LOS ANGELES — On March 14, 2013, the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the international real estate, retail, and entertainment conglomerate that owns the Los Angeles Kings, dropped a bombshell when they announced that they were no longer up for sale.
But what many considered to be a bombshell with an even greater payload was a part of that same announcement: that Tim Leiweke, the President and Chief Executive Officer of AEG since 1996, would be, “…leaving the company by mutual agreement.”
That Leiweke left AEG amicably is highly unlikely, but that is for another story. In any event, prior to his departure, he had been the front man, the face, the pitch man—he was AEG, as far as so many were concerned, especially since Philip Anschutz has been extremely reclusive while at the top of his AEG empire.
He had also become the Kings’ biggest cheerleader, and is widely credited with facilitating the huge turnaround of the franchise by hiring Dean Lombardi as President/General Manager of the Kings, and allowing him to make the player personnel decisions, giving him the resources to improve the team, and keeping his nose out of hockey operations decisions.
In other words, ownership was finally going to allow the people qualified to make the hockey-related decisions to do their jobs without interference—they would not have to worry about being constantly second-guessed by ownership, as previous general managers were throughout the history of the franchise often were.
“In our discussions, there [were] no expectations that [Lombardi] gave to us, and in turn, we have not given him a mandate on what we expect,” Leiweke said on April 21, 2006, when Lombardi was hired. “What we told him is, give us your best effort, tell us what you need, we’ll give you one hundred percent support, and we’ll get out of your way.”
Fast forward seven years, and the Kings have won the 2011-12 Stanley Cup, and they reached the Western Conference Finals last season.
Although he was not around to see the Kings go deep into the playoffs last season, Leiweke had a big hand in that success, and must be given a ton of credit for finally bringing a Stanley Cup Championship to Los Angeles.
Indeed, although he certainly did not start out that way, by the time the Kings won the 2012 Stanley Cup, he had become one of their most passionate fans, and a huge advocate of that particular asset within the AEG empire.
But now, Leiweke is gone. In fact, he is now serving in that role with Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, trying to build the Toronto Maple Leafs into a champion once again, and also get the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and MLS’ Toronto FC to championship status.
So where does that leave the Kings?
As announced by AEG in March, Dan Beckerman, formerly the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer for AEG, and the Chief Financial Officer for the Kings, was elevated to President and Chief Executive Officer of AEG, replacing Leiweke.
To this point, Beckerman has not been anywhere near as visible as Leiweke was, generating questions about whether or not he will be the advocate for the Kings that Leiweke was, not to mention concerns about how things might change for the Kings with a new boss in town, so to speak.
Seven months have gone by since the change, and so far, so good for the Kings, according to Lombardi.
“The relationship has always been good with Dan,” said Lombardi. “He’s a very methodical guy. He asks a lot of questions, but he’s always been one to let you do your job.”
Lombardi indicated that Anschutz is the key.
“Ultimately, Mr. Anschutz is as good as it gets,” Lombardi noted. “That’s what I’ve always said. He was supportive through the whole [rebuilding] process, even though it took time. You put your plan up there four or five years ago, and he didn’t forget anything that was said, good and bad. He holds you accountable, but he lets you do your job.”
Lombardi’s comment about Anschutz certainly runs counter to the perception many have about him, which goes back to the days when AEG first purchased the Kings, before Staples Center was built, and long before Lombardi arrived in Southern California,
“From the day I got here, whether I was asking for the training room to be upgraded, or to get a player, he’s never denied me a thing,” Lombardi emphasized. “In the end, it comes down to your owner. He’s the best in the business, as far as I’m concerned.”
“From the day I got here, I walked in, and the first thing I saw was that training room,” Lombardi added. “I said, ‘holy smoke! You cannot have this.’ That thing was being torn apart two weeks later, and he footed the bill.”
Lombardi indicated that Anschutz very much has his finger on the pulse of the Kings, something else that does not mesh with the common perception so many have.
“I have yet to go and ask for anything, [only to be] denied,” said Lombardi. “That said, he’s going to ask a lot of questions.”
“He’s a good example for a team, because he’s an owner who doesn’t put himself front and center, and that’s what you want your team to be,” added Lombardi. “It’s being part of a team.”
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