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In praise of Kings GM Dean Lombardi (Trending Topics)

Ryan Lambert
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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

There has been a lot of praise heaped on the Los Angeles Kings from all corners; though to be fair, that was before they lost Game 4 and irritated media members by necessitating another trip to Newark.

Nonetheless, few have escaped kudos in this journey to what will almost assuredly be one of the easiest Stanley Cup runs in history.

Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have been lauded for their abilities to prove the doubters wrong: they can win together, and be crucial parts of the league's most successful postseason team. Anze Kopitar, meanwhile, has developed into a true superstar in this league on the same level as a Pavel Datsyuk, brilliantly mixing a staunch defensive game with dazzling skill in attack. Dustin Penner has proven the doubters wrong and been a strong depth contributor throughout this run. Dustin Brown has proven an exceptional leader and wonderful two-way offensive threat.

On the blue line, Drew Doughty has shown why the Kings were willing to wait, and still give him a big-time deal at the end of his holdout. Slava Voynov has emerged as a strong young defenseman in this league. Rob Scuderi has continued to be a big-game all-defense defenseman. Willie Mitchell has devoured minutes like Pac-Man. Between the pipes, Jonathan Quick has followed up a stunning season and all but cemented his position as the best netminder on the planet, usurping fellow American and genuine nutbar Tim Thomas.

All of this was puppeteered by Darryl Sutter, who took a bad team that couldn't score and made them a lethal combination of tenacious offense and unyielding defense. He'll soon raise the Stanley Cup he never did in Calgary or any of the other stops in his coaching career.

But what has largely gone unmentioned is the work it took to put this team together. The work done by GM Dean Lombardi.

At this time last year, this was a team that had gotten flattened by San Jose and looked like some serious changes would have to be made to make it competitive.

Most agreed that if Lombardi wasn't able to cobble together a respectable season — make the playoffs for sure, win one round for sure, that kind of thing — then he'd packing up his things at this very moment, and trudging desolately out of Staples Center with a small plant and his desk nameplate poking sadly out of a cardboard box.

The team he put together to start the season looked solid if middling, just the kind of side that would achieve the relatively modest goals laid out by critics and preserve his job for another year or more. But then they struggled mightily out of the gates and things looked very dark indeed.

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If not for Sutter's brilliant turnaround — the benefit Lombardi reaped from going with the guy he knows for the job, rather than some sexier pick — and the somewhat stunning, much argued-over acquisition of Jeff Carter around the deadline, Marc Bergevin wouldn't be the only new GM in the NHL this summer.

So credit, which has been doled out so readily to everyone in the Kings organization who has spent gobs of time on camera during the playoff run, is also due to Lombardi, who gambled big and will soon win bigger.

If the Stanley Cup is the ultimate accomplishment in the sport, then going from barely relevant in the discussion for it to winning the thing in the space of three months or so is one hell of an accomplishment.

Moreover, he has actually set this team up to be very, very good for a very, very long time, and done so extraordinarily under the radar. The only player mentioned above that Lombardi signed at least through the end of next season is Dustin Penner, whose fat $42.5 million cap hit will likely be put to better use this summer.

In fact, the Kings are going to have a rather absurd amount of cap space, all told. Despite having all of Doughty, Kopitar, Richards, and Carter locked up to deals that pay them each between $5.27 million and $7 million against the cap annually through at least 2016, Los Angeles has 20 players under contract for next season.

If the new collective bargaining agreement allows the salary cap to remain more or less the same, they will have somewhere between $16 and $18 million in cap space to fill three roster spots, though he'll likely leave more than a little of that left over to account for the fat raise Quick is going to pull when he's unrestricted next summer.

Now, none of this is to say that success is guaranteed for next season. Look how hard it was on both Boston and Vancouver to recover from their Cup runs, and specifically at home the Bruins commented that it wasn't possible to muster the same motivation to win after doing so a summer ago.

It also doesn't mean injuries won't happen, or guys will regress somewhat; another Quick/Thomas parallel is that their performances both in the regular season and playoffs seem impossible to replicate (and in Thomas' case, it proved to be so).

But this is a lethal team with loads of top-flight talent that seems as though it will be competitive in the Pacific Division and, indeed, the Western Conference for years to come. Let's not forget: Despite being abysmal to start the season, the Kings finished three points out of the division lead, and that is almost certainly going to be the goal next season. But given the cap space, and the ability to add at least one elite talent as a result — imagine a Zach Parise or Ryan Suter being added to this mix — it doesn't seem unrealistic.

That's all down to the job Lombardi did to get this thing together hurriedly, when his job was on the line. He gave himself a good foundation to work with given years of strong drafting and wise asset management, despite failing in his pursuit of a few notable free agents (Ilya Kovalchuk being the most glaring example) and catching more than a little flak for doing so.

Lombardi has been able to build a deep, efficient team with few question marks going forward, that can be excellent for years to come. It's important to keep that in mind.

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