Change was Needed, but Lombardi and Sutter Still Deserve Our Respect
- Updated: April 11, 2017
Sadly I saw this coming. I heard about it first from a podcast appearance from the “Mayor” John Hoven of MayorsManor.com about a month ago when he stated that the Kings’ organization were going to make “BIG” changes in the off-season. More specifically, head coach Darryl Sutter and/or long team general manager and team president Dean Lombardi were going to be let go. After hearing this, I raced to contact my trusted sources from within the organization to see if there was any weight to what Hoven had just said, after all, Hoven has been wrong before in the past, (like when he guaranteed that Lombardi was going to buy out Mike Richards‘ contract with an amnesty buyout, (which means that any player’s contract could be bought out without any recapturing, interference or fines from the NHL and NHLPA), before it expired on August 31, 2014. As we all know Lombardi didn’t do it and he kept Richards on the team. So maybe, just maybe Hoven was going to be wrong again. After talking to my sources, they told me the exact same thing that Mr. Hoven did. The Kings were going to go “nuclear” by blowing up the Lombardi, Sutter regime. Considering that my sources are truly trusted ones, I even talked about this being a possibility during my guest appearance on the latest Vegas Hockey Podcast just a few days ago on Saturday April 8th, (I will add a link to the show at the bottom of the article. I make my appearance around the 32 minute mark). And as Hoven and my sources correctly predicted, last night, AEG, (the ownership group that owns the Kings), officially announced that Sutter and Lombardi had been relieved of their duties. Assistant GM and former LA Kings’ Captain Rob Blake was promoted to be the new GM, while Mike Futa would become his assistant GM, and GM of the Kings’ AHL affiliate Ontario Reign. Luc Robitaille would take over as Team President, while continuing to maintain his previous role as the LA Kings’ President of business operations.
Still, even though many of us had seen the signs, heard the rumors and knew the full situation well enough to know that this was indeed going to happen, or at least one of them were going to be released, as a die-hard Los Angeles Kings’ fan, who had just made his 30th anniversary as a Kings’ fan the other day, and had just talked about it on the Vegas Hockey Podcast, the news of Sutter AND Lombardi both being let go was still a shock to me and a well placed kick to my teeth. Lombardi and Sutter were instrumental in making the Kings’ Stanley Cup Champions, not once, but on two occasions, and we all celebrated winning those Cups victories as if it was going to be our last day on Earth. Both men also broke franchise records, as not only is Sutter the most successful coach in the Kingdom’s history, with 2 Stanley Cup victories, 3 straight Western Conference appearances, (winning two of them), coached a season that broke a long time franchise record of achieving 48 regular season wins in 2015-2016, and with the most victories by a Kings’ coach in the regular season with 225 wins in 425 games, and 42 playoff wins. Lombardi finishes his tenure in LA as the winningest GM in franchise history with 425 regular season victories and 46 playoff victories, (trust me, no one in Kings’ history even comes close to reaching the numbers, stats and accomplishments that Lombardi and Sutter were able to pull off. For example, the second coach with the most playoff wins for the Kings was Barry Melrose and he had only 9, and led the Kings to the playoffs only once).
So how did we get here in this mess and where and when did everything start to go wrong for both of them? Well sadly, post 2014 Cup victory, there have been many mistakes, and while I was writing this article about their release, I just couldn’t stop thinking about the classic Joy Division song, “Love Will There Us Apart,” which was written by their lead singer Ian Curtis, who was writing about his wife and their failing marriage. Shortly after the band became famous during the early 1980’s with the “Post-Punk/New Wave” movement of the time, and the separation with his wife, Curtis had committed suicide due to the deep depression and the epileptic attacks he was suffering with. Now Curtis’ death of course is worse than anything in regards to sports. I’m not trying to compare the two, I’m just saying that some of the lyrics that he wrote in that classic and haunting song, fits in perfectly with what the Kings’ organization and us fans are experiencing right now. Here’s an example,
When routine bites hard, (Sutter being stubborn as ever and not willing to adapt to newer systems),
And ambitions are low, (Kings’ players tuning out Sutter completely),
And resentment rides high, (missing the playoffs twice in two out of three seasons, and a first round, 5 game loss against the Sharks),
But emotions won’t grow, (no more success for us fans to celebrate),
And we’re changing our ways,
Taking different roads, (Lombardi and Sutter getting let go),
Love, love will tear us apart again, (Lombardi was TOO loyal to Sutter and certain players and it hurt the team),
You cry out in your sleep, (like we do as Kings’ fans in frustration),
All my failings exposed, (Sutter and Lombardi since the summer of 2014),
And there’s a taste in my mouth,
As desperation takes hold, (the depleting Andrej Sekera and Milan Lucic trades),
How could something so good, (the Kings from 2009-10 to 2013-14),
Just not function no more, (the Kings from 2014-15 to the present day),
Love, love will tear us apart again. (And it did).
Now I paraphrased some of the Lyrics there at the end but you get the picture. The “love will tear us apart” song perfectly describes Lombardi’s over emotional reliance of being loyal to players that were on the decline, such as Mike Richards, Matt Greene and Dustin Brown, and rewarding players for their past contributions with some absurd contracts, such as with Brown, Gaborik and Greene, that ended up hurting the team overall by hitting their heads on the salary cap ceiling, instead of giving them contracts for their future contributions to the team, (which hasn’t been much, if not nothing at all). Because of that, the Kings are stuck in salary cap hell.
This is what President and CEO of AEG, the parent company that owns the Kings, Dan Beckerman had to say about letting Lombardi and Sutter go;
“This was an extremely difficult decision and was made with an enormous amount of consideration for what we have accomplished in our past. But the present and future of our organization is the highest priority. Words cannot express our gratitude and appreciation for what Dean and Darryl have accomplished for the Kings franchise. They built this team and helped lead us to two Stanley Cup championships and will forever be remembered as all-time greats in Kings history. But with that level of accomplishment comes high expectations and we have not met those expectations for the last three seasons. With the core players we have in place, we should be contending each year for the Stanley Cup. Our failure to meet these goals has led us to this change.”
Beckerman is right, but in my own personal opinion, and if some of you disagree with me, that’s fine and I respect that, but I had something else in mind. While co-hosting LA Kings Road Talk Radio, I mentioned that every coach has an expiry date, and sadly Sutter had finally reached his. The evidence had been obvious throughout the last 3 seasons that the player’s were tuning him out, (remember back in 2015 when the players decided to have a team meeting without informing coach Sutter and they barricaded the door to the locker room just so he couldn’t enter. That was already a red flag right there about what was truly going on behind the scenes). A change indeed needed to happen as Sutter’s “40 seconds of hell, puck possession, balls out crashing and banging and cycling the puck while also heavily relying on a dump and chase system,” wasn’t effective anymore, as the other teams finally figured out a way to stop and counter Sutter’s methods. Sutter needed to adapt and evolve the system to help re-counter the other teams, but he stubbornly failed to do so, so I fully understand that the players needed a fresh voice behind the bench and a new system to follow and play with, and a new coach was needed, but I thought Lombardi should have been given at least another year, with that fresh new head coach, to try to right this sinking ship. Of course he helped this team get into this mess in the first place, but with his experience, and mad scientist like legal mind, I feel he should have been giving a chance to correct his mistakes. Unfortunately, he was let go too and Rob Blake and Mike Futa do not have the proper experience of fixing a mess of this magnitude. Remember, apprenticing is a hell of a lot of a different beast from actually doing the job as a general manager in the NHL. I’m not saying that Blake is going to fail at it, I’m just saying he’s being thrown into the lion’s den as a rookie GM in a complicated situation and will have to learn with a full trial by fire. In other words, he’s going to need all the help that he can get. Yes, Lombardi is responsible for most of this mess, but he isn’t at fault for all of it. He wasn’t at fault with what happened to Slava Voynov, or that Richards couldn’t keep his promises to Lombardi that we was going to work hard and improve, OR that Lucic wasn’t going to re-sign with the Kings, even though “Looch” had full knowledge of the Kings’ dire salary cap situation, and was boasting loud and clear, for all to hear, all season long that he and his family loved living in LA and he wanted to retire there. Oh, he also said that it wasn’t about the money and why would he test out free agency when he already knew where he wanted to stay? In the end, Lucic totally left for the money and for term, even turning down Lombardi when he offered him BOTH just hours before the free agency market opened up. Lucic, as great as he played as a King and as kind as he was to us fans, was full of shit. He had no intention of staying. And we were all fooled by that fool, including Dean.
Remember that today we are looking at things with complete 20/20 vision and with hindsight, but at the time, certain deals had to be made, well to be fair, only some of them, but let’s look at all the decisions that Lombardi had made since that 2014 Cup win, with hindsight or not, that led to his current downfall.
- He didn’t buy out Mike Richards, free of charge during the summer of 2014 with an amnesty buyout. Richards bombed the following season, was dropped to the minors and then had his contract terminated. Meaning the Kings will still have Richards on their books and against their cap until the year 4027 or something. Pretty much around the time when the Apes from “Planet of the Apes” finally evolve and become the dominant species on Earth after enslaving us humans. Good times. In Lombardi’s defense, Richards was a leader and a winner for most of his junior and NHL career, (2003 Memorial Cup Champion as Captain of the Kitchener Rangers, a 2005 World Junior Gold Medalist as Captain on a team that included Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Brent Seabrook and Dion Phaneuf, and was a part of Team Canada’s best line with Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, helping them win the Gold Medal. He also led the Philadelphia Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup final as Captain and I find it very interesting and even comically that so many people have forgotten these facts. Short term memories indeed. Richards was a major reason WHY the Kings won their first Cup in 2012 to begin with, as he helped change the culture within the locker room by teaching this young Kings’ team how to become competitive and hungry. He was also still effective during the 2013 season before suffering a concussion during those playoffs. After the Kings had just won their second Cup in 2014, Lombardi wanted to “keep the band together,” and who could blame him? So Richards, who now we can see with our 20/20 hindsight glasses was on a major decline, wasn’t moved out. Hey, for all we know, maybe Richards just had a bad year? Right? After all, he was still young enough to bounce back into form. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen at all during the 2014-15 season, and it became a complete disaster that led to a very bitter, emotional and nasty divorce between Lombardi and Richards, with Richards now completely out of the NHL today. (It also didn’t help Richards’ case that he got caught trying to cross into the Canadian border with non prescribed pain killers). Even the Washington Capitals, who signed Richards afterwards for a cheap $1 million contract for 1 year, with no pressure being placed on him while centering their fourth line, didn’t even want to bring him back with another cheap 1 year, $1 million contract because of how poorly he played for them.
- Lombardi gave Dustin Brown, (AAV of $5.75 until 2022), Marian Gaborik, (AAV of $4.875 ’til 2021), and Matt Greene, (a four-year contract with an AAV of $2.5), for a player whose body was/is breaking down after years of physical play and is probably going to retire this summer because of it), Dean simply gave them too much money and term that ended up handcuffing the Kings from making any more major roster changes due to almost maxing out their cap space. Lombardi can’t even trade these players away because their contracts are too expensive and risky for any other NHL team to take on.
- Lombardi let too many known leaders of the team go by not re-signing with them, especially one in particular. I understand why Lombardi didn’t re-sign Willie Mitchell. He was 37 at the time, and was one injury away from ending his career. Remember that Mitchell missed the entire 2013 season due to issues with his knees, and also missed a full year when he played with Vancouver. In the end, Mitchell was able to play for another year and a half as Captain of the Florida Panthers. Which isn’t saying much as Florida didn’t play that aggressive and physical style that he did with the Kings, so it was very possible that if he had stayed with the Kings, he possibly could’ve got hurt a lot sooner than he did with Florida, as sadly Mitchell’s career did end up ending due to a concussion injury. I also get how Jarret Stoll was declining with his contributions. Once a face-off and penalty kill expert, his game had greatly slipped from what it was even just two years before 2015. It also didn’t help that Stoll was arrested for trying to enter a famous night club with drugs in his pocket. (DOH!) But the one that really hurt the Kings, was when they decided to NOT re-sign Justin Williams. Now that was a clutch player and a respected leader that was impossible to replace. What hurts even more was that Williams didn’t even sign with the Capitals for that much money anyway. It was a contract that the Kings could have totally afforded to give him, even with their salary cap implications at that time, but for whatever reason, they didn’t and the team suffered for it. Bad move Dean.
- The Andrej Sekera and Milan Lucic trades. Sekera was brought in because of the whole “Voynov” situation, but this didn’t work out at all. Sekera only played a handful of games before getting injured and missing out for the rest of the season. Oh and then he signed with Edmonton during the summer. So really the Kings gave up a conditional first round pick and prospect Roland McKeown for a 16 game rental player. Lucic was brought to LA because he seemed (and was) a natural fit to Sutter’s system, but the Kings gave up WAY too much for him by not just trading Martin Jones to the Bruins, but also prospect and Calder Cup winning defensive prospect Colin Miller and another first round draft pick. One that was for 13th overall in a stacked entry draft. Now it was no secret that the Shark’s GM Doug Wilson was going to offer Jones a very expensive offer sheet, knowing full well that the Kings were too strapped by the cap to properly match it and keep Jones. Plus, Jones made it no secret that he wanted to be a number 1 goalie, (can’t blame him for that), but knew that opportunity wasn’t going to happen in LA with Jonathan Quick still in his prime. So Jones was as good as gone anyway, (but I definitely didn’t expect Boston to flip Jones to San Jose! Now that also was a powerful kick to the teeth). But was trading away the talented and speedy Miller and another first rounder necessary for this trade to happen? It could have, and should have been a one on one trade between Lucic and Jones. Lombardi obviously undervalued Jones’ worth hence giving up way more than he needed to. Oh and Lucic joined Sekera by joining the Oilers in the off-season. So in the end, Lombardi gave up top prospects which depleted the Kings’ pipeline and created two straight years without a first round draft pick to help restore the pipeline, for two players that turned out to be nothing but rentals. Ouch.
- Stripping the Captaincy from Dustin Brown. As bad as Dustin had been playing for the last 3 seasons, (but to be fair, this season was actually Brown’s best since 2012, unless you count the half season of 2013 where Brown was projected to reach 40 goals if it had been a full 82 game season, (stupid strike!) Now I have no problem with Anze Kopitar becoming the Captain of the Kings. In my mind, I had always thought that “Kopi” was going to be the natural successor to the captaincy, but AFTER Brown was no longer with the team. If Brown had volunteered to give up the “C” for Kopitar, (much like how Dave Taylor gave up his “C” for Wayne Gretzky back in 1989), than that’s different. If Brown had been traded or let go, and then they gave “Kopi” the “C”, than that’s a different story as well. Sadly, neither was the case. Instead Lombardi completely fumbled the captaincy transition by blindsiding Brown completely and unfairly, while embarrassing and insulting a player that had been nothing but a loyal soldier and warrior for this Kings’ organization. We’re not talking about like what happened with Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau in San Jose. We’re taking about Dustin Brown, who as Captain lead the Kings’ franchise to TWO Stanley Cup victories, (the second American born player to captain a team to the Cup as Derian Hatcher was the first, but Brown was the first ever American born player to do it twice!) Not even legends like Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Rob Blake, Dave Taylor or even Bob Pulford and Mattias Norstrom were able to pull that off. And what was the thanks that Brown got for all his years of service, he got embarrassed in front of the entire hockey world for no good reason, (sorry, playing poorly for a couple of seasons is NOT a proper reason to strip someone of the “C”. That just sends a bad message to the locker room, and it did). Here in Canada, getting stripped of the “C” is the most shameful, heart breaking and insulting move that could happen to a hockey player. Unlike Thornton and Marleau in San Jose, Dustin Brown did NOT deserve that. In an ironic twist of fate, as Captain, Kopitar just suffered his worst season ever, while Brown had his best one in 5 years. Go Figure. If Lombardi and Sutter wanted to give Kopitar the “C”, I’m pretty sure they could have found a way and done so in a much less dramatic, sloppy and offensive way. Just shameful.
Those are just some examples, but here’s my main point. Even though Lombardi made some serious blunders since 2014, before that we was a complete genius, and made moves that built a Kings’ team that won the Cup twice and made the Western Conference final in 3 straight seasons. Before that, the Kings had won NO Cups and only made the Conference and Stanley Cup final once each, both way back in 1993. Here are some great moves that Lombardi DID make, which is why Kings’ fans need to show him respect, even now when he has hit rock bottom.
- Lombardi drafted Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Alec Martinez, Slava Voynov, Trevor Lewis, Dwight King, Martin Jones, Kyle Clifford and signed free agents Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Jake Muzzin, who all heavily contributed to the Kings’ championship success.
- He traded Patrick O’Sullivan and a second round draft pick for “Mr. Game 7” Justin Williams, (what a steal and a half). Traded Lubomir Visnovsky for both Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, (pure highway robbery). Traded Wayne Simmonds, (who is a star and still loved in the Kingdom), Brayden Schenn and a draft pick for Mike Richards. Even though Simmonds has become an All-Star today, I’d still make that trade 100 times out of 100. No Richards trade, means no 2012 Cup. No 2012 Cup means no 2014 Cup. Period. (Though, I would definitely be up for a trade today that would bring Simmonds back! Hey, a fan can dream right?). Oh and let’s not forget that Lombardi acquired Jack Johnson from Carolina, and then flipped him years later for some guy named … JEFF “FREAKING” CARTER!!! And Dean also traded Matt Frattin (remember him?) for Marian Gaborik, who ended up leading the playoffs that year with 14 goals, and was the one who scored against the Rangers in game 5 of the Stanley Cup final to tie the game, which led to Alec Martinez’ (as mentioned, was drafted by Dean), historic, double overtime, Stanley Cup winning goal! (And the goal “Amart” scored in OT to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2014 Western Conference final in Chicago, in game 7 wasn’t too shabby at all either!) Honorable mentions also include, Dean bringing in Dustin Penner, who scored the OT winner against the (then) Phoenix Coyotes to advance the Kings into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 19 years, (Penner also scored the series winning goal for the Kings that eliminated the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the following year’s playoffs as well), and Colin Fraser, who was a tough general on the 4th line, so tough that he once bled from both sides of one of his eyeballs and still played with all he had. And of course, we also got Robyn Regehr, who was past his prime, but became a strong and inspirational leader for the Kings during that 2014 run to the Cup. All of these moves, yes ALL of these moves resulting in the Kings finally becoming the KINGS of the hockey world.
- Lombardi hired Terry Murray to be the head coach of the Kings. Murray’s biggest accomplishment was teaching these youngsters how to play defense. Which leads us to Lombardi then letting Murray go and bringing in Darryl Sutter, who taught the team how to compete and win.
So be as it may, whether you and I, or everyone, or no one, agrees or disagrees with the Kings’ decision to let go of Lombardi and Sutter, they still deserve our respect. They both made our dreams of FINALLY winning the Stanley Cup come true, and damn it, they did it twice! This is indeed an end of an era, and probably the official end of the Kings’ “Golden Era,” and it is a sad ending without a doubt. But everyone out there reading this, despite all the mistakes, head scratching ideas and trades, and poor results the Kings and us have been suffering with since 2014 thanks to some really poor decision-making by both Lombardi and Sutter, and yes I do agree that a change was desperately needed and the team needed to go in a different direction, let’s just not start acting like some fans from other teams *cough* Toronto *cough* Boston *cough* Philadelphia *cough* by ignoring or “ret-conning” what Lombardi and Sutter truly accomplished for the Kings and us before that. Let’s not start brow beating them and kicking them as they walk out of the Staples Center for the last time. That’s something other douche bag fans from other teams would do. We are Los Angeles Kings’ fans damn it and we should be setting a better example and raising the classy level higher than they do or how they possibly can. I myself, am forever grateful for everything they did for our team, and no firing or 3 year failings and mistakes is going to make me start disrespecting them, or make me feel differently about either one of them. No. I will forever be giving them high praise until my very last breath, because that is what they deserve and what they have earned. Darryl Sutter IS the greatest coach in LA Kings’ history, and Dean Lombardi IS the greatest general manager in Kings’ history, period! So let’s not forget those facts and show them some respect.
Thank you Dean and thank you Darryl, for making the Kings champions and for giving us some of the most thrilling and greatest memories that we Kings’ fans have always wanted and now can enjoy for the rest of our lives, proudly with a smile. Thank you and Hockey God bless.
Whomever the Kings decide on replacing Sutter with will definitely be interesting. Could it be associate coach John Stevens or assistant coach Davis Payne? Both already have NHL head coaching experience. How about Mike Stothers from the Ontario Reign, who is tough but also an inspiring motivator. Or do the Kings go outside of the Kingdom and bring someone else in like Patrick Roy, who is a winner in everything he does. He has won the Memorial Cup as head coach, GM, president, owner, and probably also as the water boy, organist, concession stand vendor and Zamboni driver for his QMJHL team. He even won the Jack Adams Trophy with Colorado, but the down side of Roy is that he is a complete control freak and that may clash with Rob Blake as it did with Joe Sakic in Colorado, (but wouldn’t that become one hell of a story where Roy helped defeat us in the Stanley Cup final in 1993, only to return 24 years later to join us and help us regain the Stanley Cup! Oh man, I would love to write about that). So how about Lindy Ruff, who is an intelligent and successful coach and is going to be let go, (or maybe already has as of this writing) by the Dallas Stars? How about Ken Hitchcock, who has coached a team to the Stanley Cup, plus Olympic Gold Medals and a World Cup of Hockey, and has also won the Jack Adams Trophy, but he is tough and blunt like Sutter, and possibly could be burnt out after his exhausting years with St. Louis.
Well whoever it may be, we will welcome him with open arms and hope for the best.
Oh and by the way, can we at least keep Chris Sutter???
*Here is the link to my appearance on the April 8th edition of the Vegas Hockey Podcast, where I discuss the possibility of Sutter and Lombardi being let go, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/vegashockeypodcast/2017/04/08/playoff-preview-show
**And here’s a link for a cool cover of the Ian Curtis/Joy Division haunting classic, “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
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