“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
- Vince Lombardi
At no time during the L.A. Kings’ 40+ year existence has the team personified these words – doing it right “all the time” or making winning a “habit” requires a culture change, one about which Dean Lombardi has spoken but, 6 years later, has failed to instill. I have wondered where and why Dean has failed. Was he simply a victim of bad luck, the inability to land coveted free agents because they prefer the other coast, filling holes with low risk, mid reward players who rarely met the expected reward and languished, foolishly thinking injury prone players would stop being so prone after they signed here, building too much from the back-end out and not placing enough significance at the forward position, one poor coaching decision after another by using old school retreads who didn’t fit the new NHL’s mold or something else?
I have sat and analyzed Dean Lombardi’s tenure more than ever during the past week. There was something about the way Terry Murray was fired, the chaos that ensued, a short list that appeared to only include one name, Darryl Sutter, and a team spiraling downward that made me wonder if Dean Lombardi really knows what the hell he is doing. You can’t and don’t understand any company’s underbelly until you are on the inside or they take actions that, to any reasonable and objective analysis, show a lack of control. Dean Lombardi doesn’t appear to have control. He is scrambling. His conduct is not calm and calculated. This worries me more than anything and I can bluntly write I have never been more concerned about this franchise’s state than I am today.
So, where did Dean go wrong? Strangely, he may have given us the biggest clue to this in April of 2009:
“I told them right from the start that I wasn’t even concerned with their current roster. I was more focused on what they had in the system. I said that if I am going to work for you, I need time and patience because if we’re going to do this right we need to build this back up from scratch and we need to revamp the defense position.” (April 2009 in an interview with NESN.com)
We need to build this back up “from scratch” and we need to “revamp” the defense position. Now, there is something he didn’t state there. The defense “position” isn’t just defensemen but it’s a state of mind that permeates through every player, by Dean Lombardi’s expectations.
Think about what Dean Lombardi has done.
He discarded Michael Cammalleri, allegedly referring to him as the stuff that floats on the water. “What?” Let me explain. Dean Lombardi likes to state there are certain types of players – there are the surfers, the swimmers, the floaters and then there are the little pieces of “stuff” that sit on the water. I don’t think this is his original analogy – I am fairly certain he took this from another GM and quite possibly Lou Lamoriello. To Lombardi, Michael Cammalleri was that “stuff”. At best, Cammy was a floater. It’s really an incredible analogy (one that a long time season ticket holder and friend passed on to me and which, if I recall correctly, he heard from Dean Lombardi) but gives us Dean’s state of mind. He simply doesn’t place much value in goal scorers.
Matt Moulson, Brian Boyle, Teddy Purcell, failed here because they didn’t fit the defense first mold.
Look at his drafts.
In 2006, he picks a goaltender in Jonathan Bernier and Trevor Lewis, the latter of whom has become a defensive center / wing.
In 2007, he went off the board (and out of the planet) and picked Thomas Hickey, who has yet to play in the NHL. He passed up some decent forwards, not the least of which was Logan Couture.
In 2008, he made the no-brainer pick of Drew Doughty. My wife would have picked Drew. I won’t give credit for no brainers. That is not good drafting. Neither was the number 13 pick of Colten Teubert. Dumb.
In 2009, we got Brayden Schenn. Another no brainer. Brayden couldn’t stay with the club because he wasn’t defensively responsible yet. Eventually, he was packaged with Wayne Simmonds, another forward who was molded into a two way wing and who could not achieve any consistent offensive production, for Mike Richards. Richards is by and far Dean Lombardi’s best trade from my perspective (reasonable minds may differ) but, again, look at the mold – a two-way forward.
In 2010, he picked Derek Forbort…out of high school? That’s not a bad pick but, do you see a common thread here? Everything is focused on defense.
The coaching decisions – Marc Crawford is admittedly a total albatross but he is a retread. It is the only move he has made during his tenure that is not consistent with his defense first / defense last mentality. Terry Murray couldn’t fit the Dean Lombardi mold any better. Darryl Sutter…birds of a feather.
Would Dean Lombardi have drafted Anze Kopitar? I am 99% confident the answer is no.
Why didn’t Oscar Moller make it here? Not big enough, not heavy enough, not defensively responsible enough.
“But Brandon Kozun, Tyler Toffoli…” you may ask. Where are they? Why is it other teams are perfectly comfortable letting their youth cut their teeth in the NHL but our club is not? On a team that is having so much trouble scoring goals, no less? Because Kozun and Toffoli first have to become responsible two-way forwards – I assure you that is the answer. I am not criticizing. I am pointing out a fact. The only reason Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds made the club as rookies was because of their physical and two-way play. If Kyle was a pure goal scorer without the…actually, that is a silly statement to even start to make. If he was that, he would not have been drafted. Neither would have Wayne Simmonds.
You may think I am being unduly harsh on Dean Lombardi. That is not my intent. If it was, I would go through all the things he “hasn’t” done, the trades he hasn’t made, the arguable myopia that attaches to his decision making process. There is some wisdom in his mindset. There is a reason we have an excellent defensive core and an excellent 1-2 combination in Jonathans Quick and Bernier (which Terry Murray managed to mismanage during his entire tenure). But, that same mindset for which he should get some credit may likely be his downfall – the same fall he suffered at San Jose.
This brings me back to the “culture” of winning.
If Dean Lombardi commanded an army of Roman soldiers, they would all be shield and armor. The sword would be an afterthought and therein lies the problem.
You have to strike to kill.
You have to score to win.
You have to win on a consistent basis to develop the coveted culture.
Unless Dean wants to see his career here come to an end sooner rather than later, he must evolve. Defense does not win Championships. He has to ingrain that in his stubborn and thick skull. Balance wins Stanley Cups. There hasn’t been a single team since the lockout that competed for the Cup with an unbalanced lineup. You need it all. Goaltending, defense, play makers and goal scorers. A top 6 of high-end two-way forwards is a fantasy. Not every player is going to challenge for the Selke.
“Will he evolve?” I don’t think so and not necessarily because he may not want to but because he has very much made his bed – the one in which we are all sleeping. Dean Lombardi, the Kings and the fans will sink or swim with his choices. The most recent choice of Darryl Sutter made damn certain of that. I hope we swim or, better yet, surf. Irony aside, I hope Dean Lombardi’s legacy with the L.A. Kings will not be one wherein he worked so hard to avoid the floaters while managing to become one.