On April 21, 2006, Dean Lombardi was named General Manager of a struggling Los Angeles Kings, a franchise that had missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. Under the management of Dave Taylor, the Kings had struggled to find consistency and had great difficulty in drafting and developing a solid foundation in net and on defense. Although the Kings won only one playoff round in eight seasons under the management of Dave Taylor, a significant amount of credit for the success of the Kings in 2012 goes to Dave Taylor and his staff for drafting three key players, players who helped lead the Kings to their first Stanley Cup victory in 45 years. On the day of his hiring, Lombardi said, “I chose the Kings for a number of reasons. First off, I’m a builder, and I see the foundation put in place by Dave Taylor.”
The Kings’ path to the Stanley Cup can be traced back to two pivotal drafts that established the identity of the organization. It all started on June 21, 2003, when Dave Taylor and his scouting staff selected Dustin Brown with the 13th overall pick in what is considered to be the deepest draft in NHL history. “We think he plays very similar to Adam Deadmarsh,” said Dave Taylor when assessing Dustin Brown.
Nine Stanley Cup champions were selected in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and the 2012 LA Kings had possession of three of those players: Jeff Carter (drafted 11th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers), Dustin Brown (drafted 13th overall), and Mike Richards (drafted 24th overall by the Flyers).
Two additional role players on the Kings’ roster were also part of the 2003 draft class. Colin Fraser, who was selected with the 69th pick in the third round was also originally drafted by the Flyers. Fraser went on to capture a Stanley Cup with the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks and was a key player on the Kings’ fourth line in 2012. Brad Richardson was selected in the fifth round with the 163rd pick by the Colorado Avalanche. In total, the 2012 LA Kings had five players on the roster who were drafted in 2003. Although Dave Taylor was responsible for drafting one of those five players, it was Lombardi who was responsible for acquiring Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Colin Fraser, and Brad Richardson with some shrewd wheeling and dealing.
The 2005 NHL Entry Draft brought upon two more players to the Kings who can now be labeled as franchise players for the organization. With the 11th pick in the 2005 draft, the Kings selected Anze Kopitar out of Slovenia. The birthplace of Kopitar was a concern for many scouts heading into the draft as he hailed from a country that had no history of producing hockey talent. Fortunately, those concerns worked in the King’s favor as Kopitar, who was the top ranked European prospect on the NHL’s Central Scouting list, fell into their laps. Dave Taylor knew that his team had drafted a very special talent. “We are looking at a potential home run here to have Anze Kopitar fall to 11,” said Taylor.”We had him rated very high. Certainly, if you look at his skill package with the size and the hands, he has a tremendous amount of upside.”
In the third round, the Kings would draft a goaltender who was playing high school hockey at Avon Old Farms out of Connecticut and had committed to playing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Jonathan Quick was the 72nd player selected in the 2005 draft. “The credit there goes to Brian Putnam, who was a regional scout for us covering the U.S. high schools,” said Taylor.
Dave Taylor had thus laid the foundation for the kingdom that would be completed by Lombardi in 2012. But the process of building a kingdom would get off to a rocky start.
When Lombardi inherited the Kings at the conclusion of the 2005-06 season, they were a team that had finished six points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference and had missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. At that time, the Kings were a team that had no identity and lacked direction. Despite a change in management, the Kings’ struggles continued as they failed to reach the post-season in Lombardi’s first three years as General Manager.
Although Lombardi was hired to rebuild the Kings, he made numerous attempts to acquire established players. On the opening day of free agency in 2006, Lombardi aggressively pursued Zdeno Chara, who eventually opted to stay in the east and signed with the Boston Bruins. Lombardi also attempted to acquire Roberto Luongo from the Florida Panthers, but the uncertainty of acquiring Luongo without a contract extension prevented Lombardi from trading for Luongo. Having failed to acquire Luongo, Lombardi opted to draft and develop a goaltender with his first selection in the 2006 draft by selecting Jonathan Bernier with the 11th overall pick. Lombardi would kick start the rebuild at the 2006 draft when he dealt Pavol Demitra to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for rookie prospect Patrick O’Sullivan and Minnesota’s first round pick, which the Kings used to select Trevor Lewis at 17th overall.
At the 2006 draft, the Kings select goaltender Jonathan Bernier with their first pick, trade Pavol Demitra to Minnesota for Patrick O’Sullivan and Minnesota’s pick, which they used to select Trevor Lewis with the 17th pick.
When Lombardi took control of the Kings, he became proprietor of an organization that was depleted of depth and lacking in high quality prospects who could step in and contribute immediately. The Kings’ roster had to be filled by temporary stopgaps in order to buy time for prospects to develop. Rather than rush prospects who weren’t ready to play in the NHL, Lombardi added older players to his roster, some of whom were reaching the tail end of their playing careers. In the summer of 2012, Lombardi would add Rob Blake, Dan Cloutier, Scott Thornton, Alyn McCauley, and Brian Willsie to his roster. Ultimately, none of these players fit into LA’s long term plans, and Lombardi labeled such players as “mercenaries;” in other words, these players were playing for their own agendas and self interest.
Some of Lombardi’s early decisions came under fire by critics. One of his least popular transactions was the acquisition and contract extension of Dan Cloutier, who had a history of injury problems. Cloutier’s injury problems would persist in Los Angeles and he was promptly exiled to the minors and eventually had his contract bought out by the Kings.
The lowlights of Dan Cloutier’s short lived LA Kings career.
The hiring of Marc Crawford also came under fire as the Kings would only win 27 games in his first season behind the bench.
Nonetheless, Lombardi would continue on with his rebuild by acquiring highly coveted defenseman Jack Johnson, as well as offensive defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky, from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for rugged defenseman Tim Gleason and center Eric Belanger. The move was made to address the Kings’ need for a highly skilled young defenseman that the organization was lacking. Lombardi’s plan to stockpile on draft picks and prospects was further advanced at the 2007 trade deadline as the Kings dealt stalwart defenseman and former team captain Mattias Norstrom to the Dallas Stars. Lombardi said, “Like with most trades, this was a very difficult decision to make. Matty has been a tremendous player for this club for a number of a years and he has been a very respected captain as well. The ability, however, to get two high draft picks will be of great benefit for our organization as we move forward and help build our reserve list and team.”
Veteran center Craig Conroy was dealt to his former club, the Calgary Flames, and defenseman Brent Sopel was sent to Vancouver. In dealing those veteran players, the Kings were able to acquire draft picks that would later become assets that played a critical role in LA’s road to the Stanley Cup.
A fourth round pick in 2007, acquired from Calgary in the Craig Conroy trade was used to select Dwight King, a rookie left wing who netted five goals and eight points in the 2012 playoffs. The Kings acquired a second round pick in 2007 from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Brent Sopel, which was used to select Wayne Simmonds. The 2008 first round pick acquired from Dallas in the Mattias Norstrom trade would eventually be used as an asset in LA’s acquisition of Dustin Penner in 2011.
The Kings go off the board by selecting Thomas Hickey with the 4th overall pick at the 2007 Entry Draft.
The 2007 NHL Entry Draft would turn out to be quite fortuitous for the Kings, as they would end up drafting four players who would eventually play regularly with the Kings. Their first pick at 4th overall, defenseman Thomas Hickey, has spent the past five years developing his game in the Western Hockey League and American Hockey League and has yet to appear in a game in the NHL. However, the Kings would select two players in the second round who would graduate to the NHL in 2008. With the 52nd pick in the draft, the Kings selected Swedish forward Oscar Moller, who has appeared in 87 games in the NHL and has amassed 12 goals and 26 points. The Kings would then use the 61st pick in the draft to select an unranked Wayne Simmonds.
On the draft floor, Lombardi was able to move up in the fourth round to snatch a player his scouts had honed in on. Lombardi would trade a 2007 sixth round pick along with a 2008 fourth round pick in exchange for the 95th pick, which was used to select mobile defenseman Alec Martinez. Fourteen picks later, the Kings would draft Dwight King with the 109th pick.
While the Kings continued to rebuild in 2007, Lombardi made another attempt to sign star players as Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, members of the Buffalo Sabres at the time, and Scott Gomez, the playmaking center for the New Jersey Devils, all became available as unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2007. Drury and Gomez would sign with the New York Rangers and Briere would sign an eight-year contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. Being left empty handed in his pursuit of the top three free agents of 2007, Lombardi went on a spending spree by signing five free agents in a span of two days: Brad Stuart, Michal Handzus, Ladislav Nagy, Kyle Calder, and Tom Preissing. Lombardi openly admitted that these signings were his “Plan B.” Lombardi said, “You just got to go to Plan B and stay on the course.”
“Ideally, when you enter free agency, you don’t have a lot of holes and you get free agents who can add to your core not build your core,” said Lombardi.
The 2007-08 season would be another struggle for the Kings as they stumbled through the season with only a three point improvement from the previous season. The goaltending woes continued to plague the Kings, who would see seven different goaltenders between the pipes. The abysmal season would lead to the dismissal of head coach Marc Crawford.
Lombardi said, “I think it’s fair to say we did not expect the team to be out of the playoffs in January. I don’t think we were kidding ourselves and thinking we were world-beaters. But I don’t think it was reasonable for us to be out by January.” Lombardi added, “In the end it just comes down to fit.”
Although the Kings finished with the second to last record in the NHL in 2007-08, the consolation prize of Drew Doughty was worth the suffering, as Doughty would become one of the rare breed of defensemen who would make the jump straight to the NHL after being drafted as an 18 year old. Lombardi was gleaming with excitement having landed the franchise defenseman that he had highly coveted for years. Lombardi on Doughty, “Doughty’s hockey sense is off the charts. I think everyone has a handle of what type of player he is and the special player he could become.”
In addition to drafting Doughty at 2nd overall, the Kings would make another significant move on draft day: sending Michael Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames and obtaining an additional first round pick. The pick would be used to move up to 13th overall, with the Kings selecting physical defenseman Colten Teubert from the Regina Pats of the WHL. In the second round, the Kings would select puck-rushing defenseman Slava Voynov with the 32nd pick in the draft, then in the fifth round, the Kings would select skilled center Andrei Loktionov with the 123rd pick. Having an excess of draft picks also enabled Lombardi to acquire an NHL ready player as the Kings sent a late second round pick to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Brad Richardson, a speedy forward capable of playing any position.
Shortly after the draft, Lombardi would make another shocking move as he dealt fan favorite defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky to the Edmonton Oilers. Visnovsky was entering the first year of a five year contract extension that he had signed in 2007 and was recognized as LA’s top puck moving defenseman. The selection of Drew Doughty gave the Kings the option to move Visnovsky for two players who could add more size and grit to the Kings’ lineup. In exchange for Visnovsky, the Oilers sent center Jarret Stoll and defenseman Matt Greene to Los Angeles.
Acquiring Stoll and Greene from Edmonton also gave the Kings a more balanced lineup. Stoll would become the Kings’ second line center and Matt Greene presented the Kings with a physical presence that the team was lacking on the blueline. “It’s never easy to give up a player of Lubo’s caliber, but for the direction of the franchise, this exchange allows us to add two players who fit the long-term vision for this team,” Lombardi said.
The 2008-09 season would be the precursor to the success the Kings would enjoy three seasons later. The turnaround for the Kings started when Terry Murray was named head coach of the LA Kings. “We are very pleased that Terry has accepted this challenge,” Lombardi said. “He has a wide range of coaching experience and he understands the importance of teaching, which is critical to the building process.”
What Terry Murray helped teach and establish to a young Kings team was the importance of defensive play, a concept that had not been taught or preached by Marc Crawford. Terry Murray taught Anze Kopitar how to become a 200-foot player, and the Kings started to show signs of structure and stability due in large part to their improved defensive play.
“I know exactly what the process is, to move this along and to get this organization back on track. We have some very good young hockey players in this organization, and we’re going to get younger and we are going to bring along those young players at the right time and develop them in the right process so that they can feel success in this NHL,” said Terry Murray on the day of his hiring.
The Kings would take progressive steps forward in the 2008-09 season. Drew Doughty would make his impressive rookie debut for the Kings. In addition to Doughty, the Kings would also receive contributions from first year forwards Wayne Simmonds and Oscar Moller, but the most surprising contribution would come from Kings rookie goalie Jonathan Quick. The emergence of Jonathan Quick as LA’s new starting goalie allowed the Kings to cut ties with Jason LaBarbera, a star goaltender in the AHL who struggled to find success in the NHL. The Kings also received a nice surprise in the early stages of the season when they claimed defenseman Kyle Quincey off of waivers from the Detroit Red Wings.
In what is now considered a cunning move, Lombardi pulled off a surprising trade when he dealt one of his young skilled forwards in Patrick O’Sullivan along with a second round draft pick to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for veteran right wing Justin Williams. At the time of the trade, Justin Williams was recuperating from a number of ailments that had restricted him to 32 games with the Hurricanes. He wasn’t fully healthy when the Kings acquired him and Williams would only appear in 12 games for the Kings, scoring one goal and four points. What triggered O’Sullivan’s exit from the Kings was his holdout, and he struggled to replicate his previous seasons success when he netted 22 goals and 53 points. The trade for Williams signaled the end of LA’s rebuilding phase and became the start of Lombardi’s attempt to add proven talent to surround his young core of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and Jonathan Quick.
Much to the dismay of Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, the Kings select Brayden Schenn with the 5th overall pick at the 2009 Entry Draft.
With the 5th overall pick in hand at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Kings selected center Brayden Schenn from the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Schenn’s scouting reports labeled him as a playmaking center who also played with a physical edge, but there were concerns raised about Schenn’s size and if his body could withhold the punishment and rigors of his abrasive style of play. Schenn’s physicality led to repeated issues with his shoulders (which he still suffers from today), but those concerns did not dissuade the Kings from selecting him with the fifth pick. Lombardi shared his thoughts on Schenn: “His number one attribute is his competitiveness. This is a good player and a kid who doesn’t quit. There was a playoff game against Calgary, and he hurt his shoulder but he first refused to leave the game and then he refused to leave the bench.”
With Brayden Schenn in the pipeline, the Kings now had a future top six center who could be groomed to play on the second scoring unit behind Anze Kopitar. The player that Brayden Schenn drew the most comparisons to was Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards. The Kings’ went off the draft board with their second round selection when they selected Kyle Clifford with the 35th pick. This selection was similar to what the Kings had done in the previous year’s draft when they selected the unranked Wayne Simmonds in the second round. Similar to Simmonds, Clifford was also recognized for being a highly physical forward who loved to initiate contact.
With the Kings continuing to stockpile assets with 10 selections at the 2009 draft, Lombardi had collected enough resources to pull the trigger on a trade that would help add more scoring to a team that was starving for goals. And he did just that on July 4, 2009, when he acquired Ryan Smyth from the Colorado Avalanche for defensemen Kyle Quincey, Tom Preissing, and a fifth round selection. Lombardi said, “Ryan is the type of player who fits with our team. He fills an important need as he is a competitive, gritty scoring left winger, and he fits with the overall identity we continue to build here.”
A day prior to the Smyth transaction, the Kings signed stay-at-home defenseman Rob Scuderi to a four year contract. Scuderi was a valuable addition to the Kings’ blueline as he had been an instrumental piece in Pittsburgh’s successful run to the Stanley Cup in 2009. Scuderi also gave Drew Doughty a reliable defensive partner who could support Doughty’s offensive game. Lombardi on Scuderi, “He fits. He is a shut-down defenseman who breaks up plays and kills penalties. You can match him against tough top lines and still pair him with our good, puck-moving defensemen.”
The veteran additions to the Kings’ roster would provide a significant impact as the Kings improved by 22 points and ended a six year drought by reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02. The team’s goal scoring production increased by 34 goals (from 207 to 241) and the Kings surrendered 15 less goals (from 234 to 219). Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Ryan Smyth provided most of the team’s offense while Drew Doughty enjoyed one of the most successful seasons ever by a 20 year old defenseman, earning himself a Norris Trophy nomination for the best defenseman in the NHL and a Gold Medal as a member of the Canadian Olympic hockey team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Rather than being sellers and trading players to acquire prospects and draft picks, the Kings became buyers by adding two veteran forwards at the trade deadline. On March 3, 2010, the Kings would acquire Fredrik Modin from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a conditional seventh round pick and also acquired two-way center Jeff Halpern from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Teddy Purcell and third round draft choice. Purcell, who was expected to provide an offensive role in the Kings’ lineup, had struggled to fit into Terry Murray’s schemes and was subsequently moved so that the Kings could address their need for a veteran fourth line center.
The Kings finished the season in sixth place in the Western Conference and drew the third place Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs. The Kings would succumb to Vancouver in six games, but the season was considered a success for the young up-and-coming team.
The summer off-season of 2010 will be remembered for the Ilya Kovalchuk saga that became a two horse race between the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils. The Kings courted Kovalchuk and offered him a 15-year contract worth $80 million, averaging $5.33 million per year. The New Jersey Devils would win the Kovalchuk sweepstakes by offering Kovalchuk a 17-year contract worth $100 million. Having lost Alexander Frolov as an unrestricted free agent who had signed with the New York Rangers, the Kings were left to pursue the leftovers of free agency and ended up signing left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky to a one-year deal worth $3 million.
The biggest addition the Kings would make that summer would be the signing of veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell to a two-year contract worth $7 million. Mitchell had drawn interest from the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals, but the Kings were the only NHL club willing to offer Mitchell a two-year contract. Mitchell had suffered from a serious concussion that cut his season short in 2009-10, but the Kings took their chances with the sturdy defenseman and bolstered their defense by adding Mitchell to their blueline.
“Speaking to ex-teammates of mine now, and some peers of mine, they felt the Kings gave them everything that they could handle,” Mitchell said. “That’s exciting for a young team and as a young team you have to go through some series and experiences like that to get you to the next level. I have been to the playoffs a lot in my career and hopefully I can come down and bring some experience in those situations and help the team build toward the ultimate prize.”
Adding Willie Mitchell to the Kings’ defense lowered LA’s goals against to 198 (fifth best in the league), but the loss of Frolov coupled with the lack of firepower on offense resulted in only 219 goals for, making them the ninth worst offensive team in the NHL. To address the team’s lack of scoring, Lombardi made a move at the trade deadline by acquiring big bodied left wing Dustin Penner from the Edmonton Oilers, sending former first round pick Colten Teubert as well as a first round choice in 2011 to Edmonton.
“I think what makes him attractive is that he can do a lot of things but he clearly can play the left wing. I like the fact that he’s been to the Stanley Cup finals and knows what it takes to win. All the reports we get on him, including [the former Edmonton players] that are here, Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll, were high on the type of person he is and also said that he would fit in with this group,” said Lombardi. Penner would get off to a hot start with the Kings, scoring six points in his first seven games with the team. Unfortunately, Penner’s offensive contributions would dry up shortly after as he would go scoreless in his next 12 games and would only score a goal and an assist in six playoff games. The Kings’ offensive woes escalated when they lost Anze Kopitar to a broken ankle.
A late season ankle injury to Anze Kopitar and a dislocated shoulder suffered by Justin Williams within the same week dealt major blows to an already stagnant Kings’ offense. The Kings would end the season sitting at seventh place in the Western Conference and would face off against the Pacific Division leaders, the San Jose Sharks. The Kings would put on a strong effort against the Sharks, but their inexperience showed in the postseason as the Kings would blow a four-goal lead in Game Three and lose in overtime. The Kings also had a great opportunity to win Game Six as they drew a five-minute powerplay heading into overtime. The Kings would fail to convert on the extended powerplay and Joe Thornton would score the series clinching winner, sending the Kings home with yet another first round exit.
Unlike previous years, expectations were high for the Kings entering the 2011-12 season. Those expectations were raised due in large part to the acquisition of Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards. The Flyers shocked the hockey world when they traded two of their top six forwards in a matter of minutes. First they sent Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, a first round selection in the 2011 draft (which was used to select Sean Couturier at eighth overall), and a third round pick. Moments later, the Flyers would trade their captain, Mike Richards, who had helped lead the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.
The trades marked a change in direction for the Flyers, and it also marked a change in direction for the Kings as they were now considered a team that could be in contention for the Stanley Cup. The years of accumulating assets such as prospects and draft picks eventually paid dividends as the Kings would send two former draft selections, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, along with a second round pick in the 2012 draft to Philadelphia to obtain Richards. What Richards brought to the Kings was a winning pedigree: he had won a Memorial Cup in 2003 with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, a Calder Cup with the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, served as captain and won a gold medal from the 2005 World Junior Championship with Team Canada, and a gold medal with the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. The only major award missing from his trophy collection was a Stanley Cup. Lombardi told reporters, “We all know what this guy stands for. You’ve just got to watch him play. This goes back to his juniors. Everywhere this guy has gone, he has won. Whether it’s junior hockey, whether it’s World Junior tournaments, right into the American League.”
Lombardi’s summer would get a bit more complicated as Ryan Smyth, a veteran left wing who was counted upon to be a top six forward for the Kings, requested he be dealt to his hometown Edmonton Oilers. Being constrained to negotiate with one team, Lombardi’s options were limited, and the Oilers attempted to take advantage of the situation by offering injured forward Gilbert Brule who was still recovering from a concussion. The NHL’s Central Registry nixed any trade involving Brule as he had not been medically cleared to resume play, and so an agreement was struck that would send Colin Fraser and a seventh round pick to the Kings and the Oilers would receive Ryan Smyth. Lombardi had received assurance from Oilers General Manager, Steve Tambellini, that Colin Fraser would be healthy and days away from being medically cleared from a fractured foot he was nursing from blocking a shot in the previous season. Upon acquiring Colin Fraser, the Kings doctors discovered that Fraser required surgery that would have Fraser miss training camp and the start of the regular season. This ordeal caused quite the stir with a frustrated Lombardi, to the point that a grievance was filed with the league office. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and Colin Fraser’s foot healed quicker than anticipated; making his Kings debut in early November.
After acquiring Mike Richards from the Flyers, it was assumed that the Kings would no longer have interest in pursuing the top player of the 2011 free agent class, playmaking center Brad Richards. On July 1, 2011, the Kings would fly an entourage of front office personnel to Toronto to meet with Brad Richards and his agent, Pat Morris. The Kings would make an aggressive pitch and were considered as one of the top three teams to be in contention for his services; however, Brad Richards would turn down the Kings’ offer and sign a heavily frontloaded contract with the New York Rangers.
Having missed out on yet another high caliber free agent forward, the Kings went to Plan B when they signed oft-injured left wing Simon Gagne to a two-year contract worth $7 million. Gagne’s career had been mired by a series of concussions, but the risk was worth the reward for a team that was in desperate need for goal scoring. Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall felt that the risk was worth the reward when he told reporters, “There’s risk with every player. You always analyze the risk vs. reward. Obviously with the amount of money that goes into it, and the cap space, you look at the injuries, and we felt that the reward was worth the risk. I think the one thing about Simon is that he’s always been a big-game player. He has scored big goals at critical times. You look at his playoff numbers, and he played in some real big games and has played some of his best hockey. That’s part of the reward that we look at. This is a pretty darn good player, and he’s also a very good defensive player, a much better defensive player than people give him credit for. He can kill penalties, he can check and obviously with the offensive part of his game, he’s got a track record of numbers there.”
To bolster his team’s depth, Lombardi would add two additional veteran forwards to his roster with the signings of Ethan Moreau and Trent Hunter. Both players had each missed a majority of the 2010-11 season due to injuries.
Lombardi’s summer was further complicated when the team struggled to sign star defenseman Drew Doughty, who staged a holdout that caused him to miss the entirety of training camp. Doughty’s holdout came to an end on September 29, 2011 when he signed an eight-year contract worth $56 million. Doughty said, “I knew it was just a matter of time before it got done and I’m just really excited to be a part of that team for eight years. I hope we can win many Stanley Cups in that time and I’m going to do everything I can to help lead us to that.”
The Kings would start 2011-12 by opening the season in Europe with games against the New York Rangers in Sweden, and against the Buffalo Sabres in Germany. After a promising start to the season with a 6-2-2 in their first 10 games, the Kings would go winless in their next five games. Despite receiving consistently strong performances from goaltender Jonathan Quick, the Kings would struggle to offensively support their All-Star goaltender.
By December, the Kings were clinging to a playoff spot, sitting at eighth place in the Western Conference. They were also one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, finishing the season with 28 games in which they scored one goal or less. Finding his team underachieving and struggling with consistency, Lombardi would relieve Terry Murray of his coaching duties on December 12, 2011. Lombardi admitted that the team had failed to meet its expectations. “In every franchise there are different levels of expectations,” he said. “This team came into the season with high expectations.”
Eight days later, Lombardi would reach out to an old friend and hire Darryl Sutter as the new bench boss for the Kings. In bringing in Sutter, Lombardi was seeking a coach who could instill an identity for his struggling hockey team. Sutter was well known for being stern and intense behind the bench, which was the polar opposite of the stoic personality of Terry Murray. To Lombardi, it was critical that his team form an identity. “I think the one thing he immediately gives your team is an identity. Having known him as a man, you know he stands for something. Usually when you have an identity and you stand for something, some people are going to like it and some people aren’t. As soon as he comes in, your team starts getting an identity. So it’s that intangible that you can’t define, that I can’t put into numbers, and I think that’s critical. I think we’ve struggled with that a bit this year, and I think that if we’re ever going to get to that level we want to, I don’t care how good your players are, or whatever, you have to establish an identity and stand for something.”
Shortly after his hiring, Sutter would make two critical player personnel decisions that would impact the dynamic of his team when he decided to call up forwards Dwight King and Jordan Nolan from the Kings’ minor league affiliate in Manchester. King and Nolan would replace Ethan Moreau and Trent Hunter, who were both relegated to the AHL. Having lost one of their top six forwards (Simon Gagne had suffered a concussion), the Kings were forced to find scoring from outside of their organization as many of the forwards on the Kings roster were struggling to find the net.
With the Kings realizing that Slava Voynov was ready to step in and contribute regularly on a nightly basis, the Kings had to find room for him on their roster. Lombardi accomplished that by dealing from a position of strength and addressing a position of weakness: he dealt defenseman Jack Johnson and a first round draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for disgruntled forward Jeff Carter, who was unhappy with the move to Columbus. Carter was reunited with former Flyers teammate Mike Richards, and the move gave the Kings a sniper who could inject some much needed firepower to the Kings’ lineup. “Jeff is a proven goal scorer in our league,” said Lombardi. “He brings goal-scoring abilities, speed, and at his age he is entering the prime of his career. We also like his versatility as he can play both center and wing.”
The trade would not have precipitated had it not been for the development of Slava Voynov, who comfortably replaced Jack Johnson as an offensive defenseman on the second defensive unit, playing alongside Willie Mitchell. “The only way that we can make this deal is because we have some young defensemen coming through the system,” said Lombardi.
The addition of Jeff Carter helped propel the Kings to a record of 13-5-3 and the Kings would average three goals per game over the final 21 games of the season. The Kings would secure the eighth and final playoff in the Western Conference and would gain an opportunity to extract revenge against the team that had knocked them out of six games in the 2010 playoffs.
The Kings would gain steam from their first round victory against the Vancouver Canucks, eliminating the Presidents’ Trophy winners in five games and would make quick work of the second place St. Louis Blues by sweeping them in four games. In the Western Conference Finals, the Kings would face the Pacific Division winning Phoenix Coyotes and oust them in five games. The Kings would capture the franchise’s second Clarence S. Campbell Bowl as Western Conference Champions and would make their second appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. The Kings advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with a dominant 10-2 record and were receiving offensive contribution from every player in the lineup.
The Kings’ dominance would continue on in the Stanley Cup Final as they jumped ahead to a 3-0 series lead, becoming the first team in NHL history to take a 3-0 lead in all four playoff rounds. The Kings would also set a new NHL record by becoming the first team in league history to win 10 consecutive playoff games on the road in one postseason. The Stanley Cup Final would end up being decided in six games as the Kings toppled the Devils by a score of 6-1 in the deciding game, capturing the organization’s first Stanley Cup in their 45 year history. The Kings became the first eight seeded team to capture a Stanley Cup and enjoyed the second best performance in NHL playoff history with a 16-4 record. All-Star goaltender Jonathan Quick would capture the Conn Smythe Trophy by establishing new NHL playoff records with a 1.41 goals against average and a .946 save percentage.
What made the Kings’ run to the Stanley Cup possible was the years of patience exhibited by Lombardi. The meticulous General Manager was a firm believer in proper player development and preached that in order for his team to improve, the core players on his roster: Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick, had to take the next step and elevate their game to a higher level. The internal development and maturity of the Kings came on display during the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
To further illustrate Lombardi’s philosophy of building from within: twelve of the Kings’ 23 players on their Cup winning team were obtained through the draft. Eight players were acquired by trade, and three were free agent signings.
As the diagram indicates, the Kings are a team that was largely built from within. The Kings never had to depend on free agency as a means to build their roster. Lombardi viewed the free agent market as an opportunity to acquire established players who could provide supportive (yet critical) roles for his hockey club. The Kings never dealt away their future for a quick fix and surrounded his core with players who could help elevate his team’s performance. Lombardi designed a team that is built to win and contend for a championship for many years. Shortly after capturing their first Stanley Cup, the Kings made a long-term commitment by signing Jonathan Quick to a 10-year contract. The Kings also retained all of their free agents as they re-signed Jarret Stoll, Colin Fraser and Dustin Penner before the start of free agency. With the entire cast from the 2012 Cup run intact, the Kings are gearing for a second consecutive Stanley Cup in 2013.
Moments after capturing the Stanley Cup, Lombardi was quick to point to two former members of the organization who left a lasting impact that helped shape the identity of his team: “Let’s get something straight here, whenever a team has won, there’s some guys that don’t get appreciated. You have to give a lot of credit to [former Kings GM] Dave Taylor; I started out with three darn good players in [Dustin] Brown, [Anze] Kopitar and [Jonathan] Quick. Let’s not ever forget what he did. And let’s not forget [former coach] Terry Murray, too. He stabilized this franchise and gave us credibility. There’s some unsung heroes here that need to be appreciated.”
The 45 years of mediocrity came to an end for the Kings when the organization’s upper management realized that the proper way to build a winning team is by placing a high emphasis on drafting and player development. It is a philosophy that Lombardi has lived by his entire career.
How the Kingdom was Built
|Dustin Brown||2003 Draft
|Anze Kopitar||2005 Draft
|Jonathan Quick||2005 Draft
|Jonathan Bernier||2006 Draft
|Trevor Lewis||2006 Draft
|Alec Martinez||2007 Draft
|Dwight King||2007 Draft
|Drew Doughty||2008 Draft
|Slava Voynov||2008 Draft
|Brad Richardson||2008 Trade
(from Colorado, for 2008 2nd)
|Jarret Stoll||2008 Trade
(from Edmonton, for Lubomir Visnovsky)
|Matt Greene||2008 Trade
(from Edmonton, for Lubomir Visnovsky)
|Justin Williams||2009 Trade
(from Carolina, for Patrick O’Sullivan and a 2009 2nd)
|Kyle Clifford||2009 Draft
|Jordan Nolan||2009 Draft
|Rob Scuderi||2009 Free Agent
|Willie Mitchell||2010 Free Agent
|Dustin Penner||2011 Trade
(from Edmonton, for Colten Teubert, a 2011 1st, and a 2012 conditional 3rd)
|Mike Richards||2011 Trade
(from Philadelphia, for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, and a 2012 2nd)
|Colin Fraser||2011 Trade
(from Edmonton, for Ryan Smyth)
|Simon Gagne||2011 Free Agent
(from Tampa Bay)
|Jeff Carter||2012 Trade
(from Columbus, for Jack Johnson and a 2013 1st)