If there are two sides to every story, the truth about Thomas Hickey probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi was hired in April 2006, two months in advance of the NHL Draft that June. With his first selection as the head of the team’s table at the league’s annual ball for amateur players, Lombardi selected goaltender Jonathan Bernier – doing exactly as he said he would, build the team from the net out.
That’s really immaterial to the point here though, because the 2007 draft was going to be Lombardi’s ‘real’ first draft, something he had a year to prepare for and would have his fingerprints all over it.
After the team went 27-41-14 in the regular season and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, the front office went all-in with a huge draft party in Hollywood for their season ticket holders, said to cost well into the six-figure range.
While the overflow crowd ate their fancy food and drank from the open bar, the sights and sounds from the draft (being held in Vancouver, BC) were being pumped in and displayed across TVs everywhere you turned. Anticipation mounted as the Kings’ brass took to the stage with the fourth overall pick.
Who was it going to be, which future franchise player was about to be added to Lombardi’s master plan?
“The LA Kings proudly select, from the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, Thomas Hickey.”
This guy wasn’t even ranked in the top-20 by any major scouting service.
Was Lombardi some sort of evil-genius who had just plucked a kid from relative obscurity or was he truly out of his mind?
That single pick has been argued and debated from that very moment forward. Truth be told, how did anybody really know the correct answer?
Lombardi’s recent critics somehow forget the Kings just won the Stanley Cup using a roster of players largely drafted and/or acquired on his watch – guys like Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, Rob Scuderi, Slava Voynov and Justin Williams.
Yes, he inherited Dustin Brown (2003 draft class), Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick (both from 2005). Yet, doesn’t he deserve even part of the credit for developing them and surrounding them with the right coaches and teammates to allow their individual skills to come to the forefront?
Back to Hickey though.
We’ve said for the last two years that we didn’t think he had a future in LA. In fact, in last year’s rankings of the team’s Top 10 prospects, MayorsManor had Hickey listed ninth – already behind fellow defensemen Nick Deslauriers, Derek Forbort, Jake Muzzin and Voynov.
It’s been obvious for some time to people paying close attention that Hickey wasn’t likely to ever wear a Kings sweater, at least not for more than maybe five games during a possible cup-of-coffee call-up.
Still, a small number of vocal fans were up in arms earlier this week when Hickey was put on waivers. Their minor little campfire turned to a full raging inferno soon thereafter when he was claimed by the New York Islanders.
Look, here’s what happened in a nutshell.
Dealer Dean took a gamble. He’s long valued leadership and character as a premium quality. Hickey certainly has that. He was captain of his junior team and he was captain of Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in 2009. Wearing the ‘C’ above a red maple leaf on the front of his jersey should tell you all you need to know about what others thought of Hickey in that department. That’s a huge honor.
It didn’t work out with the Kings. So, be it.
Most scouts will tell you that if you get two NHL players out of a draft class, you’re doing just fine.
On balance, Lombardi and his scouting staff did more than just fine that year.
Drafting is a gamble. There’s no two ways about it. For every first-round washout there’s a Pavel Datsyuk, a guy drafted in the sixth round, leaving people to wonder how so many teams missed out on him.
There are too many factors that go into how things turn out, including coaching and the player’s personal commitment. In the case of Hickey, injuries also played a key role. He missed time early on in Manchester due to ankle and shoulder surgeries. By the time he was back on track, Lombardi had used his stock pile of draft picks to pump the Kings’ prospect pool full of other talented blueliners.
Even when Hickey resigned with the team this past summer, the writing was on the wall. If Hickey didn’t make the team out of training camp (whenever that may be, due to a possible NHL lockout), he would need to clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL because he had been in the Kings system too long.
Now, the actual lockout seemed to confuse the issue for most fans, as Hickey has been playing in the AHL the past few months. That was only under a temporary arrangement though and once the lockout ended it was back to business as usual for NHL clubs.
With a shortened training camp and knowing that Hickey wasn’t going to make the team, Lombardi really had no choice. He had to put him on waivers.
And when the New York Islanders snatched him up, it was time to close the book on the Thomas Hickey story.
“It’s a mixed blessing,” Lombardi told MayorsManor a few hours after it was announced Hickey had been claimed. “We knew that was a risk and that’s the way the rules are designed. For him, obviously it’s a great opportunity. But, (for us), it’s one of those things where there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The ongoing development of Muzzin was also one of the contributing factors that went into the decision.
“We felt there was an edge, that’s why he’s here right now, said Lombardi. “Under normal circumstances they all three would have been here right now (Hickey, Muzzin and Andrew Bodnarchuk). So you pick the one who has a little more experience.”
Muzzin played 11 games with the Kings two seasons ago and then-coach Terry Murray spoke highly of his future in the NHL.
More recently, when Monarchs coach Mark Morris came on the MayorsManor show in October he had this to say about the 23-year old defenseman – “When I first got him, I likened him to a young Willie Mitchell – who I coached at Clarkson.”
Ironically, it’s Michell’s current knee injury that may clear the way for Muzzin to return to the Kings line-up once again. At the very least, he’s probably the greatest beneficiary of Hickey’s departure, in the sense it solidifies his ’next guy in line’ status.
The former captain of the Soo Greyhounds (OHL) wasn’t thinking about himself though upon hearing news of Hickey and fellow teammate Rich Clune being claimed on waivers.
“I’m excited for them,” Muzzin said. ”Sometimes a shot in a new place may trigger something, and they could take off and secure themselves an NHL spot. So for both of them, I wish them all the luck. I’ve known Hicks for a long time now, and playing with Cluney, they’re both good guys. The teams that have picked them up have two good players and two good people.”
Even though Hickey and Muzzin, who will also require waivers if he doesn’t make the team out of camp this week, were keenly aware it might come down to a situation like this, they chose not to talk about it much this season.
“We just ignored it,” said Muzzin. “We just focused on playing hockey and getting better with Manchester.”
King was equally excited for his now-former Monarchs teammates.
“I’m obviously ecstatic for them,” he told us. “Tom had been here with me for four years in the (Kings) organization. To give him a chance on a different team should do well for him…(Once the lockout ended) everybody had to clear waivers. You had that in the back of your mind. Everyone wants an opportunity to play in the NHL and waivers is just kind of another way for another team to give you the opportunity to make that step.”
Maybe that old saying is true, when one door closes another opens.
In the case of Hickey, he goes from a team loaded on the blueline in LA to a New York club in desperate need of defensemen. Good for him.
Did Lombardi want to lose him on waivers? Probably not. He’s a builder, he loves draft picks and prospects.
But in the NHL, you can’t be a hoarder. At some point, you have to let go of things.
Those are the rules.
For more information on the top LA Kings prospects in Manchester, listen to a full replay of the interview with coach Morris referenced above…
NOTE: If you’re on an ipad or iphone, click here to listen to today’s episode.
We’ve also had several other Kings prospects / Monarchs players on the MayorsManor show recently – including Andy Andreoff, Brandon Kozun, Martin Jones, Muzzin and Tyler Toffoli. If you missed any of those shows, click here to see the full list of episodes available for free streaming online.
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