AUDIO: Includes audio of the media conference call with Dean Lombardi on February 25.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — When Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi speaks to the media, if he has the time, he’ll provide chapter and verse about his actions, his plans, and just about anything else under the sun related to the Kings, the National Hockey League, and sometimes, non-hockey-related topics.
During a media conference call on February 25 in which the main topic was the trade in which the Kings acquired veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera from the Carolina Hurricanes (click here for related story), Lombardi also discussed several other subjects.
The first unrelated topic was the status of injured left wing Tanner Pearson (broken fibula requiring surgery).
“Pearson is making a lot of progress,” said Lombardi. “Collectively, that’s a pretty strong group on the back end, and some of our forwards are starting to emerge. The biggest area of improvement is that a lot of our younger players are continuing to get better.”
Lombardi indicated that Pearson might return to the lineup before the end of the regular season.
“It’s possible,” he said. “The thing about a lot of these young kids is that they get better fast. He’s been working really hard.”
“That’s one thing about being young,” he added. “They seem to heal quicker, so barring any complications, which I don’t foresee right now, the way he’s progressing, I think there’s a shot.”
Lombardi then sounded a very familiar refrain, stating that the younger players are the primary source of improvement for the Kings.
“When you talk about going out and getting other players, I think the biggest way to get better—we forget that players like [forwards Kyle] Clifford, [Dwight] King, [Jordan] Nolan, you go right down the line, they’re far from their ultimate potential,” Lombardi noted. “That includes [defensemen Jake] Muzzin, [Drew] Doughty—everybody.”
“I think we’ve seen the growth of Dwight King recently,” Lombardi added. “This is just what happens with the development curve. I think Clifford has been really good the last month. He’s a better player than he was last year, and we have confidence in these guys to keep getting better and assume bigger roles. Him and Jordan are a big part of the identify of this team. They don’t get a lot of fanfare. They’re not fancy, or anything else. But they’re awfully hard to play against.”
Lombardi then spoke of the new challenge he faced when trying to improve the team this time around.
“They made me start working, to go out and get’em some help, or try to improve them,” Lombardi explained. “But I don’t know. Haven’t we seen this before? This year, obviously, has been a different kind of struggle. It’s been hard to get a handle on some things, and part of that is not only the challenge for them, but my inexperience in reading a team that’s accomplished what they’ve accomplished and trying to stay there. It’s a new experience for me, as it is for them.”
“You could say, ‘you guys won it two years,’ but I think [the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship] was different, and it presented a very different challenge than the first one,” Lombardi elaborated. “So I think, as a group, managers, coaches and players, after countless meetings, and the whole thing about you can’t get a statistic for that certain feel, that emotion, that intangible that often times, you can sense.”
A new experience, indeed. But it all came back to the strong team culture that Lombardi instilled in his players.
“This has been a very, very different challenge,” he said. “So many times during the year, we looked like we were getting it going. It was like a car [struggling to start], and it just can’t turn over. So make no mistake. We’ve all been searching. Nobody’s stopped working.”
“I come back, again, to two things,” he added. “One, we’ve never had an issue throughout all our struggles of players ever pointing fingers. I think we’ve seen that in other teams that have won, causing some teams to make moves because the chemistry of the team changed. Players started thinking more about themselves getting credit. We’ve never had that. We could always put that aside. In talking to other teams and general managers, that was always one of the issues, and I could always put that aside.”
“The second thing is the whole thing about they’ve always known that they hadn’t been working like they should. Not only were they not pointing their fingers at each other, [but] a lot of guys were pretty hard on themselves. Then you come back to the same old story. Deep down, I know they care. So they found a way.”
Even though the players cared, that was not enough to break them out of the doldrums that started when the 2014-15 season began, and did not end until the Kings’ current eight-game winning streak began on February 7 at Tampa Bay. That left Lombardi to do a lot of tossing and turning at night, trying to figure out why his team was not performing as expected.
“We lost eight games in a row last year—pucks going in off the [protective netting behind their net at Detroit on January 18, 2014],” said Lombardi. “Lesser men would’ve folded and found excuses, but they haven’t in the past, so what would make me think they should start now?”
“That was the only way I could sleep at night, and it hasn’t been very comfortable, make no mistake,” added Lombardi. “But you get some solace in the fact that they’ve shown that they can figure it out. That’s what it comes down to. In the end, it isn’t me, it isn’t [head coach] Darryl [Sutter]. It’s themselves.”
“The only thing I was able to figure out, deep down—I know they’re not going to quit, and they’re not older. It’s not like they’ve passed their prime. It’s not the age factor.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Dean Lombardi (21:03)
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