Lombardi's vision, guts turned Kings into champs
LOS ANGELES -- Dean Lombardi stood on the blue line, away from the commotion and soon-to-be coronation.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was waiting for the Stanley Cup to reach the cloth-covered table, but the general manager of the Los Angeles Kings -- the architect of this championship roster -- didn't want to be part of the spotlight. He had no interest in taking any credit, even though it was his vision that made the celebration possible Monday night.
So, instead of soaking in the adulation he so richly deserves, Lombardi stood at the blue line, but one-by-one the players skated up to him and wrapped their arms around him to bring their boss in for a celebratory hug.
"His vision, his passion lives through us on the ice," Penner said during the Cup celebration on the ice at Staples Center. "We wouldn't be the team we were without having him at the helm."
"He's always believed in us," added Anze Kopitar. "He's patted us on the back, kicked us in the butts. That's what you want from your GM."
Lombardi was hired by the Kings in April of 2006 to change the culture in Los Angeles. The Kings hadn't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2002 and hadn't won a playoff round since 2001. They were a second-thought team in a sports town owned by the Lakers, Dodgers and USC football.
But in walked Lombardi, a smart-talking New Englander with a law degree, six years of experience as the GM in San Jose, and an understanding of the reality that comes with trying to build a winner. He came on board with the required energy and patience. He knew this was not going to be an overnight sensation. He knew there were no quick fixes.
This was a tear-it-down, build-it-back-up project. This was going to take a lot of courage.
"He's a guy with vision," Kopitar said.
Lombardi at least had a starting point, three core players around which to build. Dave Taylor, the previous general manager, drafted Brown in 2003 and both Kopitar and Jonathan Quick in 2005.
No matter how many times he is asked about crafting this roster, Lombardi always goes back to Taylor. He did again Monday as the Stanley Cup was being paraded only a few feet away from him.
"Let's get something straight here -- whenever a team has won there are some guys that don't get appreciated," Lombardi said. "I give a lot of credit to Dave Taylor. I started out with three darn good players in Brown, Kopitar and Quick. Let's not ever forget what he did."
Lombardi, still deflecting the credit and the attention, then talked about ex-coach Terry Murray, a friend who he had to fire in December, more than three years after he hired him to lead the Kings through their culture-changing years.
"He stabilized this franchise and gave us credibility," Lombardi said.
Lombardi gave the franchise direction. He started with Taylor's draft smarts, and through trades, free agency and the NHL Draft, acquired 20 of the 23 players that suited up for the Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Some were no-brainer decisions, like drafting Drew Doughty second in the 2008 NHL Draft. Some were culture-changing trades, such as dealing Lubomir Visnovsky to Edmonton for Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene on June 29, 2008.
"When you've got a room like we have, those two guys are glue," Lombardi said of Stoll and Greene. "They're real pros."
Lombardi gave a four-year, $13.6 million contract to Rob Scuderi in the summer of 2009 and a two-year, $3.5 million deal to Willie Mitchell the following summer. Now it's almost impossible to measure their value as leaders and, as Scuderi showed the hockey world Monday, warriors that bleed for their teammates.
Justin Williams, a player Lombardi knew when he was a scout with the Flyers from 2003-06, came to L.A. in a trade on March 5, 2009 for Patrick O'Sullivan, who is not in the NHL anymore. Williams had 15 points in the playoffs.
Trevor Lewis and backup goalie Jonathan Bernier were two of Lombardi's first draft picks in 2006. Alec Martinez, Dwight King, Slava Voynov, Jordan Nolan, Kyle Clifford and Andrei Loktionov were all drafted from 2007-09.
Then, when Lombardi knew the Kings were close, he went back to his old Philadelphia well and pulled in Simon Gagne as a free agent and Mike Richards through a blockbuster trade this past summer. Jeff Carter came in February thanks to another blockbuster that required vision and a whole lot of guts that Lombardi said he received from years of training by his three mentors (Lou Lamoriello, Bob Clarke and Jack Ferreira).
"I've been trained pretty good not to let self-doubt creep," Lombardi said. "Don't get me wrong, you're going to make mistakes and I've made a ton of them. But, when you make a decision you can't doubt yourself. That's not in the equation, but you will make mistakes and I've made mine."
Lombardi did not make a mistake with Richards and Carter, players who were castoffs in Philadelphia. Richards had 15 points and Carter scored eight goals in the playoffs.
"I knew those kids, they're quality kids," Lombardi said. "They came up in a great organization. Mike is not a player, Mike is a winner, and so is Jeff. They've shown it their whole careers. They're quality kids and they care. They're your classic Canadian boys."
Just as Darryl Sutter is your classic Alberta farm boy, but Lombardi worked side-by-side with him in San Jose and knew what he could do for the Kings. Firing Murray was not an easy thing to do, but hiring Sutter was arguably the best thing Lombardi ever did.
"He gives your team an identity," Lombardi said.
Lombardi may have had his moments of doubt, such as this past winter when the Kings were struggling and he reportedly put Brown on the trading block, but he never ever wavered from his grand plan.
"We've been stressing about building character for the last five years," Kings president Luc Robitaille said. "It's character that won."
Lombardi brought it to the Kings when he was hired six years ago. His goal then was to acquire more character to build a winning culture.
The architect of this championship didn't need to stand in the middle of the celebration to know he nailed it.
"He's such a great person," Penner said. "I'm so happy for him."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl