Los Angeles Kings

Under Pressure: Dean Lombardi

22 Comments

After hoisting their second Stanley Cup in three years, the Los Angeles Kings had their annus horribilis in 2014-15.

First came the arrest of Slava Voynov, who would eventually go to jail for domestic violence and whose future with the team remains unclear. A few months later, Jarret Stoll was arrested in Las Vegas for drug possession. And not long after that, Mike Richards’ contract was terminated, with word that he was part of a police investigation involving oxycodone.

On top of all that, the Kings missed the playoffs by four points.

Upon reflection, GM Dean Lombardi conceded that “clearly we could do more” when it came to educating players about the consequences of their actions.

“The Voynov thing, I walked down to Jeff Solomon’s office and said, ‘This is my fault,'” Lombardi said, per the L.A. Times. “We neglected to educate our players. We missed a big step here in trying to make sure they understand right and wrong and that this has to be reinforced, not only as a human being, as somebody who is representative of the community.”

That message was echoed recently by Kings executive Michael Futa, in an interview with Yahoo Sports.

“I think it’s just re-educating and reminding them how important it is that when you leave the rink that same professionalism you bring to the ice has to stay in tact, no matter what you make or who you are or some of the special treatments you might get,” Futa said. “It’s a privilege to be an NHL player, not a right. And you can’t abuse that privilege.”

But that’s just the off-ice stuff. For Lombardi, the pressure is two-fold. Not only do his players have to stay out of trouble, they have to get back into the playoffs.

“Well, this time there’s no excuse,” Lombardi told NHL.com. “It’s a marvelous opportunity for our top players to take over that room, and they start by doing that, becoming the best they can be, and I think they will. There’s no doubt in my mind what guys like Kopitar and (Jonathan) Quick and (Drew) Doughty stand for, and hopefully this is an awakening. It’s no fun watching the playoffs. In the long run, we could benefit from this.”

Related: Lombardi admits players locked Sutter out, disputes specifics

It’s Los Angeles Kings day at PHT

36 Comments

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Los Angeles Kings.

Two consistent contenders – the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings – missed the playoffs last season, and while both underwent changes, they practiced very different philosophies.

The Bruins blew much of what they built up while, to some extent, the Kings are going all-in. It seems fitting that the two franchises can also be linked in the trade that sent Milan Lucic to L.A.

In attempting to assess how rattled the Kings should be by missing the playoffs, it’s key to ask why they fell short.

Plenty of outlets pondered what went wrong, spotlighting Slava Voynov’s legal issues, misplaced money in fading figures such as Dustin Brown and some shaky luck. Let’s not forget that, as dominant as this franchise has been puck possession-wise, they haven’t won a Pacific Division title during this span and often struggled to make the postseason. Maybe they merely need to accept the fact that they’ll frequently deal with a small margin for error?

The West is as rugged as ever, so it won’t be easy, but many will likely peg the Kings as a team that should bounce back to the 2016 postseason.

Off-season recap

The Kings stuck with the architect in GM Dean Lombardi and the director in head coach Darryl Sutter. The cast of characters did change in some significant ways, however.

“Mr. Game 7” Justin Williams helped the Kings win the 2014 Stanley Cup, but now he’s a member of the Washington Capitals, and not at an exorbitant price either.

However the contract-termination grievance situation works out, Mike Richards is gone; Jarret Stoll left as a free agent, yet he’s out of Los Angeles amid controversy as well. Andrej Sekera’s short time with the Kings is already over after he signed with the Edmonton Oilers.

It’s not all about subtractions, though, as the Kings added Milan Lucic to the mix. Lucic and potential linemate Anze Kopitar both enter contract years, so it should be intriguing to see how that motivation propels a top line that may also include Marian Gaborik.

***

The Kings are a fascinating team to forecast, so we’ll get down to business in that regard on Monday.

Boston Bruins ’15-16 Outlook

11 Comments

Considering the significant changes that took place this summer, you’d think that the Boston Bruins fell from contender to cellar-dweller.

In truth, they didn’t miss the 2014-15 postseason by much, falling two points behind eighth-place Pittsburgh. Losing Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic won’t help matters, yet it’s not outrageous to imagine them back in the playoffs next season.

They do still employ Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, after all.

Now, it’s reasonable to wonder if they’re still a Cup contender, but what are their chances of making the playoffs?

Let’s ponder that in a slightly different way: by looking at how they compare to the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Division opponents

Lightning – Tampa Bay made a huge leap last season, but they didn’t lose any significant players and are buoyed by young talent. They’re likely out of Boston’s league right now.

Canadiens – Some question Montreal’s possession merits, yet the Habs’ results have been satisfactory so far.

Senators – A clash of fading veterans in Boston and up-and-comers in Ottawa made for an exciting stretch run in 2014-15. Expect a sequel.

Red Wings – A franchise experiencing comparably large front office changes, although Detroit made some key additions instead of subtractions this summer. These two veteran-heavy teams may just battle it out in the bubble.

Panthers – The Bruins must watch out for a team brimming with young talent and familiar faces from the past in Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo.

Sabres – Much improved, yet it’s an open question regarding how far Buffalo must go to merely be respectable again.

Maple Leafs – Lottery fodder, you’d think

Metro considerations

Capitals and Islanders – Two teams that may only climb further out of Boston’s reach in the race for playoff spots.

Rangers – Could this team be a little vulnerable? Martin St. Louis’ retirement and Carl Hagelin’s trade lowers the skill level a bit, while a regime change is in order with Jeff Gorton taking over GM duties for Glen Sather. One would think that the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners hold an edge over Boston, perception-wise.

Penguins – Pittsburgh was right there with Boston as far as almost missing a playoff spot goes. The Pens’ outlook sure looks different with former Bruin draftee Phil Kessel in the mix, though, right? If it does come down to these two teams, just imagine Kessel being the deciding factor.

Blue Jackets – A dangerous team that almost seems like it’s being built in the bruising, Bruins’ mold.

FlyersDevils and Hurricanes – You’d think these teams will struggle in 2015-16, but at the same time, it’s dangerous to write these franchises off entirely. Still, you’d think that the Bruins would pass them by.

***

Looking at the East teams, do you think the Bruins might make the playoffs? Could they even threaten to win the Atlantic or, conversely, fall into the lottery? It’s an interesting outlook when you try to ponder Boston’s place compared in this mix.

Under Pressure: Claude Julien

3 Comments

Unlike Peter Chiarelli, head coach Claude Julien got to keep his job after the Boston Bruins missed the playoffs in 2014-15.

But retaining Julien was no slam-dunk decision for new GM Don Sweeney. First, the two men had to make sure they were on the same page, philosophically speaking.

Turns out, both were.

“Don and I have had talks and have a very, very similar outlook on what’s needed and what we want to do,” Julien said, per the Boston Herald. “There was never an issue there at all. That’s why it’s worked out. We seemed to be seeing the same things. Personality-wise, we’ve known each other for a long time. It wasn’t as tough a process as far as evaluating as people might think, but it was more about the time that was needed for him to feel comfortable with everything.”

All that being said, it’s hard to imagine Julien keeping his job if the Bruins fall flat again. Ownership still has high expectations for this team; that much was made crystal clear last season.

The challenge for Julien is that Boston is a team in transition. While core players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, and Brad Marchand remain, their success will depend greatly on the success of their youngsters.

“I came up coaching junior hockey, and I know how those young players are,” Julien said in June, per NESN. “I’ve had a lot of patience with those guys. Sometimes, you have to take a hard stance, but it doesn’t mean you’re not patient with them, and that you’re not trying to make those guys better.”

Though his reputation may say otherwise, Julien has had success with youth in the lineup. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, Marchard and Adam McQuaid were rookies, and Milan Lucic was younger than both of them.

The difference then, however, was that the youngsters were significantly outnumbered by players with experience.

As Julien was quick to point out, “there’s a lot of veteran players on that Chicago team, and that’s why they’ve been there three years in a row.”

Related: Julien ‘pretty impressed’ with Sweeney’s moves

Poll: Has the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window closed?

20 Comments

Back in 2013, the last time the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final, their leading playoff scorers were, in order, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchard, Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, and Johnny Boychuk.

Of those 10 players, only four — Krejci, Bergeron, Chara and Marchand — remain on the roster. And Chara is 38 years old now.

Add to the fact Dougie Hamilton is gone too, plus the fact the Bruins missed the playoffs last year, and it’s no surprise that many feel their Cup window has closed.

But you won’t hear new GM Don Sweeney say that. Not with youngsters like Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, and Alex Khokhlachev up front. And not after picking up 27-year-old Matt Beleskey in free agency.

Remember that the NHL is a young man’s league. Teams that aren’t constantly refreshing their lineups are teams that get into trouble.

“I don’t think it’s a rebuild. We didn’t strip this down,” Sweeney said in June, per NHL.com. “We have a tremendous core group of guys that are going to obviously carry an even heavier load here in the short term while these other kids can come in and start to take footing.”

OK, time to vote:

Related: Zach Trotman is looking to make the leap