The following article was written by lakingsnews.com guest writer, Howard Roark. Enjoy.
It is time for the Kings to extend the contract of Dean Lombardi. For perhaps the first time in the franchise’s frustrating history, the team has a consistent building plan in place that is starting to yield results. There are many reasons for this. The consistent and patient ownership by AEG has provided stability and financial resources heretofore unknown. Yes, AEG has made many mistakes, but there is no denying the revenue producing building the team plays in, the purchase of two farm teams and resources provided for scouting and player development. The reign of Dave Taylor, while providing scant results on the ice, did result in the drafting of many of the core building blocks that Lombardi inherited. But, in the final analysis, it is the architect, Dean Lombardi, who has turned this team around to where at worst it looks like it will be consistently competitive, and, at best, will soon seriously challenge for the Cup. Let’s take a look at some of the moves Lombardi has made since he took over almost four years ago.
Organizational Development – Two players perhaps best personify the stamp Lombardi has left on the organization from top to bottom. The first is Wayne Simmonds. When was the last time the Kings found such a hidden gem? This is a tribute to scouting, player evaluation and player development. You don’t find players like this unless you have a deep bench of professional hockey people who know how to spot talent and how to develop it. You need to outwork the other teams who, in a very competitive league, are also trying to find the same blend of innate talent and overwhelming desire that Simmonds possesses and that is so hard to identify when grading 18 year old boys. Then, look at Jonathan Bernier. In the past, the Kings would have rushed this kid before he was ready. His sense of entitlement would have been fostered rather than ripped away through long bus trips in the minors. Bernier is having to earn his way to the show, and the results are impressive. When Bernier finally appears in Los Angeles full time, he will be a polished product with every chance to succeed and the confidence to go along with it. It is a truism that players win games but organizations win championships. Dean Lombardi’s greatest contribution has been to create an organization capable of finding, developing and coaching players that are capable of winning. This alone warrants an extension.
Drafting – While the jury is still out on the ultimate impact Lombardi’s drafts will have on the Kings’ performance, several facts are undeniable. Two players drafted by Dean are star players on the team today, Simmonds and Doughty, the latter at an uber-elite level. Manchester, despite constant call-ups by the big club, remains in first place in its division and is third overall in the American Hockey League. Four Kings’ draftees made the Canadian Junior team. Jonathan Bernier is the starting goalie in the AHL All-Star Game. It is not at all a stretch to say that the talent pipeline of this organization has never been stronger, and that is testament to the scouting infrastructure that Lombardi has put in place.
Trades – What started off as a weak point for the Lombardi regime has evolved into one of our GM’s greatest strengths. Even Lombardi would admit today that the Dan Cloutier disaster marked the low point of his tenure with the club. The loss of two high picks really hurts when one considers what our scouting department could have done with them. Fortunately, Cloutier comes off the books after this season and will only be a distant memory. In retrospect, the Demitra trade does not look great in that it brought back Williams (minus a #2) and Lewis, but Demitra was a depreciating asset sold at the top of the market. Other than that, one has to like certain other moves. Jack Johnson is slowly becoming the physical and offensive force we had all hoped for. The Visnovsky deal looks like a home run given the relative youth and continued improved play of Stoll and Greene, both of whom barely cost more in cap space than Lubomir did. The Ryan Smyth deal has worked out as well, and Lombardi should be complimented for not pulling the trigger too soon from a position of weakness as well as offloading Preissing’s salary. One has to like the successful dumping of unneeded detritus for multiple draft picks as well as Lombardi’s lack of sentimentality when trading fan favorites such as Mattias Norstrom. In particular, I liked the Gauthier deal which brought us a #2 pick and the elimination of two player contracts in exchange for one year of an over-valued contract. But Lombardi’s best trade of all may have been one unrecognized at the time, the swap of a number two pick for Brad Richardson. Based on recent play, the latter may prove to be a key piece of this club going forward.
Signings – While Lombardi has been criticized for his UFA signings, I am going to cut him some slack here. It is not his fault that the top people on the market chose not to play for the Kings, a franchise that historically has had little or no chance to play for the Cup. In addition, Lombardi was apparently directed by AEG during his first two years on the job to keep the club competitive while executing the rebuild. Hence we saw a succession of signings, Willsie, McCauley, Thornton, Calder, Preissing, Nagy and Stuart that did not work out. What one can say definitively, however, is that none of these players broke the bank or caused long term damage to the franchise. Perhaps the biggest mistake of the Lombardi era was the signing of Rob Blake. While Dean may have been pressured by AEG on this one, I believe he could have put his foot down. Signing a ‘me first’ mercenary who was paid well above his capabilities sent the wrong message, I believe, and may have hurt team chemistry. Lately, Lombardi has improved in this part of his job. Michal Handzus’s contract is a steal in terms of his overall game and the leadership he provides. Getting Rob Scuderi, who shows every day why he played the second most minutes of any defenseman during the Penguins’ Cup run, solidifies the back end as does Sean O’Donnell, both for reasonable dollars and length of term. Two diamonds in the rough have to be mentioned, Kyle Quincey who brought back Smyth and Davis Drewiske who could be around for quite some time.
Cap Management – This has rapidly evolved into one of the most important aspects of a GMs job. The ability of teams to render offer sheets to the best young restricted free agents forces GMs to lock up young, talented players relatively early in their career. This means that it is imperative not to have huge, dead weight contracts on the books that can tie up precious cap dollars. There are many teams that are learning this lesson the hard way. In this facet of his job, Lombardi has succeeded. The only really bad contract might be paying Ryan Smyth $6.25 million in two seasons, but it is hard to argue that he is not worth this today. And, this contract does not extend beyond 2012. On the other hand, there have been some great contract moves. Jon Quick at 3 years, $1.8 mm per is an unmitigated steal. Dustin Brown’s contract which bought out all his arbitration and four UFA years looks pretty good right now. While Kopitar is overpaid for today’s production, his contract could look pretty sweet if Anze plays a whole season like he did for the first 20 games of this one. Lombardi has the cap flexibility to resign the players he wants, and could make a big splash should the opportunity arise. Of the four teams mentioned in the Kovalchuk rumors, the Kings have by far the most cap space, a real asset should a deal be struck.
Intangibles – It is hard not to notice the new attitude around our team. These guys now have an expectation of winning. In addition, the days of being pushed around without some sort of retaliation seem to have ended. Dean Lombardi has slowly and significantly changed the culture of what it means to be a hockey player in Los Angeles. There is far more to do, but the groundwork has been laid. There is one final note that must be mentioned. Dustin Brown, Brad Richardson, Jack Johnson, Matt Greene, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds have all taken significant steps forward in their development which has resulted in a much better team. This does not just happen by accident. Terry Murray and the coaches likely deserve a huge share of the credit, but the players themselves and the environment to which they are exposed are also responsible. Ultimately, it is the guy at the top who has to create this winning atmosphere.
I believe with these arguments the case for extending Lombardi is quite solid. Yes, the Kings have yet to make the playoffs during his regime, but the tangible and intangible improvements that he has made over the past four years are self evident. I doubt you will find an analyst or hockey person anywhere who will say the Kings are not on the right track. Hence, I believe it is imperative that a message be sent to everyone in the organization that Dean isn’t going anywhere, and that he will continue to be calling all the shots. This is the kind of certainty that everyone from the players to the coaches to the scouts to the equipment guys need in order to excel at their jobs. The time is now to offer Dean Lombardi a contract extension.
Categories: L.A. Kings News