Remember when you would get in trouble as a kid and your mom would tell you, ‘Just wait until your father gets home!’ and the anticipation of what he might say or do would just eat you up inside? Well, welcome to the City of Angeles on April 10, 2017 – where the tension in the air is so thick you can practically carve it up with a knife.
Those surrounding the Kings know change is coming. About the only thing uncertain is exactly what and when. To say it’s a fluid situation is putting it mildly. Just a month ago, it appeared GM Dean Lombardi would be relieved of his duties at season’s end. Still, in spite of recent turmoil, he was the mastermind of two Stanley Cups in Los Angeles. And, yes, he forever raised expectations for a franchise that had suffered too many heartbreaks to list over the previous 40-plus seasons. However, the other side of the ledger is littered with missteps over the past three summers, and somebody has to pay for missing the playoffs twice during that span.
On the flip-side, there is coach Darryl Sutter. Make no mistake about it, most of the players on the roster are not big fans. It is a situation that has been brewing for at least a year, if not much longer. Our sources say several key people among the leadership in the room have openly offered their opinions on the situation to management, going as far back as their exit interviews last season, and again more recently. Even team captain Anze Kopitar slipped into his last post-game scrum of the season.
"It starts within the room… We should be ready to rock [next season] on opening night, regardless who is behind the bench" – Anze Kopitar pic.twitter.com/QjyLDacthM
— The Mayor John Hoven (@mayorNHL) April 10, 2017
So, who goes and when? Those remain two questions on everybody’s mind. Meanwhile, the key parties involved appear to all be acting as if life is normal. Lombardi has been meeting with his key lieutenants in recent days, said to be behaving no different, as they prepare for what should be a busy off-season of roster retooling. And after Sunday night’s game in Anaheim, his coach didn’t provide even a hint or slight indication that he wouldn’t be back next season.
However, from everything we’ve been able to gather, change is most definitely coming. They could be just a few hours away or they may be coming in a few days; just know that a shakeup is expected to come fairly quickly. Like any earthquake in Los Angeles, the magnitude and exact timing of such rumbles are never truly known in advance.
As we understand things, owner Phil Anschutz has been gathering his data points for a while – including getting feedback from AEG President and CEO Dan Beckerman. Many pieces have moved around the chessboard during this process in recent weeks, and perhaps only those two actually know what the final decision(s) will be. However, we are starting to believe a compromise of sorts could be in the offering.
Nearly everybody we have spoken with in Kings-land agrees on one thing; there just isn’t any scenario where Lombardi and Sutter can both return next season. Not only are they both partly responsible for the situation the Kings are currently in – but their relationship is not nearly as strong as it once was. Lombardi has kept his comments fairly private thus far, while Sutter has been offering jabs at his boss in post-game media scrums for quite some time. Sutter’s displeasure may go back further, but we’ve been told he wasn’t happy with the signing of Devon Setoguchi coming out of training camp and things never got better as the season went on.
The wrinkle in all of this is, losing both Lombardi and Sutter at the same time might just be too much change at once for an ownership group that has been largely conservative in their overall approach for more than a decade. Thus, here is where there may be an out for all involved.
Rob Blake is the GM in waiting. That move is all but a guarantee once Lombardi leaves the organization. Yet, exiting him today won’t solve the issues behind the bench. Perhaps that is why over the weekend we started to get a different sense of what is most likely to happen. Quite simply, Sutter has to go.
Lombardi has been the team President (of Hockey Operations) and General Manager since being hired in April 2006. Going forward, he may be able to save his job by giving up part of it. Promoting Blake to General Manager and Mike Futa to Assistant GM just might be the wiggle room Lombardi needs. It would also allow everybody involved to save a little face. The architect of the team’s greatest success would be given one more chance to fix his missteps. Behind the bench, things aren’t quite as simple, though. Sutter was given a new contract last summer — against the urging of several in the organization — and retiring to go farming, essentially walking away from millions of dollars, doesn’t appear to be very likely. Instead, he will need to be the face of change – coming in the form of a, ‘We wish Darryl well in his future endeavors, but we feel it is time to move in a different direction.’
OTHER NOTES: Expect the Kings to protect Derek Forbort in the Expansion Draft. This means, barring an unexpected trade between now and then, the team will be protecting four defensemen and four forwards. … That’s not to say that a defenseman won’t be traded this off-season to bring in some help at forward. It merely means the value isn’t likely to be there prior to the Expansion Draft. … As we’ve shared previously, the expectation is Marian Gaborik will be bought out this summer. The Kings have tried to trade him and will try again. However, after dealing away so many first and second round picks/prospects in recent years, they are acutely aware of the need to hold on to those assets this summer, so moving Gaborik’s contract remains a tricky proposition. … Defenseman Matt Greene is expected to retire this summer. However, the organization is committed to keeping him around in another capacity. There is tremendous respect for the intangibles he brings, so look him for to transition into some form of a Player Development role. … Ditto for Jarret Stoll. … If Blake ends up as GM, don’t look for him to move Dustin Brown. … Among the most talked about topic with Kings folks we spoke with yesterday were the healthy scratches given to young prospects Adrian Kempe, Jonny Brodzinski, and Paul LaDue. Debate was raging over if it was wise to hold them back and prevent any possible injuries (thus, saving them for the AHL playoffs) or give them valuable experience in a game that still mattered to the host Anaheim Ducks (who were playing for a Pacific Division title). Regardless of which side of the fence people camped out on, there was a common theme to the discussions – all three have bright futures in Los Angeles and look to be legit NHL players.
If you missed our Bold Predictions article in February, check it out now. We laid out detailed thoughts on a new Kings President and General Manager –
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