I’ve always wondered why people don’t just listen to me in the first place. I am certainly humble enough to admit when I’m wrong. It’s an easy thing to do when it’s an infrequent occurrence. The phrase “I told you so” has been tired and stale on my lips.
Hammond may have the direct line to the players, but I own the one to their thoughts.
In reference to Nolan and King:
WILLIAMS: “It’s awesome. Their excitement, the other guys in the room feed off that. Youthful enthusiasm is kind of an intangible quality.
Now of course I peacock my feathers of insight in an overly robust manner, but I do so to help illuminate a deeper point. Yes, I have written numerous times that rookies infuse palpable energy throughout a lineup. Yes, I said Nolan should be called up ages ago because yes, I’ve had an eye for Jordan (as has Bobby) since his first training camp. Yes, I conspired with the entire Kings’ organization to confuse their verbs as nouns and adjectives, but that’s just the kind of intuit guy I am.
The distinct fervor of rookies eventually fades, as Loktionov’s did, as Voynov’s waned, as Nolan and Kings’ will inevitably. Right now the two young upstarts are breathing some new life into Mike Richard’s, whose line had become undeniably stale. Which leads me to the real point I wish to impart, this team has too often been prone to staleness.
As a stale piece of bread is still digestible, it has not rotted, so too have the Kings maintained serviceable and at times strong play whilst hardening into a less palatable version of their fresher selves. Do not misunderstand me, I do not say the Kings’ play without energy. I do not say they lack work ethic. I say the effort that is there is saddled by a fetid, noxious aroma. Dean Lombardi is directly responsible for this burdensome decaying and his fault lies in veering from his own stated plan.
How often have we heard (para)phrases like “we keep getting younger and better”? With so many children on the roster in Lewis, Bernier, Clifford, Loktionov, Johnson, Doughty and to somewhat more mature extents Quick, Kopitar, Richardson and Martinez, the Kings technically remain a young team. However when Dustin Penner was traded for, when Mike Richards was acquired, when Simon Gagne was signed and Justin Williams resigned, the torch that was to be carried by Brown and Kopitar and Johnson and Doughty was subtly passed between themselves and these veterans who now make up too large a component of the team that is leaned upon for success.
Now, acquiring more established talent to supplement the budding stars was always part of the plan. However there was a point at which the scale was tipped and the proverbial torch of the team, the keys to the city of Los Angeles’ hopes and hockey dreams was handed to these figures and without direct intention stripped from Brown and Kopitar. Part of this is the fault of these two leaders, they have not been able to imbue the team with the identity of frequent rejuvenating fire all team’s ultimately need despite style (a confusion Bobby neglected in his previous article on Brown’s captaincy). This is not to say they have done an abysmal job by any means, just not one strong enough to resist the pull of Dean Lombardi’s hired guns to acquiesce a large portion of the team’s responsibilities. The torch is supposed to be passed piece by piece by Kopitar and Brown to the younger players that they must now themselves begin to teach. What Lombardi has done is provide them with their seniors to help bear their weight with them, which brings us to the circuitous game of hot potato we now witness on a nightly basis. “Kopitar needs to lead this team” “No Richards needs to pick up his game!” “Nu-uh its all Penner and Stoll’s fault!” “Well bullshit Hunter is a waste of a roster spot!” “Well Hunter wouldn’t matter if Kopitar was consistently scoring!” And so goes the circle of mistrust and miscues as to who lights the candle of the Kings’ flame.
We can argue all day about how to assign blame. Ultimately Brown, Kopitar, Johnson and Doughty deserve some. Lombardi deserves much. Leiweke is also logically at fault for an assumed push of the hand that feeds to “win, NOW!” and ideological strategy that sadly often does not result in winning now, or later. So enough about the problem. What options are available as to the solution? Well, calling up King and Nolan is shall we say, phase 1. These two players themselves are not the solution, though we hope for them to continue to be a beneficial part of the equation. A shift must be made and stuck to, that this is the team of the young ones, the ones who strive to win what they have only dreamed of before, not the possession of those like Penner, Stoll, Williams and Scuderi who have either already attained their childhood dream or sniffed close enough to it for it not to be a luscious mystery. Those players have their place on the team. Certainly I would be an ass of preposterous stupidity to suggest we simply replace all such players with unproven quantities. There is a subtle but stark difference between acquiring veterans to provide stabilizing guidance for your younger stars and shifting the brunt of the expectations onto the shoulders of those same veterans.
I propose two things. One, we keep a rotating door of young players coming in and out of the lineup. This is not the first time I’ve suggest this. If someone sticks like Loktionov did this year because they adapt to the NHL game well and play responsibly, then brilliant, keep them around. If they spark and fizzle, as Nolan or King may do in the coming days or weeks, ship them back to Manchester and replace them with whoever is next in line for the promotion. If not Nolan/King, then Cliche, if not Cliche, then Kozun, if not Kozun, then Vey, if not Vey then Czarnick and on and on and back to the front if and when the time comes. Keep things fresh, keep a spot that has been taken up by Hunter and Moreau and the stone-hand twins Richardson and Lewis open for these guys. Simultaneously this keeps the bottom six players on their toes, the top six players aware, the locker room energized and allows for a constant influx of the fleeting exuberance that Williams’ speaks of rookies imbuing into their more seasoned compatriots. It also provides added motivation to the developmental system.
It is markedly more depressing to toil in the AHL when there is only one or two call-ups per year and even then, those are only in the event of injury. Much better for the hearts and minds of youngsters to see that their time is just around the corner and that they don’t need to secretly and regrettably hope for Stoll to injure his uterus again so that they may have a chance to taste what is just beyond their tongue.
Secondly, Stoll and Penner must not be resigned, nor should they both be replaced via trade or free agency. At the very least, one of these spots must be left open for a younger player to take. If one of these younger guys skips off to Europe, knee jerk reactions to sign scrubs must not be counted upon to rectify the issue. If Dean wants to sign Brandon Yip, or whoever next year’s Trent Hunter turns out to be, fine. But it is incumbent upon the coach to not give these back-up plans a regular role in the lineup. They are there for the precise purpose of displacing a rookie when they need to be taught the lesson of wearing a suit and tie to a hockey game.
As it stands, Jonathan Quick carries the torch of this team by default. I don’t have a particular problem with that but I do not want Lombardi to continue the same mistake of sublimating his draft failures and general timidity with which he treats many prospects by packing the responsibility onto players more established than the ones we are striving to establish ourselves.
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