With two Stanley Cup rings in tow – the only Stanley Cup rings this franchise has ever won – it must have felt unfair to Dean Lombardi and especially Darryl Sutter when they were catapulted from their posts with the Los Angeles Kings.
To some extent, Lombardi’s ouster makes sense, as his loyalty/poor forecasting skills set the stage for some brutal contracts to Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik and some shaky ones to Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick.
Honestly, it felt like Sutter squeezed as much as you could expect out of this roster.
Sutter took over for a Kings team that was in danger of missing the playoffs, only to win that treasured first Stanley Cup in 2011-12. He did it again in 2013-14, but beyond that, Sutter helped Los Angeles become a dominant possession team until the bitter end.
Then again, maybe that’s the point.
Perhaps the Kings got as much as they could out of the approaches that Lombardi and Sutter take. Thus, Los Angeles is taking a gamble that new GM Rob Blake can clean up the salary cap messes while John Stevens took enough notes as a long-time assistant to bridge the elements of Sutter’s style that work with some tweaks that bring this team to a more modern approach.
So far, the results have been positive, although they’ve been taking baby steps to push forward.
The Kings faced challenges in signing Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson to affordable deals, and Blake managed to ace those difficult tests. Los Angeles made a nice, solid bargain move in bringing back Mike Cammalleri for just $1M, a signing that ended up becoming part of an off-season trend of veterans accepting cheap reunions. (Scott Hartnell going back to Nashville for that same price is just one other prominent instance.)
There’s also some excitement if they indeed got a steal in 11th pick Gabriel Vilardi, who slid in the 2017 NHL Draft because of skating concerns.
Now, not every change was positive. Losing quality defenseman Brayden McNabb to the expansion draft has to sting. Matt Greene also officially retired, so this blueline could be thinner in 2017-18.
Overall, things seem a little dour for the Kings, though it’s probably hasty to assume that this core’s window is totally closed. On the other hand, Blake must also think long and hard about closing the window himself by moving assets while they still have value to jump-start a rebuild.
The Kings are a fascinating and challenging team to observe, so today should be a fun one on PHT.