In most cases, when a firing happens, you understand the reasoning behind the decision. Even so, there’s also an important question for the new regime: how much power do they really have to change things?
The Los Angeles Kings stand as an especially interesting case.
With two Stanley Cup victories in tow, franchise history will smile upon the legacies of both GM Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter. Still, new GM Rob Blake and team president Luc Robitaille have some difficult questions to answer.
Let’s categorize the questions they face into two broad categories (more here, even if it was written before Lombardi was fired):
Rebuild or reload?
The Kings have an aging core full of problem contracts, especially if a rough 2016-17 campaign stands as a sign of things to come for Anze Kopitar (rather than an outlier).
Maybe most interestingly, Drew Doughty only has two years remaining on his current deal that carries a reasonable $7 million cap hit.
Theoretically, Rob Blake could look at the situation as being a two-year window to try to continue to contend … or he could try to use Doughty’s deal to try to get out of some of those tough contracts and/or add some high-end draft assets to rebuild faster.
Hogging the puck, but struggling to put it in the net
It’s a tough call because the Kings have generally a) dominated puck possession but b) rarely enjoyed “easy” regular seasons. They’ve very much been a grind-it-out team.
Former Kings goalie Kelly Hrudey wondered if Los Angeles needed to adapt to the league’s larger trend toward faster puck movement and faster players.
“They’re having these discussions about style of play. Is it Darryl’s style that just doesn’t work in today’s game, with the speed and so on, or is their organization that they put on those kinds of players?” Hrudey said recently, as Sportsnet reports. “I’ve covered them twice in the last eight days, and I don’t know if that group can play fast enough.”
Really, it’s been an issue that Lombardi has been aware of some time, wrestling with the topic as early as 2015.
“We’re not able to go in and, I guess, out-skill you,” Lombardi told LA Kings Insider almost exactly two years ago. “It’s not often you’re going to watch and say, ‘wow, they won, and there’s a lot of highlight plays out there.’ So we’re not that type of team, which I think, also, was why we’re successful in playoffs, because we’re used to playing, and we’re built that way. In playoffs it’s about taking away space and creating your own space. You’re not going to get that space you’re going to get during the regular season, so it’s kind of that Catch-22.”
Indeed, that’s the question: maybe it would be ideal to play a faster style, but do they really have the personnel to do so? And then those questions circle back to the previous issue of rebuilding vs. reloading. It’s all … well, very confusing.
There are a number of ways this can shake out. Management can blow it all up, trading out as many older players as they can and trying to start from scratch. They could “rebuild on the fly” like the Sharks once dig in moving Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray for picks in 2013. Failing that, they can lean toward smaller tweaks and see if a new coach and/or system might do the trick.