In 49 BC, Julius Caesar and one of his legions reached the Rubicon River in northern Italy. Moving south towards Rome would mean breaking the law, threatening the capital itself and result in an inevitable Civil War, possibly ending the Roman Republic. Failing to move would have resulted in the disappointment of Caesar’s ardent supporters perhaps ending the military and political career of Rome’s most gifted general and charismatic politician. Caesar chose the bolder path, the one with the most risk famously remarking that “the die has been cast” and the history of Mediterranean civilization was changed forever.
I have been a tireless supporter of Dean Lombardi both on these pages and in alternate persona on various message boards. I have praised his successes, forgiven his mistakes and patiently waited for him to build a team that could compete for the long-term.
His basic philosophy, that of dedicating resources to locating, drafting and then developing young talent is a sound one, a strategy that has proven to be the most consistently successful in team sports. Dean has developed two potentially elite goaltenders, a blue line that matches up in both talent and depth with any in the NHL and brought enviable skill to the Kings at the Center position. At the same time, he has created a talent pipeline that regularly is ranked in the top 20% by independent analysts.
This is not enough. The objective is to win the Stanley Cup, nothing else. The goal is not to develop a style of play nor is it to create a team culture where players have the Kings’ logo tattooed to their rear ends. Just making the playoffs is no longer acceptable. Being hard to play against is a cliché reserved for losers. Discussing charts and filling boxes and what year players were born is an analytical exercise for sabermetricians, not a task for an NHL General Manager. Hoarding and over valuing prospects rather than getting a missing piece is what rebuilding teams do. Finally, marveling at the character and grit of washed up pylons is nothing more than romanticizing a bygone era. I say again, the only objective is to win the Stanley Cup.
Everyone else has done their part. AEG has approved a payroll at the very edge of the salary cap. The players by all accounts want to be here and win here. The fans have tolerated several seasons of hockey misery in order to have the opportunity to draft the top players. All of us have been patient with Dean, perhaps too patient. The results on the ice do not match the investment of the owners, players and fans. The Kings, 1/3 through this season, are mediocre. Take away the stellar play of Jonathan Quick, and we are competing for the top pick in next year’s draft. It was not supposed to be this way. Ownership opened the wallet to add Mike Richards and Simon Gagne to a team that stretched San Jose despite the absence of Anze Kopitar. The talent here is elite, and yet the team is near last in the NHL in goals per game.
The buck in professional sports ends with the coach and the general manager who hired him. Readers know the disdain this site has had for the prehistoric coaching style of Terry Murray. The on-ice results speak for themselves. But, after game 27, this is no longer on Murray. Dean Lombardi was hired to take this organization to the promised land. He has been given a contract extension, unlimited resources and, by and large, the support of the fans. If this team does not turn around soon, this is the responsibility of only one person, and that is the steward of this ship.
At this point, we as fans with limited knowledge of what is going on behind the scenes can only sit back, speculate and offer worthless advice on what to do. With very few exceptions, none of us have a real conception how to run a hockey club. The intricacies, intangibles and idiosyncrasies of all the moving pieces are beyond us. Making it all work is the responsibility of the Team President, a title Lombardi insisted on wearing. Like Caesar before him, Dean Lombardi has reached his own Rubicon. Doing nothing could lead to more of the same, a wasted season and probably the loss of his job. Making a bold move to shake things up entails great risk. Sometimes, the best moves are the one’s you don’t make. Deciding what to do can be agonizing. The only thing certain is that time is growing short.