But before he looked ahead, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) Dan Beckerman, praised former Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi and former head coach Darryl Sutter, who were fired on April 10.
“[April 10] was a difficult day,” said Beckerman. “I’ve been here for about 20 years now, and that was probably one of the toughest days I’ve had with the Kings. This was a very difficult decision, one that was not taken lightly. We are all grateful for what Dean and Darryl did for this organization. They built an incredible team. They built an incredible infrastructure. They brought us two Stanley Cup Championships. They took the franchise to new heights. They set the bar extremely high and for that, we’re all indebted to them forever, for what they did for this team, and this franchise.”
“We have tremendous respect for Dean and Darryl and we want to thank them both for what they did for us during their time with the organization,” said Luc Robitaille, who was named club President, overseeing both business and hockey operations. “Everyone who had the opportunity to work with them, including me, is better for it. They taught us a lot about building a winning culture and striving to be the best. We promise you this: we will never take their contributions for granted.”
As much as Lombardi valued loyalty and built it into the Kings’ culture, it is loyalty that helped push him out the door…more on that later. But it also resulted in ownership looking within the organization for its new leadership.
“Loyalty is something that’s important to this organization,” Beckerman noted. “It’s part of our culture. It’s part of our core, which is what made this decision so difficult. But loyalty is also why these two guys are sitting next to me, as leaders of this club. Luc Robitaille was drafted as a King, became a Hall of Famer as a King, and now is the President of the club. Rob Blake—drafted as a King, became a Hall of Famer as a King, and is now our general manager.”
“When change is needed, and those opportunities arise, we like to look from within, and develop from within,” Beckerman added “That’s also an important part of our culture. So this was a very difficult decision, but ultimately, it was about our future, it was about evolving, and it was about moving forward, as an organization, and there are high expectations.”
“There’s no question, with what this team has accomplished in 2012 and 2014, that the bar is set extremely high. This business is about success and we have not met our goals the last three years. We need to be competing for championships every year, and we have not met that objective the last three years.”
One of the other things Lombardi did was train, develop and groom Blake for the job.
“To be in a position to lead this organization—the success this organization has had, Dean and Darryl took it to new heights,” said Blake. “They won two Stanley Cups. The opportunity that arose to get us to that level again is something you would only dream of.”
“If you could get into a situation for four or five years as an understudy, to sit and watch somebody put this organization together, that’s tremendous,” added Blake. “I have the utmost respect for what he was able to accomplish. If you look at our core, they’re in their prime. He was able to [build] that. He built a culture here. He started this culture and we need to continue it.”
“Yesterday was a tough, tough day. But I have the utmost respect for Dean Lombardi and what he was able to teach me and lead me through. I’m excited about this journey, to work with Dan and Luc and to fulfill what everyone wants us to do.”
Robitaille said that the Kings currently have a core group of players that can lead their team back to hockey’s Promised Land.
“In the end, this is about the LA Kings and it’s about winning Stanley Cups,” he emphasized. “We believe that this team has the core in place to win the Stanley Cup. Guys like [Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick]—these guys are all in their prime.”
“As we look forward, we have great confidence in our players, we have great confidence in our on-ice leadership team, and we have confidence in our management, led by Rob and by Luc, and we expect success,” said Beckerman. “Our fans expect success. We believe that we will be, once again, playing hockey in May and June.”
Something else Lombardi built was the infrastructure that allowed the Kings to draft and develop players, something that was virtually non-existent prior to his arrival in April 2006.
Beckerman indicated that the Kings would continue to invest in the house that Dean built.
“Dean built a great system,” he noted. “It was based on development, drafting and on our minor league teams. We’re always going to be committed to that.”
“That’s of utmost importance—to have a great system in place, drafting well, developing them well, and putting them into a position where they can play for the big club,” he added.
Lombardi also instilled the current team culture throughout the franchise.
“That culture is in place and I respect that culture 100 percent,” Blake insisted. “It’s a culture that you know has success. Sometimes, you can come into an organization that hadn’t won, and they had this culture or that. This one has been proven here. If you look at Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter [who were present at the press conference], that culture has been molded into them. It’s not coming out, so we’ll build on that.”
“Our dressing room is probably as tight as it can get,” said Kopitar. “We certainly don’t want to change that. We want to stay with the same culture and the same mentality, and build on that. That’s what it’s all about. That’s where the memories are created.”
Last June, after the highly-skilled, speedy Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup and after the Kings were embarrassed by the Stanley Cup finalist San Jose Sharks, who skated circles around the Kings and eliminated them in five games, Lombardi was asked about his team’s lack of speed and skill compared to teams such as the Sharks and Penguins.
“I’m not going to get caught up in the flavor of the month,” he said, in part.
Translation: he believed that the league-wide shift towards smaller, faster, quicker and more skilled players was just a fad, and that no changes in how the Kings play the game or how they draft and develop their prospects were needed.
That Lombardi got caught up in the previous success of the Kings’ system is understandable. After all, it won them two Stanley Cup Championships. But he got stuck on that and failed to see that once the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, as it happens every time, other franchises began to build their teams and change their style of play in ways that would directly counteract and even neutralize what the Kings were doing. The result is where they are today—having won just one playoff game since they won the 2014 Stanley Cup—they’ve missed the playoffs twice in the last three seasons after winning two Stanley Cup Championships in three seasons, a major factor in both Lombardi and Sutter being fired.
“It’s no different from what we’re looking at offensively,” said Blake. “If you take the different traits of the LA Kings, defensively—we’re one of the top defensive teams by far. We don’t deny the back of the net, we stand up at the blue line, we make you give up possession, and we check instead of defend. Take the [offensive equivalent of their defensive success]. What would we do to exploit that offensively?”
“It’s kind of the opposite of what we do really well,” added Blake. “We’ve got to figure out a way to combat that, because that’s what shuts teams down. We’ve got to find a way to open that up.”
“Teams have changed since [their 2012] Stanley Cup team. The majority of the core is still there, but a lot has changed, and a lot of the character—there’s a younger generation on our team now. We need to know how to change and adapt, and that’s what we’re doing going forward.”
Kopitar said that he has noticed that the league is trending towards more speed and skill.
“To a certain extent,” he said. “It seems that, even in the Western Conference, teams are getting smaller and quicker. That’s a change that maybe the league is trending towards. But at the same time, I think you have to have some big bodies. That’s what we’ve got.”
Despite that, Kopitar stressed that the Kings underperforming was on them, and them alone.
“I don’t think it was our size and the speed [or lack thereof],” he said. “We just didn’t play to our potential this year. That’s why we are where we are.”
“We played a hard style of hockey,” he added. “It was very physical, very intense. If you think you can sustain that for 82 straight games, I’d say you were crazy. But we all know that in the playoffs, it works, and you get the extra boost because it is the playoffs. But to have it for the 82-game stretch is a bit of a push. That’s why we got in trouble, sometimes. But for the most part, it worked. When we executed it to a tee, we won games.”
A big reason for the lack of scoring was Lombardi’s loyalty, as evidenced by contracts that were either too expensive, too long, or both, to the likes of Marian Gaborik, Matt Greene and Trevor Lewis, not to mention failing to buy out the contract of Mike Richards. Each of those decisions ate up precious salary cap space that should have been used to improve the skill level of the team—as much as anything else, this led to Lombardi and Sutter’s downfall.
Whatever the reason, they all know what the bottom line is regarding what ails them.
“It’s a little early, but I’m not going to make anything up,” Blake said, matter-of-factly. “We don’t score. It’s been that way this year. There needs to be some emphasis on how we’re going to do that. There’s time now, through this off-season, to come up with those different philosophies, whoever the head coach is. When he’s hired, he’ll have a major impact on that. I’m [also] going to lean on the players for that.”
“It’s not from a lack of talent,” Blake added. “If you look at individual skill, we have lots of that. Collectively, we have to find a way to create more offense. We need to take a real hard look at all the things that go into that, structure-wise, system-wise, player-wise—all that, over the summer, and come up with a game plan that’ll work for these players.”
“The thing with our sport is that it breeds from success. The bar is very high for this organization, and rightly so, with two Stanley Cups [in recent years]. But we’ve slipped from there.”
LEAD PHOTO: From left to right: Dan Beckerman, President/CEO. Anschutz Entertainment Group; Luc Robitaille, President, Los Angeles Kings; Rob Blake, Vice President/General Manager, Los Angeles Kings. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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