OK, picking up the Q&A from yesterday, here’s a monster. The panel was asked about team pride and morale, and how there didn’t seem to be enough of it last season. The answer follows. If you intend to read the whole thing, make sure you schedule yourself regular breaks, to do things such as eat, sleep, mail Christmas cards and watch the 2009 and 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. I can’t be sure if these guys will ultimately build a winning franchise, but they sure can talk. Hopefully, you’ll find it to be a worthwhile read regarding their views on how to build a winning franchise…
Question: There doesn’t seem to be much team pride or morale, other than a few guys. Coach Murray, I wonder how you will address this this year.
LOMBARDI: Let me address that first of all, then I’ll let Murphy talk to it. Based on Murph’s experiences, I think he can relate to that. But let me say this. Again, you’ve heard it before. I don’t think that you can build what you’re talking about without the majority of your team coming through your system. I’ve said it before. You don’t win championships with mercenaries. One of the problems is, we had to buy time, to get to the draft table, and to get that minor-league system young and develop them properly, you’ve got to go out into free agency and fill some holes. It’s hard on those players, in terms of becoming a team, because a lot of them are at the end of their career and they don’t really feel the Kings. You’ve heard that expression about those great teams. `They’ve got the Flyers tattooed on their ass, and it stays there for the rest of your life.’
You don’t get that without players coming through your system. When a Kopitar, Brown, Frolov, Johnson breaks in, that’s when you’re going to start building that. Then it keeps going, and I can see that happening. I use the Yankees analogy. They used to go out and get free agents and spend a billion dollars, but that character and chemistry never came back until Jeter, Rivera and Williams came through the system, and they kept them and it was `Yankee Pride’ again. That’s why I keep harping on it. That’s the intangible of going through this process. You can’t visualize it but you can feel it.
I used to have John Ferguson on my staff when I was in San Jose. He had won all those Cups in Montreal when he was a senior adviser, and nobody was more competitive than this guy and nobody wore that Montreal logo with more pride than him. I would ask him, when we were building and getting better, `Do you feel it?’ He would say, `You’re not quite there yet.’ You see it when kids get off the bus and when they get on the plane. You see it with those little taps on the pads in big moments. You see it when the bench immediately comes up and nobody is looking around for who got points. That’s when you get those little intangibles that you’re talking about. I remember John would say, `It’s coming,’ but you can’t define it. It’s like that judge said about obscenity. I can’t define it but I know it when I feel it and see it. But when I look at that team, and if I showed you age-distribution charts, I can look at an age-distribution chart, put the colors around the players that have been drafted and come through the system, and I can see it. When you don’t see home-grown players in that core age group, you’re probably going to be facing that problem you’re talking about.
That’s one of the things, when you’re developing and building a team, you have to stress to these guys the importance of being a teammate. That is critical, and as these kids come up through the system, it’s `teammate.’ We do everything possible, sometimes, to take them away from that. From the time they’re 14, 15 years old, they’ve got an agent, they’ve got college coaches, junior coaches, parents and everyone else, telling them, `It’s all about you.’ But if you can get that organization to where you’ve got that core of chemistry and caring, you can breed that. And I tell you, as a general manager that’s the most rewarding feeling. When you get off the plane and that guy has his chest out, like, `I’m a King and I’m proud to wear that jersey’… But it isn’t coming unless you draft and develop. I think Murph has been through this, so he can probably relate to some of the experiences.
MURRAY: I went through the same situation that we were just talking about here. The question was asked about spirit and competitiveness and attitude. When I go back to the Flyers, just in the last three years, the Flyers signed a bunch of free agents, brought them in and, on paper, they were good players. It should have been a real good hockey club but it ended up being a real issue, as we got to the middle of the season, because we had that group of guys who had not come through the system and who had been brought in as free agents. Then we had a group of young guys on the other side, who had been drafted and been in the organization for a couple years. And it just never meshed properly. There was always an issue with this veteran/young-guy team. They were divided as we went on the road and went out to team dinners. The guys would never seem to hang out together. That spirit, that was there in the first part of the season, really dissipated quickly as we got to the second half and the pressure and the key games came along. It just didn’t happen.
The same thing happened going back two years ago. We had the same kind of scenario. The younger guys were getting better. They were more mature and they were becoming more experienced, and it should have been their time to break through the glass ceiling and become more important players for your hockey club. It just didn’t happen. So last year in Philadelphia, there were changes made before the start of the year. A lot of veteran guys were moved off the team or were bought out or traded, and there was an opportunity given to the young guys who had been drafted by the Flyers, brought in and nurtured and now given a big opportunity to take over ownership of that hockey club. I think, as you go through that year last year, you see the young players growing. I’m talking about Richards and Carter and Umberger and Colborne. The young guys took that team over and took ownership and there became a tremendous spirit and tremendous attitude. You have great success because of that.
In my view, it’s not a climb that’s going to go straight up. There’s lots of bumps along the road. Again, I can relate to last year, in particular, with the Flyer team getting it. Right before the all-star break, that team was one point behind Ottawa for first place in the conference. We came back from the all-star break and lost 10 games in a row. Because the responsibility was on the young players, they couldn’t figure it out and they had a tough time putting it together and playing the game the right way. But they ended up… In the last 15 games, I think the team had to win 13 of the last 15 games in order to make the playoffs and then go into the third round. So, good things happen, but it doesn’t come quickly and it doesn’t come easily. But I tell you this: I know how to do it. I know what needs to be done in order for this to get turned around and headed in the right direction.
When I got back in my experiences as a coach, which is now 28 years as a coach in this league, my first coaching opportunity was with the Washington Capitals. I retired as a player and got into coaching. The team had never made the playoffs, in their eight years of existence in the league. I got into the coaching side of it, as an assistant coach. My brother was the head coach, Bryan, who some of you might know as the general manager and coach in Anaheim. But that team took off and made the playoffs and had a tremendous run for a long period of time. In Washington, I ended up being the head coach, and more young players were coming into the organization. We started putting players in place who were now taking more ownership. This is the key to success in the NHL. Going into Philadelphia as a head coach, that team had not made the playoffs in five years. There was a lot of dysfunction going on, but they definitely were headed in the right direction with young guys who were in place. That was their opportunity to take over ownership of the team. Lindros, Karl Dykhuis, Chris Therion, Shjon Podein, Trent Klatt, Mikael Renberg, John LeClair, Eric Desjardins…all those young guys came and took over that hockey club and we made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in year three that I was coaching there. Again, the youth, the spirit that grows with the team, the opportunity that they have to take ownership of that hockey team, that’s what it’s all about.
This is the direction that we want to head in with the Los Angeles Kings. We have a lot of young players in this organization, talented players, players who are very hungry to take over this hockey club. It’s going to take time. The growth period is not just one way. There’s going to be some bumps. You have to take a step back to take two forward, sometimes. So be patient with it, but it’s there, it’s in place.
I know what this team needs. It needs structure, it needs discipline, it needs accountability, it needs a system, and we have to work mainly, in this first training camp and throughout the year, on the defensive part of the game. We have to cut back on our goals against. We have to give our goaltender better support. From the first day of training camp, we are going to talk about defense, we’re going to be talking about accountability, the number of goals against, better penalty killing and better numbers are what it’s going to be all about, in order for a solid foundation to be put in place. Once you get the solid foundation, believe me, nobody loves to score more goals than me. I want a team that’s going to attack and going to be putting pucks to the net and is going to play real hard on the offensive side of the game. But that has to come after we get this defensive part of the game in place. That will be the priority as we move forward from the first day of the training camp.
HEXTALL: I think what Dean wants me to hit on is, what it means to be a Los Angeles King. I can tell you right now what it means to be a Philadelphia Flyer. I was drafted when I was 18 years old and I came through the system. I hated them when I was drafted, but I really came to admire them, because they were all about winning and all about sacrifice. … I look at a guy like Dustin Brown. The kid is a L.A. King. He’s not a Flyer, he’s not a Ranger, he’s a King. Wherever Brownie ends his career, and hopefully it’s here, but wherever he ends it, he will always go back and say, `I’m a L.A. King.’ He came up through the system, he was drafted… and you can say the same about Kopi and hopefully Jack and hopefully some of the young defensemen coming through, hopefully Patrick O’Sullivan, this is a young group right now that’s going to get it.
We also have the other group from Manchester, the Brian Boyles and the Moulsons and the Purcells and the Harrolds. It’s like we’ve got these two groups right now, and they’re separated. Our vision, right now, is that these two groups will come together and form the type of team, and having the type of heart and connection to the Kings organization, that they own this team and they own this franchise. That’s the type of passion you have to bring every night, like the Detroit Red Wings do now. They’re a home-grown team. They’ve added some nice free agents to fill holes, but you absolutely cannot build through free agency. You can fill a hole, but you cannot build a foundation.
The only thing I can relate to is, I came up in 1986-87 with the Flyers. We had a young team. We were a pretty good team, but we weren’t the best team in the league. We had the Rick Tocchets and the Derek Smiths and the Pelle Eklunds, and then we had another group, the Brian Propps, the Dave Poulins, and then we had the Mark Howes and the Brad McCrimmons. But we had a lot of home-grown guys and we had a lot of character. The sacrifice that that team made for each other, day in and day out, not only through the playoffs but through the whole regular season, I can’t explain the feeling. I’m not sure I can even explain how or why it happened, other than the fact that we had guys with passion and we had guys who were Flyers.
That’s exactly the kind of thing we’re trying to bring into this organization, where we’ve got guys who are proud and stick their chest out and say, `You know what, I’m proud to be a L.A. King.’ When we get to that point, when we bring this group from Manchester and the kids we’ve got coming from junior, together with the Jack Johnsons and the Kopitars and the Browns, this thing is going to roll. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the future of this franchise. I’m not trying to sell. I’m not a salesman, I’ve told you guys that before. But again, when you bring your youth up, guys who have `L.A. Kings’ stamped on their heart, you’ve got it going, and that’s where we’re headed.