The Los Angeles Kings have let go of coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi, the organization announced Monday.
Assistant general manager Rob Blake will take over as GM and Luc Robitaille will now oversee hockey operations as well as business operations. For the past 10 years Robitaille’s role was president of business operations.
Both Blake and Robitaille are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame and both of their numbers have been retired by Los Angeles. The Kings have yet to announce a successor to Sutter, the winningest coach in team history.
Lombardi was hired as the Kings general manager in 2006 and built a group strong enough to win two Stanley Cups – the first coming in 2012 and the second in 2014 with mostly the same core. One of Lombardi’s biggest moves was replacing Terry Murray with the hard-nosed Sutter during the 2011-12 season.
Sutter finished his Kings career with a 225-147-53 regular season record and 42-27 playoff record.
The decision by the Kings to make this change Monday came after the team missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. The announcement was officially made by AEG CEO Dan Beckerman. AEG is the company that owns the Kings.
“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,” Beckerman said. “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.”
In his early years with Los Angeles, Lombardi built Kings through drafting and development and created one of the top asset pipelines in the NHL.
But in in recent seasons, in part because of the contracts Lombardi gave some of his players, the team was put in a salary cap straightjacket and struggled to make off-ice improvements when needed. Both Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown are on log-term contracts for a combined $10.75 million and scored just 24 goals between them last season.
Los Angeles is also on the hook for some of Mike Richards’ contract because of a recapture penalty and a termination settlement with Richards. Richards hasn’t played with LA for two seasons.
Lombardi tried to make trades to keep the Kings on top while their Stanley Cup window was open, but ended up harming the team’s future in doing so. He gave up a 2015 first-round draft pick for defenseman Andrej Sekera in 2015 and a 2016 first-rounder along with goaltender Martin Jones and defenseman Colin Miller for Milan Lucic at the 2015 draft.
The trade for Lucic ended being especially painful since he left for the Edmonton Oilers via free agency after the team’s five-game 2016 playoff loss to the San Jose Sharks. The Bruins ended up trading Jones to San Jose and he backstopped the Sharks to not only the series win against the Kings, but also the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Last offseason, Lombardi was asked if he wanted to change the Kings’ style as teams tried to copy the speedy Penguins and he said he wanted to stay the course.
“Our problem I don’t think – this wasn’t nothing that surprised us per se in the playoffs and even at the stretch that we were vulnerable and we knew it and so it had nothing to do with speed and our identity,” he said
There was an incident in 2015 when Sutter was reportedly locked out of the locker room by the Kings players after a game at the Tampa Bay Lighting.
Last season, Sutter was critical of the play of then captain Dustin Brown and praised the leadership of others. Recently, Sutter ripped forward Jordan Nolan because of Nolan’s inability to play through an injury.
His style was also seen as one that favored tight-checking and defense more than speed and offense, which became a bigger issue this year as opponents tried to build themselves off a more quickness-based model.
Still, it was hard to pin all the blame of this season on Sutter, or Lombardi for that matter. Los Angeles lost starting goaltender Jonathan Quick until late February because of a groin injury sustained in the first game of the season. If Quick – a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner and two time Vezina Trophy finalist – was healthy, there’s a chance the Kings could have made a playoff push.
Gaborik suffered an injury in the World Cup and it’s unclear how much this hampered him throughout the season. Captain Anze Kopitar played in Olympic qualifiers for Slovenia and in the World Cup for Team Europe and it’s possible all that hockey caught up to him.
But being an NHL general manager or coach is a bottom-line business and as the losses mounted for LA, it became clear to the organization that changes were needed.
Blake, who was part of Team Canada’s management at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, is respected throughout the game and seen as a rising talent in the GM world. But he will certainly have his work cut out for him in trying to lead the Kings from their current salary cap struggles.
Though Monday’s news was grim, the Kings still have talented players in important positions. Quick, defenseman Drew Doughty, forward Jeff Carter and Kopitar all helped Los Angeles in their Cup runs and form a strong core. Tyler Toffoli could return to his 30-plus goal level next season and tanner Pearson had a nice breakout this past year with 24 goals.
If Blake can figure out a way to manage the salary cap better than Lombardi, then he can start to build the team in his image with a solid foundation already in place. If not, then it will be hard for the Kings to move forward.
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