FROM THE DESK OF DEAN LOMBARDI
I communicate frequently with our fans and I know that each year you remain hopeful that we will make the playoffs. We have taken many positive steps as an organization this past season but were unable to climb into playoff positioning as the season wore on. I want to assure you that all of our end-of-season discussions with our players involved a clear message and understanding that next season carries an expectation that we will be playing playoff hockey. Most importantly, please understand that we are following our plan to turn this team into an annual contender and we will not steer away from this path.
Please allow me some time to update you on your Los Angeles Kings:
As I write this letter, there is no question in my mind that we have made significant progress these past few seasons toward reaching our ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup. Prior to accepting the challenge of leading the Kings, I made it clear that to achieve bona fide contender status the Kings needed to embark on a systematic plan of drafting and developing its own core of players. I realize that many of our fans have listened to this type of appraisal in previous years, and as our history shows the Kings franchise may have started down this path but was unable or unwilling to sustain it. There is tangible evidence that our plan of drafting and developing is beginning to bear fruit given the stable of young players we have added at the NHL level the past few seasons such as Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds, Jonathan Quick, Oscar Moller, Anze Kopitar, Davis Drewiske and Jack Johnson. Additionally, I am pleased with the development of several of our younger players currently with the Manchester Monarchs such as Kevin Westgarth, Jonathan Bernier, Thomas Hickey, Viatcheslav Voynov and Trevor Lewis, all of whom have continued to make positive strides.
A foundation is emerging and the prospect of hope and clear direction is now evident. There are a number of other facts that support my beliefs. Firstly, our team improved eight points from the previous season. On the surface this might not seem like a monumental improvement, however, one must consider that the previous season our team was one of the oldest in the NHL. The incremental increase in points this past season was accomplished by the third youngest team in the NHL and logic dictates we will only get better. Perhaps most telling is the fact that we have completely overhauled our defense and goaltending where strength and depth is critical to a championship team. Two years ago this vital segment of the team was comprised primarily of players over 33 years of age. Today our back-end enlists five defensemen (Doughty, Kyle Quincey, Matt Greene, Johnson and Drewiske) and one goaltender (Quick), all 26 years old or under, who possess varying degrees of upside as individuals and significant upside as a group.
Secondly, we designed our point of emphasis entering the 2008-09 season to significantly decrease our goals-against from the previous year in which we ranked last in the NHL. Few sports-minded individuals would disagree that defense in team sports wins championships. This past season the commitment to defense resulted in the Kings being tied for fourth overall in fewest shots-allowed (28.1 per game) after finishing 28th (32.0 per game) in 2007-08. Additionally, the Kings made significant improvement in goals-against average (2.76 per game/11th overall; 3.21 per game in 2007-08/28th overall) and goals allowed (226/11th overall; 266 goals allowed in 2007-08/28th overall). While we are proud of the improvements we have made defensively, we will continue to strive to ensure that our defensive structure becomes instinctive to our players thereby becoming a staple of our franchise.
Thirdly, our special teams combined to produce playoff-caliber numbers. With the changes in the game in the post-lockout era, the performance of special teams has increased in significance. Our penalty-killing unit enjoyed an 82.9% success rate (seventh overall) after finishing dead-last in the NHL in 2007-08 (78.0%). On the power play, we improved our overall percentage to 19.2% (tied for 13th overall) compared to 17.5% in 2007-08. Additionally, our 360 power-play opportunities ranked fourth-overall in the NHL.
There are numerous other benchmarks that measure the game within the game that signify the hope and direction that this group of young players provides. However, the most significant touchstone that inspires my beliefs comes from those signs that are not visible to even the trained eye. I am convinced that all great sports franchises must develop a soul. The soul of a franchise is its identity. It springs from the well inside each athlete learning to bury his ego and direct his energy toward caring about his teammates and the achievement of their common goal. While the salary-cap era has changed the inner dynamics of the team and the building process, I am convinced that this intangible remains the hallmark of great franchises. Once this culture is established, it has the ability to transcend generations and provide a template for what it means “to be a King.” This sentiment is a powerful ally that instills in every player who wears the Kings Crown a unique brand of excellence that continually cultivates meaningful greatness.
At times during this past season, I have witnessed what I believe is the emergence of these ideals. During the high points, I never saw a player seek attribution or credit in order to pad his ego. Additionally, when we experienced failure and disappointment the temptation to assign blame never reared its divisive head. In short, I could sense this group of players care--which is a critical step. For only when an athlete truly cares about his team can he learn to push himself to the bounds of his ability and thereby become a true teammate. When 23 men excel as teammates, an identity will emerge and the “Los Angeles Kings” will immediately emit emotions of pride and excellence.
There are some outward signs that these intangibles are beginning to manifest themselves. Quality players and teammates such as Dustin Brown, Kopitar, Jarret Stoll and Greene have signed long-term contracts, solidifying their commitment to our vision. Additionally, for the first time since I have been the GM, players have committed to remain in LA throughout the summer and train together as teammates.
There is no doubt that we are on our way to achieve our ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup and contending year-after-year. We must continue to demand defensive excellence whereby our goals-against average continues to improve and the mantra of being “difficult to play against” becomes a staple of our identity. Additionally our forwards must develop a “shot mentality” along with an unconditional commitment to go to the hard areas to score and increase our goal production at even strength. Continuing to add proven NHL-scorers with “winning experience” like Justin Williams will also hammer home these ideals. Finally, with our salary-cap space and having rebuilt our Reserve List with over 30 draft picks in the past three years, we are now in position to seriously consider the acquisition of players via trade and/or Free Agency who address our needs as players and teammates.
I sincerely hope that you will remain an integral part of this team. I assure you that I fully understand you would rather focus on results rather than process. But doing things right is a process that enables us to measure results along the way to ensure that the ultimate goal is achieved - a Stanley Cup for the great fans of Los Angeles. I have seen positive results this year and I am confident that we will continue to make progress next year and most importantly, continue to position ourselves to be better for when it comes time to strike for the ultimate prize. In professional sports you cannot make guarantees, but what I can promise you is that we will stick to our plan and no one will outwork this franchise. I encourage you to come along for the ride. Not merely because we need and value your support, but because you deserve to share in the joy when we capture the ultimate prize – the Stanley Cup. I look forward to seeing you at Hockey Fest in August as we launch the 2009-10 Season.
President / General Manager
Los Angeles Kings Hockey Club