A subtle thing happened when Michal Handzus, Ryan Smyth, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Wayne Simmonds left and Mike Richards & Simon Gagne arrived. The L.A. Kings lost their identity and failed to forge the new & necessary one.
Last season, what were the Kings? A team that primarily dumped the puck and cycled. Smyth sustained offensive zone pressure behind the net. Zeus, Poni and Simmer helped maintain it along the boards. The low to high attack was the primary weapon. Size ruled the day. The Kings used the above four players to keep the puck in the zone. It wasn’t pretty but it’s all we had, primarily because that was Terry Murray’s offense and what he knew to implement.
This season, we lost three big bodies plus Ryan Smyth and didn’t replace them. Instead, we got heart and soul player, Mike Richards who, while a complete package, doesn’t come with mass. Neither does Simon Gagne. If Dean expected Ethan Moreau and Trent Hunter to replace Zeus, Smyth, Ponikarovsky and/or Simmonds, then he badly miscalculated.
Were adjustments made to the L.A. Kings’ offense with the loss of size and net gain of speed and skill? Terry Murray claims yes. I see no or, better stated, not nearly enough. Now, we are trying to execute the same low to high without a sustained cycle. It doesn’t work. We lost too much size to play last season’s offense and the forecheck isn’t aggressive enough (despite Terry Murray’s claims to the contrary) to compensate.
So, is there anyone to blame?
First, there must have been a disconnect in communication between the coaching staff and management. If Dean Lombardi didn’t see this problem coming, he was shortsighted. You just can’t add “skill” to a system that doesn’t play to it, but instead emphasizes size, and expect things will improve, unless a new forecheck and offensive zone attack is implemented therewith. If Lombardi believed Terry Murray would make the necessary adjustments, then he was either naive or took his eye off the puck – the one that dumps the puck, sends one man to retrieve and then loses it. The last point adds one question to those I have for Dean Lombardi: “do you believe Terry Murray will coach an up tempo offense that emphasizes skill over dot to boards play?” That is another one those who hold and cling onto press passes as well as L.A. Kings employee Rich Hammond won’t ask…perhaps Helene will.
Dean Lombardi now has a choice – (a) trade for the players to bring in the size so Terry Murray has the form to accompany the function at the sacrifice of our skilled players, (b) hope Terry Murray will evolve or (c) replace Murray with a coach that can give the team an identity in the offensive zone that is consistent with its skill set.
If he is not certain, perhaps I can help him make the choice – “Dean, what would Detroit, Chicago, Vancouver, and San Jose look like if they played Terry Murray’s offense?” The answer is, a lot like the L.A. Kings.
December 12 update: File this under “great minds think alike”. A Sharks’ blogger published this same premise (with differences of opinion on a few important issues) before me and there is cross over between our respective thoughts. Here is the link to Sharks Circle. My article was an evolution of one I started back in October and finished when Lisa Dillman on December 8 wrote about the Kings’ identity crisis. Thanks to the boys at Sharks Circle (may your team burn in a watery hell) for sending the link to me.