LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi: “You Can’t Re-Create, You Have To Re-Invent”
May 7, 2016 2 Comments
LOMBARDI: Update on Darryl Sutter contract negotiations included.
LOS ANGELES — The local media requested time with Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi about two weeks ago, but after initially acknowledging the request, there was nothing but silence from the Kings communications staff until the evening of May 5, when we were told that he would be available the next morning for a media conference call.
So why the long wait? As it turns out, the Kings are in deep, philosophical thought about all aspects of the team and hockey operations.
“I haven’t been avoiding you,” Lombardi began. “So if I give you a little preamble without going into particulars, after we got over the punch in the gut, I think we had to re-evaluate everything.”
“I think the theme of the last couple weeks—it started with the amateur scouts, and I’ll make it very simple,” Lombardi continued. “I think we talked about this after we had won the first Cup, and remember, I had told you I had talked to a number of people. Despite what a lot of those people told me, they also warned me that you’re not going to understand it, probably until you go through it.”
“Now I think I get it, and I think two things have happened here at every level of our franchise, including me, so it starts at the top—your players, your coaches, your general manager, your scouts, your development people—everybody. It started with the amateur scouts because they were in, so that was the first seven days around the clock here, and then the development guys, and then we just started with the NHL coaches yesterday.”
Lombardi indicated that the franchise had, based on the fact they had won two Stanley Cup Championships in recent years, thought they had a winning formula. But no longer.
“Here’s the bottom line,” he said. “I think, like I said, success is a bad teacher and two things can happen. I think, to a certain degree, every part of us got a little full of ourselves. Secondly, which is most crippling, is once you’ve had success, there’s a tendency—and remember the statement where somebody had told me, one of those guys who had won—they said, ‘you can’t re-create, you have to re-invent,’ and now I get it. So you can’t approach things saying, ‘this worked in the past, and all we’ve got to do is go back and do it this way again and we’ll re-capture it,’ and I think what this season clearly demonstrated. That’s not the case, and there’s a reason why.”
“Your players are different,” he added. “Your economics are different. Your spiritual chemistry’s different, and you stop striving to take the next step. So all the innovation and the spark that we had when we were building this, there’s a tendency to flat line because we figured it out. We don’t have to do anything different, anything better, and we know it all, and it stagnates. So this was the theme, like it’s really hit me, and actually, I had this premonition coming before even the playoffs. I could see it, and like I said, I think you could see it within every part of the organization.”
“When you hear things like ‘OK, these guys, all they’ve got to do is get in the playoffs, and they know how to win. They can go down, get down two or three games and everything else.’ That is a symptom of the past, and you’re at a very different stage at a macro and micro level, and when that’s your attitude, it’s not going to work.”
To be sure, it’s time for the Kings to review, renew, re-invigorate, and re-tool.
“That’s why I now understand what those people had told me, and also I understand that I probably wouldn’t have understood it unless [I experienced] it, and usually now, failure is the best teacher,” said Lombardi. “So it’s very simple for every part of this organization right now, and it started with the amateur scouts. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and admit that these two things happened, and now we have to get back on that path—the innovation, the spark, the challenge that was there seven years ago, and we were coming from the gutter.”
“You’ve got to get it back, and the other thing that happened here, too, and I think what makes it really resonate—we should’ve been aware of this last year,” added Lombardi. “But last year we had a lot of built-in excuses, right? We play for three years into June, they’re tired. What else [have] we got? We had all the issues off-ice, and everything else. Well, you can’t go back on that anymore, and, like I said, I started the meeting with the amateur scouts, saying, ‘we’re making progress,’ and they looked at me like, ‘oh, yeah.’”
“Last year at this time I was spending all my time with drugs, domestic violence and everything else. Now we’re going to get back to finding ways to get better, and just like in the past, it might not work. But we’re not going to stop trying to get better. So if we expect our players to adapt, if we expect them to re-create themselves—it gets to the same place, make no mistake. It is about getting that feeling back.”
Getting that feeling back isn’t going to easy, or fast.
“Just to think you can reach back from the past and think you have it all is a real misgotten conclusion, and [the scouts] were great,” Lombardi noted. “Those guys, like I said, making progress when they walked out of here and they were working around the clock, and one of them said, ‘You know what? It feels like seven years ago.’ I said, ‘You’re right, because we’re stimulated again and not living in the past.’ So there you go. That’s what’s going on here, and I think for everybody, in the terms of debriefing what happened here and how we’re going to attack, everybody needs to take a good look, ‘do you want to go through this?’ Because there’s a lot of work to be done here.”
“The other thing, too, that’s very clear to me on where we’re at, the plan I’m thinking that is going to come out of this is really going to take everybody accepting different challenges, but [also] getting on board,” Lombardi added. “We’re not going backwards by any stretch of the imagination here. But in order to re-create it, it’s creating a new foundation. The guys who are gone, whatever, the chemistry of your team is different, and they can handle it. The beauty of those kids is they know how to win, but now you have to take that experience, look yourself in the mirror, and say, ‘OK. we’ve got to re-create our version of winning.’”
After delivering his doctoral dissertation on the challenges ahead and how to address them, Lombardi said that head coach Darryl Sutter has a contract offer in front of him.
“Darryl certainly has an offer on the table,” he said. “You understand his personality, and I think he’s smart. Just as he had to be on board when he came here, it’s the same for my scouts, and people who are under contract right now. If we’re not up to this challenge and being pushed right now, you don’t want to be in. So there’s an offer that’s certainly respectable, but I don’t think this is about money. I think this is, ‘OK. Are we ready to do this, because this is going to be a lot of work, and just like building in the past, you’re going to have to stick with some tough times. We’re not going back to there, make no mistake. We’re going to get this back on track, but there’s going to be some minor punches in the gut, too, as we fight our way through.”
Lombardi insisted that new challenges ahead, not money, are now the deciding factors for Sutter.
“Like I said, the one thing that’s clear, as this was going back and forth, that issue of where we’re going and where we are is always there, right? But you’re still talking numbers and everything else, and you have this market out there that we’ve had to deal with,” he noted. “I think we’re all aware of those big contracts and things, so that part of the dialogue now is off the table. I think he’s comfortable with what’s there.”
“Just like when he came here, and just like when his last contract was up, [the media] and everybody else [asked], ‘does he really want to do it?’ But I think it’s a little different now because of where we’re at,” he added. “It’s a different challenge, just like I said, that I have to adapt, players have to adapt, coaches have got to adapt, [and] scouts have got to adapt.”
“It’s a smart thing. You want to hear where we’re going and what our game plan is, and it’s no different than when I first hired him. What’s our game plan? What do you think? Do you want to coach a good team? But I think the money part, though, what I would say as of four or five days ago was that the issue of ‘what I’m worth’ and everything has kind of been off to the side now. You guys asked him that question two years ago, didn’t you? ‘Are you going back to the farm, or are you coaching,’ right? It’s the same thing right now. It’s not a money issue.”
Just as Sutter indicated a couple of weeks ago that he intended to return, Lombardi also believes Sutter will be his team’s head coach next season.
“Yes, that would be my take, which is why I’m not concerned,” he said. “Unfortunately, scouts are here first. They went through their seven days of hell, so to speak. You can call it hell, or you can call it getting better and being stimulated. In the meantime, the coaches were dealing with all the players, right? So you had things going on here around the clock, non-stop.”
“I even told [Sutter], ‘hold off,’” he added. “I said, as long as the money’s there, we have to get together and really look at what we need to do to get this back, because quite frankly, I don’t have a problem with that, as I told the other scouts. If you’re not willing to buy into this, don’t work. It’s the same with the coaches.”
Lombardi pointed out that the situation is pretty much the same as when Sutter was hired, and prior to his previous contract signing.
“It’s happened twice before when he came here,” said Lombardi. “It’s the same question as when I first brought him here. ‘Here’s what we’ve got, here’s what the owners like, here’s what the game plan is, here’s our strength, here’s our weakness.’ Boom, he takes it. His contract was up last time. Same questions. I think it’s a little tougher, and the difference for both of us, at this time, is it’s safe to say we’re in uncharted waters.”
“I think it’s safe to say when I brought him here that we had great experience building,” added Lombardi. “We knew what we wanted and knew what we do. I think part of the problem is, like I said, the safety in doing things the same way after you’ve won, and this is a little—it’s not scary, but you see now what’s happened. We know we’re not where we want to be. The things that have happened were arguably predictable because of past history in other sports, or whatever, and now you have to fix it. That’s a different challenge, probably, than any of us have faced because we had never won before, and I want it that way.”
“This is no different than the first guys, the amateur scouts. Here are all these mistakes, here’s why, but the other thing, too? I don’t think we got better. I think we had very good success and we were doing things the same way, and two things happened. Everybody else caught [us], started copying [us], whether it was, drafting guys—all those guys, ‘oh, they’re crazy taking [Wayne] Simmonds, he’s been through two drafts.’ Well, that’s gone. Then you’ve got the issue of the layers. That’s all been taken over. Then you’ve got the issue of how you value it to move up. Well, everybody’s doing that, so what are you going to do, stand pat?”
No. Not anymore.
“There are tons of things we can do to get better, and what really helps is the use of technology,” Lombardi observed. “Technology doesn’t give you the answers. That’s the fallacy. The stat thing will never give you the answers, but it’s a way to find the answers yourself. That’s the difference, and obviously, given how I started this off, we can never underestimate the importance of the chemistry and the emotion.”
“We’ve talked about this from Day 1, right? Economic chemistry, spiritual chemistry. I ask you guys this all the time, right? You go into a room, and you all say the same thing. ‘Yeah, you can feel it. Yeah, you can feel it.’ Well, there’s that part there that doesn’t translate into stats, but I think it comes back to being the best you can be and pushing yourself, and that’s, in the end, what resonates, and there are ways we can push ourselves to get five percent better. I’m not as depressed now talking about it, because there’s been a lot of work. I’m getting fired up now.”
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