'Flyers of the West' are now Cup champs
LOS ANGELES -- Executives across the National Hockey League call this a copycat league. If that's the case, the Philadelphia Flyers ought to feel honored right now.
While Kings general manager Dean Lombardi says he never aimed to sculpt his championship roster based on the Flyers model; he did intend to craft the same winning culture that exists in Philadelphia -- a culture that he was a part of for three seasons as a professional scout.
Do we dare say his model is better than the original? After all, the Kings are now Stanley Cup champs thanks in part to the Flyers.
"It comes down to culture and it's all about winning," Kings assistant general manager Ron Hextall, one of the most beloved players in Flyers' history, told NHL.com last week. "In Philadelphia, you're part of a team. There is no one person more important than the Flyers. That's pretty much what we've tried to bring to L.A.
"It's Hollywood, but there is going to be no Hollywood script here with individuals. This is all about being successful as a hockey club."
The Kings, dubbed "Flyers West" by some publications, put the finishing touches on the last act of their Hollywood script Monday night at Staples Center, finishing off the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 to cap a 16-4 postseason that included a record 10-1 mark on the road. They made history with several former members of the Flyers' organization helping to lead the way.
That's not a coincidence.
"It's not like we looked and said, 'Let's try to pick out every Flyer that we can get,'" Hextall said. "But these guys, no question they bring an attitude, a presence."
Mike Richards , Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Justin Williams all spent significant years in Philadelphia playing for the Flyers. Richards, Carter and Gagne went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. Richards was the Flyers' captain.
Colin Fraser was drafted by the Flyers in 2003, though he never played for Philadelphia.
Kings assistant coach John Stevens played for the Flyers and then coached them. Hextall is a member of the Flyers' Hall of Fame. Lombardi worked for the team for three years prior to becoming the Kings' general manager.
Even ex-Kings coach Terry Murray, who was fired in mid-December, has orange-and-black blood running through him as a former player and coach in Philadelphia.
"When you've got Dean and you've got Hexy, the philosophy will be close to the Flyers," Gagne told NHL.com during the Final. "They like the way the Flyers play, what they put on the ice every season, season after season, and the team having a chance to do something good in the playoffs every year. I think it's a good model. We all know it's been awhile since (the Flyers) won, but they are always one of the top teams.
"Dean and Hexy may not be doing the exact same thing (in L.A.), but they have taken pieces from it to help this team."
The basis of the Flyers' model that Lombardi clearly copied has more to do with developing a winning culture more than anything else. He gained an appreciation of the model by getting inside the mind of ex-Flyers' general manager and Hall of Fame player Bob Clarke during his three-year stint as Philadelphia's chief scout for the Western Conference.
"Sitting in his office was a great education," Lombardi said. "Every third word to come out of his mouth is 'team.' If you ever want to see venom come out of his mouth, just talk about something that is selfish. There is nothing that irritates him more than selfishness. It's pure anger."
Lombardi is getting to be the same way -- one Stanley Cup won't change him.
"When you have a culture, it transcends generations," Lombardi said. "It's passed on and everybody feels it."
Gagne could feel it the moment he became a King last summer. It was as if he stepped back in time. The winning culture he remembered from his days in Philadelphia was omnipresent, as were the ex-Flyers in the front office, on the coaching staff, and on the team.
All of it allowed Gagne to walk into a new organization with a unique level of comfort.
"The transition from last year, going to Tampa, and then coming here this year, I felt more comfortable and it was easier coming here just from knowing the coaching staff and a couple of players, the people upstairs," said Gagne, who played with the Lightning this past season after spending the first 10 seasons of his career in Philly. "I knew a bunch of people before coming here. In Tampa, it was [Martin] St. Louis and [Vinny] Lecavalier and after that, that was it. It's different when you come to a new place and it can be a tough transition sometimes, but this year it was definitely easier at the start of the season."
As crushed as Richards was when he was traded this past summer, it didn't take him long to realize he was going somewhere familiar, even if it was on the opposite side of the country, where sunny days on the beach are a way of life.
Months later, Lombardi went back to the ex-Flyers well and brought Carter to L.A from Columbus, where he had been traded in the summer. Richards and Carter are close friends, and for now they live together in Manhattan Beach. With Gagne also on board and Stevens on the bench, it's like everything was normal again -- except for the colors and the coast.
"If this is the road that was intended for us, then so be it. We're happy now," Richards said. "I'm at a happy state. Obviously, as I said, frustrating at first, but I couldn't be happier now."
He originally thought he would find that happiness in Philadelphia. Gagne and Carter did as well. Heck, Hextall figured he would win the Cup at least once as a Flyer, maybe even be a Flyer for life -- but neither happened. Williams, Stevens and to a lesser extent Fraser have moved on from the orange and black as well, but wherever they look now they can see some remnants of it.
Maybe the championship banner the Kings will unfurl next season should have a twinge of orange in it somewhere, too?
"They're the only team other than the Flyers that I like and want to see win," Clarke said.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer