Cup-winning Kings prepare for short offseason
Dean Lombardi was back at work in his El Segundo, Calif., office on Monday morning with a full to-do list.
There is the NHL Draft coming up this weekend. Free agency opens July 1, followed by L.A.'s developmental camp.
Oh, yeah, there is also the matter of working out a schedule for each player to spend a day with the Stanley Cup. In other words, a June afternoon was never so wonderfully busy for the Stanley Cup champion Kings.
"So many things, going through this, are new for us," Lombardi told NHL.com when asked about the shortest offseason in the franchise's 45-year history. "It really doesn't stop. Trust me …we'll gladly do it every year."
Lombardi understandably said that not much work got done over the previous five days as the celebration of the franchise's first Cup continues. But he is ramping up now with guarded optimism.
Unlike most Cup champions in the salary cap era, Los Angeles has a chance to retain the large majority of its team for at least another year. All of its defensemen are signed through next season, while Colin Fraser, Dustin Penner and Jarret Stoll are the only impending unrestricted free agents.
Lombardi said of the three forwards that they are "moving on that this week."
All three played integral roles. Fraser was a fourth-line glue guy and solid penalty-killer. Stoll accepted a third-line center role and was among L.A.'s best two-way forwards. Penner saw a brief career renaissance and his experience was invaluable in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Penner, who had a cap hit of $4.25 million this past season, said at the team's rally last Thursday that he would take a pay cut to remain a King.
Jonathan Quick, a Vezina Trophy finalist fresh off a Conn Smythe Trophy, is signed through next season but is due for a huge raise from his cap hit of $1.8 million this season. He could command more than $6 million annually under a long-term contract. The Kings have more than $16 million in cap space, according to capgeek.com.
Lombardi said he would ideally like to have Quick's extension done before training camp begins, but the still-to-be-negotiated Collective Bargaining Agreement – the current one expires Sept. 15 -- could affect how a new contract is structured.
"He's not unrestricted," Lombardi said. "That said, we'd like to start working on it."
Lombardi emphasized that his immediate priorities are the draft and his impending free agents. He said of Quick's extension that "We've got to be methodical and get it right."
If Lombardi can re-sign Fraser, Penner and Stoll, he will keep intact the entire squad from this past season through 2012-13.
"We're more than capable of keeping this team together," Lombardi said. "[But] once they're together, that's not enough. It's a whole different mindset with the players having a shortened offseason.
"I'm going through the process. It's not only keeping them together. It's keeping that hunger and competitive drive. You look at the [Boston] Bruins. They didn't get going until December."
Lombardi said he has already talked to general managers of previous Cup-winning teams to get an idea of how to recover from a short summer and come back hungry. He even has picked the brain of the team that shares the same practice facility as the Kings.
"No better source than the Lakers," Lombardi said of the NBA's perennial powerhouse, whose championship banners dominate the rafters at Staples Center.
For a franchise that, for 44 years, continually found new ways to lose, complacency will be a concern going into 2012-13. Can the Kings keep up a relentless forecheck and silky smooth breakout over an 82-game season? Can they continue to rely on a masterful penalty-killing unit?
Also, it's easy to forget that the Kings still finished the regular season 29th in the League in scoring at 2.29 goals per game.
But there is now a winning culture in L.A., and players recognized it at last week's rally.
"It's something that Dean wanted to do," defenseman Matt Greene said. "Dean wanted to build a winner, and I think that's what everyone wants to do when they come into an organization. He did a good job. What's great is that he let guys grow up a little bit. I think the guys he had the year before – [Dustin Brown] and [Anze Kopitar] – those are the guys that carried us all the way through, and some of the draft picks like Quickie and [Drew Doughty]. It's awesome. Those guys are homegrown talent. Those guys are Kings for life.
"It would be awesome [to retain the team]. Hopefully I'm part of it, too. It's a great feeling knowing you're coming into next season locked and loaded and ready to do some damage."
Penner is one of a handful of Kings who know what it's like to defend a Stanley Cup. He's knows about the Cup hangover and the clichés about how it's hard for a team to be hungry if it just ate.
"I've been told this before," Penner said. "We kind of [messed] ourselves over because we set the bar so high. Now it's what you expect every year. We've just got to keep pushing and strive to get better."
The Kings did not have exit meetings as players have departed for their summer break. When they gather on the ice again in September it will be as defending Cup champions, which traditionally weighs down a team with burden.
But Lombardi sees something different in his group.
"This is one of the closest teams I've ever had," he said. "These guys really care about each other. But sometimes success is more detrimental to a group than failure. You can't lose sight. The No. 1 thing about this team was its soul. It took a long time to get that."