try and convince us that Lombardi is Moses? Taylor is still keeping this club afloat and Quick was a 3rd rounder who’s looking pretty darn good.

    Lombardi has done better than I thought, but it’s just a different philosophy. He likes the Broad Street Bullies style of nasty Canadian players and Taylor wanted a combination of physicality and skill.

    I’d say you might see Kopitar and Frolov playing somewhere else before too long and we’ll be watching them win Cups elsewhere along with Lubo and Cammy.

    Not to mention that although there were some other picks involved, Lombardi got us Teubert for Norstrom AND Cammalleri, and we maybe should have taken Tyler Myers.

    Lombardi is going all “flyers-west” on us and he doesn’t seem to know who he wants to coach the team.
    Is it Sir Score A Lot with Crawford? Or is it Baron von Defense with Murray? Maybe if Lombardi knew how to get us one of those goalies that are supposedly so easy to acquire, we’d have made the playoffs last year instead of waiting for LaBaby and Cloutitis to man up.

    I’m sick of reading fairy tales. Just win some games and make the playoffs.

    Besides, Taylor made the playoffs in his 3rd season as head coach and also brought in Jason Blake and Steven Reinprecht through free agency among other deals. They helped turn into some decent players.

    All this in an era without a salary cap and by a team who wouldn’t let him spend on quality in the offseason.
    Instead they funded –
    Dandy Robitaille
    Jon Sim
    Steve Thomas
    and Dempsey


  12. cristobal: The stories weren’t an attempt to convince readers of anything. Rather, they reported what was said in the interview and added some analysis. Readers are free to interpret it as they see fit.

    I’d say you’re not seeing what the Kings are trying to do. The playoffs weren’t the goal last season and not even this season, really. Just making the playoffs has been, for too long, the goal of this team. Winning the Stanley Cup (or at least being a serious contender to do so) each season is and that is what this team is trying to build for the first time.

    Also, the players you mentioned at the end of your comment…they all came in under Taylor. Lombardi had nothing to do with them, except to sign Armstrong to an extension.

  13. Gann,

    That’s my point with the players I mentioned. Taylor got pennies to deal with while DL has had millions. I get tired of hearing that previous GM’s made all the wrong moves. If you want to compare the programs, what has Lombardi brought in that he didn’t buy with Taylor-money, and what have they contributed? Every team has good and bad player movement and drafting. It just works that way.

    It doesn’t guarantee you a Champion if you never trade or sign free agents, and the most likely reason we have for the overachievement this season is the guys Taylor acquired directly and indirectly: that includes Stoll, Greene, Moller, O’Sullivan, Johnson, Lewis, and I’m pretty sure, some others. Finally, I think you’ve got to put Kopitar, Fro, Quick, Boyle, Harrold (though he wasn’t drafted), on that list of thanks, too.

  14. Bob Bobson – That may be the first time I’ve ever heard someone, or something, get credit for a less than 50% success-rate.
    DL did the same in San Jose – tank and get high draft picks – before he started trading away picks and adding veterans.
    There’s a reason he got fired.
    And there’s a reason Detroit doesn’t mind trading 1st rounders – when you’re a decent or very good team they are hit or miss prospects by that time.
    Look at who Lombardi drafted outside of the top 10 overall.
    Pretty much Hit or Miss…

    ’96 – ’02

  15. “Taylor had absolutely nothing to do with the acquisition of Stoll, Greene, Moller, O’Sullivan, Johnson and Lewis.”

    Weren’t they “had” with Taylor’s people?
    If we’re crediting other teams for taking Bourque with our picks, why can we not credit Taylor with Lombardi’s acquisitions through trade?
    How else did we get Stoll and Greene but with Lubo?
    How O’Sullivan without Demitra?
    How Moller without Norstrom?

  16. No offense, cristobal. I appreciate and respect your opinions. But you’re really letting your deep-seated hatred of AEG prevent you from looking at this objectively. I can’t say I blame you, to some degree, but I think that really is preventing you from seeing what has gone on since Lombardi has come on board.

  17. Gann,
    No. I don’t take offense, I hope you don’t either. I’m not all negative on Lombardi, though I admit I sound that way often. I want the team to be always thinking they’ve got a shot at a title.

    Even though I’ve skewered DL a lot, I’ve admitted that the team is much better this year than I thought it would be; and, I think Lombardi has drafted a lot of good players. I’ve been argued against because I’ve pointed out that we’ve sent a lot of good players packing with similar arguments that I’ve used here. When I ask where the return for guys like Norstrom or Gleason I’m countered with who DL has replaced them with and who he drafted with the picks. I just think DL goes a little too far with his criticism of past regimes because he hasn’t proven anything in the NHL yet. I also think the strengths of the current team lie half with DT and what he brought in. Many are very critical of DT but he dealt with 3 of the worst injuries he could have – his entire 1st line, not to mention the deterioration of Aaron Miller’s back.

    I also think that its better to do your talking on the ice. Until we do that to an adequate degree, we should remain humble, and respect that other GMs are trying to get to the same place.

    Maybe, in the end, Lombardi’s comments are more for AEG so that they let him continue with his rebuild. But a danger of the philosophy of that “we’re on the road to greatness” is that it risks failing to question whether your system needs tweaking.

    But, I’m on board for remaining patient and not starting over in the middle again. That’s one problem I have with AEG. They fired DT while he was still building. I think he had talent coming, he just never got a chance to put it together. I’m also made nervous by DL’s penchant for discarding DT’s guys and worry that Kopitar and Frolov will be the victims of a failing current system. I don’t want to see them move on like Lubo and Cammy because I’d like to keep hope that we’ll have a skilled and fun hockey team that goes deep every year.

    But I also want you to know that I TOTALLY respect your writing and the work you do for the love of it. I think you’re just a little more patient than I. So I pop up sounding crazy sometimes.

    Finally, I’m still on the fence with the Murray hiring. I love the strong defensive play, but I wonder if he’s the guy to go forward with in the long run. I’ve said elsewhere that maybe DL is really a genius and that he brought in two “bridge” coaches as well. Crawford was able to get some real offensive progress out of our young guys, now Murray is teaching them the other side. The problem for me with Murray is that he doesn’t seem to be able to meld the two skill into a balanced team. That may have a lot to do with the current players and I can’t say I expected much in early October. But, again, I think this team is much better than I thought and that there must be a way to get our scoring back. It’s also frustrating to feel that young players are waiting and growing stale while players with no upside, and no future here, are getting the minutes. I can somewhat understand because we’re not mathematically eliminated from the post-season, but I’d really like to see Boyle integrated into the heart of the team in a position where he can play HIS game and be effective. Instead, I feel were pressing forward with an archaic system that won’t ever get everything clicking.

    Anyway Gann, I really respect and like what you’re doing here and I think your blog is “elite!” I’m glad to see so many comments and so much good information from you.

    Plus, you put up with my theatrics so well, and that’s a virtue in an of itself.

    cheers and happy new year.

  18. Where’s the return for Norstrom? What did you think a defenseman on the downside of his career and about a year away from retirement was worth? They got some important draft picks for him. As for Gleason, they got Jack Johnson for him. That’s great value because Johnson will be better than Gleason.

    If you’re only going to look at the value at the time of the deal, you’re not looking at things clearly, IMHO.

    As for firing Taylor, he wasn’t going to take them further than he did, mostly because of AEG’s meddling and that he was his own worst enemy…I don’t think he felt he could stand up for what he believed in because of the meddling by ownership.

    There is a lot of evidence that the meddling has disappeared with Lombardi at the helm. Yes, he has a budget and has to get approval for the biggest decisions, but it does appear that AEG is no longer dictating to the general manager that he must make a particular move or not make one. They appear to just be saying yes or no to major decisions. In other words, Lombardi is dictating what they’re doing in terms of hockey operations. The only thing AEG seems to be doing is providing the money.

    Taylor had seven years to get something done in terms of building a contender and he didn’t do it. It was primarily AEG’s fault because of the meddling, but the fact is, Taylor was never going to take the Kings to the promised land because he didn’t have the support of ownership.

    Also, if you believe that Taylor deserves credit because of the draft picks he left the Kings with (which I agree with; the cupboard was not bare when Lombardi took over), then Lombardi has proven himself to a large degree because he must get some credit, by your own definition, for what San Jose has now.

    I don’t see why you continue to criticize the Visnovsky and Cammalleri trades.

    What players aren’t getting ice time and are growing stale? Fact is, Boyle has skill and size, but will never be a solid NHL player unless he learns that he has to play solid and smart without the puck and become a physical force on every shift. He doesn’t skate well enough to be a finesse player. He’s going to have to get it done physically and he wasn’t even close to doing that earlier in the season. He has to work his way up the depth chart…he has to earn the right to move up to #3 center, then #2. He hasn’t come close to doing that yet. What you’re demanding is premature.

  19. Gann, my point was that Lombardi actually HAS gotten some good stuff with what Taylor left. That’s where I’m trying to point out that I DO like what Lombardi is doing, and especially that he’s doing it while keeping AEG at a distance and out of daily hockey operations.

    People DO also credit Lombardi with the current Sharks, although I believe Taylor has MUCH more to do with the Kings current “success” than Lombardi does in San Jose.

    Also, I think the two GMs have large philosophical differences when it comes to the players they like – Taylor was more experimental and sought special skills, while DL likes the more traditional Canadian player that is well rounded on all fronts.

    Also, you are WAY off on Boyle, he has all the tools to be a great, skilled big man; he’s just not getting the chance to succeed for some reason. Murray is getting it all wrong there, and there’s nothing anyone can say to make me think otherwise. The only way I see this working out well is if they finally realize that Boyle HAS been doing whatever they ask, even playing defense in Manch last year to help the FRANCHISE out – not himself or his career. He’s RFA after the season is up so we’ll see what happens. I just hope it’s not him going away and becoming a top line center somewhere else. It’s really shocking that they don’t try and use him on the PP in front of the net. To me, it seems they just don’t want to give him anything, and thats a shame.

    Adam Foote is also an aged veteran near the end but Colorado gave up a No. 1 for him last year, but the return for Norstrom HAS been decent as Moller was taken with the 2nd rounder if I’m not mistaken. My only concern is that in a way it can seem like we traded both Norstrom and Cammy to get Teubert. That’s a little much looking at it solely on the 1st rounders, so I think the other picks must be considered.

    Anyway, great writing and deserving of accolades, Gann. Keep up the professional job and come give a visit over at worldhockeydaily sometimes. Did you watch the WJC tournament at all? It was pretty intense…

  20. I think you give Taylor way too much credit for what the current team has turned out. Every GM gets a good player here and there in the draft, it’s the real good GM who pick the guys in the later rounds that turn into great players/superstars (see Detroit). Taylor draft team was squarely focused on small, skilled Euros (see Esa Pernes, Pushkarev, etc.) and kept missing the important areas this team lacked…defense and goaltending. He got real lucky with Quick, but I put that pick in with all the other late goalie picks the Kings have always taken…”He looks ok, we’ll take him.”

    Under Lombardi’s, we’ve rebuilt the back end in a just few years, something Taylor NEVER had the foresight to see. Taylor’s 5-year plan seemed to change every season. Taylor should have fired Andy Murray after the 11-game losing streak at the end of (I think) the 05′ season, instead he gives them all contract extensions. WTF is that? You talk about Taylor was rebuilding? How, by trading away our 2 highest prospects (two 1st rounders btw) for a guy who would be UFA next season, and a defensemen with a broken kneecap. That’s real good asset management.

  21. Rebuilt the back end? With what – O’D, Goat, Greene, Harrold?
    Taylor wasn’t the messiah, but he did more than just “come up with a new 5 year plan every 5 years.”
    Besides Allison, Deadmarsh, and Palffy ending their careers pretty much within 2 years of each other, Taylor added Huet, Lubo, Cammy, and some others in the later rounds.
    His “highest prospects” at the time of the Parrish/Sopel trade were Kopi, Frolov, Brown, Cammy, and Lubo – two of which have since been traded to help DL create his defensive prospect “depth.”
    I’d prefer Sopel to Preissing or O’Donnell at this point.
    I like how you characterize Taylor’s drafting style as “he looks good, take him.” Is it so difficult to credit the guy with the things he did well?
    I too think he should have fired A Murray a year or two before he did. I don’t understand it, but at least he was committed until the end. It’s not like A Murray had half the commitment from AEG in terms of player-personnel that T Murray and M Crawford have had.

    And, as for Heatley. He may be expensive, but without Calder, Preissing and Gauthier’s contracts we’d break even.
    Instead of wasting a lot of money on impact players we’re wasting a lot of money on guys who are contributing little, playing little, or sitting in the press-box.
    When was Taylor ever guilty of so much waste?
    When did Taylor ever trade a player that’s a proven NHL scorer (Cammy) for a prospective defenseman (Teubert)?
    And don’t forget that Norstrom was a part of the Teubert deal as well…
    Great asset management.

  22. Cristobal…you exhibit the classic symptoms of all the Kings fans, come and gone, who only care about winning now at all costs. You say you like certain things about the direction of the team, then you contradict yourself with posts such as this one that shows a clear contempt for rebuilding, despite comments to the contrary.

    I can fully understand the lack of patience since this franchise has done nothing, aside from the 1992-93 Cup run. But your constant looking at each trade or acquisition in a vacuum without regard to the overall picture really destroys your arguments and your credibility.

  23. Gann,

    The point you constantly seem to be missing in all of this is that every GM tries to build a winner.
    For all the talk about me being confused, or that I’m a proponent of trading to try to make the playoffs, you don’t seem to understand that this team has proven absolutely nothing. O’Sullivan and Johnson have yet to even become average players. Our defense is being heralded as the second coming of the Montreal of the 70’s, and we have no clue if Hickey or Voinov or Teubert will be anything better than Sopel, Gleason, or Corvo.
    Dean Lombardi took a team full of bridge players and good prospects and traded us into a team full of bridge players and prospects.
    If we’re so good defensively, why are we shipping so many cheap goals? Why can’t our defensemen contribute offensively 5 on 5?
    I’ve said it a hundred times. Lombardi destroys a team and gets high draft picks. In the end, some will work and some wont, just as in San Jose.
    I’m no more in favor of firing Lombardi than I was in favor of firing Taylor. I just don’t understand how someone can seriously believe our defense is “rebuilt” at this point. Every team in the league has promising young defensive prospects – arguably better than Los Angeles’s.
    Sure we defend better as a team througout the game, but we’re half-way through the season and our great, young forwards can’t score to save their jobs. Plus, our defensemen are looking tired, old, and inept. Greene, if he’d been Corvo, Harrold, Gauthier, or Lubo after that NJ game, would have been crucified in front of Staples Center. Wasn’t he just spending time cutting All-Star propaganda films?
    Great way to spend the time. Try learning how to play defense.

  24. Yes, but Taylor was, in reality, prevented from building one by ownership’s constant meddling.

    You actually expect O’Sullivan and Johnson to be proven winners already?

    I don’t think anyone is saying that the Kings defense will be made up of studs from #6 to #1. Many are saying that it has the potential to be loaded, however, and it does. Fact is, this blue line corps has far more potential than it ever had.

    Of course this team has proven nothing. It won’t do that until it becomes a contender. How does a team become that? By rebuilding, something you apparently aren’t willing to allow time for.

  25. I think the only credibility under question is that of those who are crediting managers, coaches, and players with achievements they have yet to achieve.
    Say all you want about Taylor but the team that took Colorado to the 7th game was one of my favorites.
    You want to crown DL and his prospects?
    Just keep in mind this team fell short with Gretzky, Robitaille, Blake, Sydor, Sandstrom, Granato, McSorley, Hrudey, Conacher, and many other fine players. In fact, that year (93) they weren’t even supposed to get to the finals and were playing against some GREAT teams – i.e. Calgary.
    I think at one time we had about seven 20 goal scorers.
    Even if we turn into a highly respectable team all this BS about building greatness will be over-the-top until we win a Cup.

    Come on already. You don’t even have to be completely average in this league to make the playoffs – would absolute 50/50 mediocrity be too much to ask for after 3 years?

  26. How can you crown Lombardi with anything when he is in the middle of a rebuilding process? You saddle him and the team with unrealistic expectations and then point to him/them not reaching them as failures. Shall we talk about credibility again?

    Your last sentence is the problem. The goal isn’t to make the playoffs. Just making the playoffs isn’t enough. It’s about winning the Cup. You have to build a contender to get there first. That’s what they’re trying to do. You don’t seem to get that.

  27. I get what they’re trying to do. Every GM in the NHL is trying to do it too.When we get there, I’ll be much happier.

    I think you’re just salty after all the losing lately. I know that makes me a little more acerbic.

    Bring on Voinov. We need him.

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