The organically built Kings have accompanied effective drafting and developing with key trades that have helped construct a firm identity
If you want to see the stark differences between this Kings team and Kings teams from previous decades, there is a feature on the team’s website (hyperlink: http://kings.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=40851) that lists every trade that has been made by every general manager of the franchise. If you are so inclined, you can recall the Larry Murphy for Brian Engblom and Ken Houston trade before covering your eyes as you remember when the team parted ways with Alexei Zhitnik in February, 1995, five months before offering up a first round draft pick as part of the Dmitri Khristich and Byron Dafoe deal during a period in the team’s ebb and flow in which rebuilding, in hindsight, would have clearly been the preferred course of action.
This was also a distinguishing flaw of early Kings teams. Los Angeles parted ways with 12 first round picks between 1969 and 1981. Only twice in the 1970s did the Kings select in the first round. Both selections were the 16th overall pick.
Compare that to the team’s current state of affairs. While the Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille-led 1992-93 team represented the peak of the silver-and-black era, the Kings missed the playoffs the following year, and while the team boasted a dazzling array of superstars, the early-1990’s teams were not exactly teams that developed through patience, drafting and developing. They came by virtue of the Wayne Gretzky effect, when it was imperative to surround the greatest player in the history of the sport with the primary and complementary pieces necessary to accentuate the competitive level of a team whose window had been thrust open immediately.
Though the success generated by the 2012 team occurred abruptly, it also happened organically. The top three playoff scorers on the Stanley Cup-winning Kings were drafted by the team, and though it was a group that to that point had not generated any postseason success, the seeds of a team identity had been planted by Terry Murray, and watered and harvested by Darryl Sutter.
It was Dean Lombardi, though, who acquired the seeds and arranged for the fertilizer.
“I think you’ve heard me talk about culture – and, quite frankly, and this has always been in the back of my mind,” Lombardi said in 2013 (hyperlink: http://lakingsinsider.com/2013/04/03/dean-lombardi-press-conference-transcript-video/). “First, you need stability and continuity. Then you get an identity, and then you have culture. But if you don’t have the first one, you’re not going to get the culture. And culture takes time, and the only way you’re going to do it is keep a bunch of good players together that care about each other, learn through the ups and downs and learn to win. And that’s a ‘culture’.”
The culture that may not necessarily be on display on television or during games is certainly prevalent within the walls and behind the doors in the team’s facility.
This 2014 playoff run and the 2012 Stanley Cup title have roots in a June, 2008 trade that had a major impact on the team’s identity and preparedness. When Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene were acquired from Edmonton in exchange for Lubomir Visnovsky, the Kings took in two players that formed cornerstones of the team’s work ethic and leadership.
“I think I’ve said it lots that he’s a perfect checking centerman in the NHL,” Sutter said of Stoll.
Nine months later, former Stanley Cup winner Justin Williams was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes. While the team knew of the winger’s puck possession and offensive zone credentials, they were also cognizant of the character and desire to win embedded in the ultracompetitive forward.
“It was a non-playoff team trying to find their way and trying to rebuild,” Williams recalled of his earliest days with the team. “Now we've built ourselves into a team that we want to have the respect of everyone in the NHL. Throughout the past couple years we've done that, we've earned that. We want to continue to do so.”
And through those years the team’s patience and strict adherence to constructing a team that wouldn’t simply be cyclically competitive, but an organization with fundamentally sound ideals and an airtight identity has come to be. In addition to those brought in via trades and free agency, there are 12 players drafted and developed by the Kings on the current roster, and two players who have played key roles in Jake Muzzin and Martin Jones who were signed as free agents out of junior hockey.
“I think it just speaks volumes of kind of how the Kings bring people up,” said Mike Richards, who was acquired as part of a trade that sent two players who had been drafted by Los Angeles to Philadelphia.
“Ever since I've been here, the whole word was you had to go to the minors, put in your time there. Dean doesn't rush people into the NHL. I think it's nice for people to get their experience down there and then come up here. We have a great group of guys here, and I think it's comforting for people to come into the locker room. I know when I came here, they accepted me right away. I think it's kind of similar for them, too. Tyler got a little bit last year in the playoffs, and then Tanner this year stepped up in a big way, too. They're just going out and playing. They're not putting too much pressure on themselves. Jeff has been good talking to them, helping them along. I think their mentality is to just go out and play. I think right now it's working for them and it's a good mentality to have at this point in the season.”
Though the leap forward happened so quickly in 2012, the Cup run was the culmination of a perfect storm of drafting, developing, team construction, coaching and executing by a universally character group. Those playoff defeats in 2010 and 2011 were simply the turning of the soil, the watering and cultivation of what was coming.
“I think making the playoffs is the first step,” Stoll said. “They had a great core here. A lot of those guys are still here. Great draft picks, building through the draft.”
“In '12, everything went our way, bounces, the play, our goaltender, everything was kind of on our side. Sometimes you learn quick, sometimes you don't. Sometimes it takes a little while. I think it was a little bit of both with this team. Just great trades, great little additions here and there. Once you get a taste of winning a playoff series, winning a couple, winning a championship, it's not underrated how hard it is, everyone knows it's hard, but the things you can learn from those runs is endless what you can learn from different series, winning a championship.”
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