Follow @frozenroyalty<pEL SEGUNDO, CA — Before finalizing the trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on February 26 for veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, in exchange for defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi took the unusual step of speaking with a player prior to trading for him.
“We got permission from Chicago to talk to [Scuderi], and one thing good about it is he knows what [Kings head coach Darryl Sutter] expects, and I talked to him about the team now. The other thing, too, was about moving his family. It was critical that—one of the reasons I think he left was because his wife wanted to be closer to his family. [I told him], ‘I don’t want you coming out here if your wife’s staying back east,’ and she was all excited. And the guy—he commands a lot of respect in that room, and like I said, for giving up what we have to pay him, as well as fitting in, it’s almost like, ‘well, it makes too much sense.’”
Scuderi said that Lombardi wanted to know if he still had the fire burning within, so to speak.
“We talked about—as I’m an older player, it’s not the physical with me. He was concerned about, maybe the will—what you do, because for a guy like me, and the game I play, I can’t just play on the perimeter,” said the 37-year-old native of Syosset, New York. “I have to be in the dirty areas. I have to get to loose pucks, I have to take hits and give hits. I have to do those things if I want to be a successful role player.”
“He wanted to make sure that I still had it, that I was willing to do the small things that it takes to make my game useful for the team, and I still am,” added Scuderi. “I was in Rockford—I wasn’t in the best situation, but you’re there, and you’re going to play with the teammates you have next to you.”
Scuderi indicated that he was more than a bit anxious during that phone call.
“It was [a good conversation],” he noted. “I’ve always respected Dean, the way he’s done things, the teams he’s built, and the way he’s gone about doing that. At the same time, I was—I don’t want to say nervous, but I wanted something to happen. I was hoping for any NHL opportunity, but to have it with the Kings would be much more special, and in the end, you just have to be yourself. I answered his questions the best I knew how, and as honestly as I could, and I let the chips fall where they may.”
Even more special was that the Kings had been pursuing Scuderi since well before the trade deadline.
“That’s what makes this situation so good,” said Scuderi. “You want to be wanted, as a player. Certainly, there’s situations where it may not be a great fit, but the first time I came here, that was one of the biggest things that attracted me here. He said that he wanted me to come here, and he didn’t want me to be something else, because sometimes you come in, you sign a big contract, and everyone expects something more from you. But he said, ‘I just want you to do what you do, nothing else. Just be yourself and play.’”
“That’s what made me so comfortable here the first go-round. I’m hoping that’s what will make me confident that I can do my job and things will go OK now.”
Months earlier, Lombardi and staff went over Scuderi’s games with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Blackhawks, and then reviewed his games with the Kings during the 2013 playoff run to the Western Conference Finals.
“We went back and Darryl and the coaches and I and [assistant general manager Rob Blake], we sat and watched Rob’s games in Pittsburgh and Chicago, and then we put in the games that he played in the conference finals with us before he left,” said Lombardi. “Then we tried to make a decision on was [his] drop-off, so to speak, an issue of [him being] slower or whatever, or maybe the role and the fit not being right and him being caught in between.”
As it turned out the latter was true, rather than the former.
“The coaches and management I played for that first year [with Pittsburgh] who got me were gone,” said Scuderi. “That’s a factor. There were a lot of young prospects, and that’s a factor.”
“I was doing OK in Pittsburgh,” added Scuderi. “[Defenseman Trevor Daley] became available [from Chicago], and they wanted to make a move. That’s their business. But Chicago certainly wasn’t a great fit. You try to make all those adjustments as much as you can, but I was playing very limited minutes, and then, only every other game. It was really hard to focus on the game when you’re worried about making mistakes and trying to fit in in a limited time span.”
As Lombardi indicated, Scuderi did not fit all that well in Pittsburgh (after their coaching change), and it was worse in Chicago. But with the Kings, all that has changed.
“[The Kings are] a team that checks very well,” Scuderi observed. “We have some very top-end offensive talent here, but it all starts in the defensive zone—checking right, doing the right things and getting your opportunities from checking correctly.”
“That suits my style,” Scuderi added. “I’m a defense guy first. There’s no question about that. Although I don’t have the offensive talent these guys do, all I have to do is get them the puck and they can do some good things.”
Indeed, Scuderi and the Kings are perfect fits for each other. That said, there’s still a bit of an adjustment.
“It’s great to be back.” he said. “With the management and coaching staff here, you don’t expect anything but for them to be pretty straightforward. As a player, you want to make the adjustments as soon as possible. I’ve played for three teams in the last two months, so there’s a lot of adjusting on the fly. But you want to make that transition as seamless as possible, so I think I’m getting there. After a couple more games, I think I’ll have it pretty good.”
“I’m not 100 percent where I want to be with the stuff that we’re doing,” he added. “I know that’ll come, in time, with watching video and talking with the coaches to make sure that I’m making the right adjustments.”
Scuderi noted some minor differences between the way the Kings play now, compared to what he remembers from his earlier four-year stint with the Kings that ended after the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
“It’s not too much different,” he noted. “It actually might be a little more aggressive, and that’s fine. It just takes a little time to get used to things. But especially in the defensive zone, if you have a good bead on a guy, they want you to be aggressive, and cut down time and space even faster than we did before.”
Having played with the Kings before helps on another level, as well.
“The bigger thing is socially—I know half the guys in this room already,” Scuderi noted. “You take the time to get to know your other teammates, but that’s a big part of it, because that social awkwardness isn’t there when you first come into this room. That allows me to just focus on the game.”
“I went to Chicago, and you’re comfortable in yourself and confident in what you can do, but there’s the social aspect of getting to know everybody, and that takes time,” Scuderi added. “There’s nothing you can do about that. I’m very fortunate that here, I don’t have to worry about that too much, and I can just focus on my game. That’s why I’m hoping to make the transition in a [minimal] amount of games.”
When his contract with the Kings expired, Scuderi opted to sign with the Penguins as an unrestricted free agent. At the time, he cited family considerations as a key factor in his decision. But Scuderi said that moving back to the West Coast wouldn’t be a problem.
“When I left here, the biggest thing for me was geography,” he said. “I thought I could still do my job, but do it a little closer to the East Coast where a lot of my family and extended family is from. But those benefits fade away if the hockey isn’t going well.”
“It’s not like, coming back here, I’m upset to be on the West Coast,” he added. “I’m thrilled because I’m a hockey player. I want the hockey to go well. I want to do my part and try to help my team. The other stuff is always secondary.”
In five games with the Kings since the trade with the Blackhawks, Scuderi has contributed two assists and has earned a +4 plus/minus rating while averaging 19:11 in time on ice.
While some have expressed concern that Scuderi cannot continue to play more than 19 minute per game, his head coach isn’t worried.
“There was some talk about he couldn’t play the minutes,” Sutter noted. “He played every game last year. He played 19 minutes [per game] on a good hockey team, and [he was] a plus player. He played in every playoff game. He’s the only guy in that room, him and [Kris] Versteeg, who played in a playoff game last year, so he’s still able to do that. He’s healthy and fits the program.”
In fact, there’s very little about Scuderi that Sutter is concerned about.
“I’m not spending a whole lot of time with guys who are 36 or 37 years old on adjusting,” said Sutter. “He’s played enough games, with enough teams and enough teammates, in good situations, in bad situations. I’m not really talking to him about the games. I talk to him about how he’s doing [and] how he’s feeling more than anything else.”
“I’m sure it’s not easy [for him], living in a hotel, and with lots of other stuff going on,” added Sutter. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Scuds, or [Vincent Lecavalier] or [Dustin Brown]. You want guys who are consistent. Look at Lecavalier, how good he’s been, how consistent. That’s what you’re looking for. It’s not expecting something they’re not capable of. That’s all you want from Scuds. He’s really a guy [where] the less you notice him, the better he is, clearly. That hasn’t changed.”
Indeed, for Scuderi, after the season he’s had, returning to the Kings is the best thing he could’ve asked for.
“I still enjoy what I do, and I’m still willing to do those things that may not be so flashy, but they’re certainly needed,” he noted. “Like I said, the biggest thing is that you know exactly what’s expected of you. They cut right to the chase. There’s no beating around the bush, no games. They tell you what they want, and that’s it. You either do your job or you don’t.”
“To me, it was a breath of fresh air during a long season to come here, to know what’s expected, and to go out and do it.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi/ Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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