The Kings’ options are limited. They’re nearly hitting their heads on the NHL’s $69-million salary cap for next season, but since they’ve just won their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons, maybe the best move is keeping their roster relatively intact for 2014-15.
The Kings on Wednesday took a step toward planning for the day Darryl Sutter is no longer their coach. Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi announced assistant John Stevens was promoted to the new job of associate head coach, an indication he’s in line as Sutter’s replacement. What’s more, assistant coach Davis Payne and goaltending coach Bill Ranford were given new contracts.
“Our coaching staff has been an integral part of the success of our team the last three years,” Lombardi said in a statement. “We are extremely pleased that they will remain part of our team and continue together as we strive for excellence.”
Here’s what Kings coach Darryl Sutter had to say about the difference between this Stanley Cup championship and the one in 2012:
“We did it a different way in ”11-’12. That’s something that I don’t think could ever happen again if you go back to that because of winning as a road team all the time. This year was totally different. A lot of new players in our lineup. We knew we had to, at some point … during the Olympics, I always thought about this, ‘How are we going to beat Chicago? How are we going to beat Chicago?’ Dean got Gaborik. We were able to put some kids in, go from there, so … ”
Sutter referred to Kings general manager Dean Lombardi’s move to acquire Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL trade deadline March 5.
Marian Gaborik slipped effortlessly into the Kings’ lineup after a March 5 trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets. He clicked almost instantly with center Anze Kopitar and began producing at nearly a point-per-game pace.
Gaborik scored 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 19 regular-season games and he had 21 points, including a playoff-leading 13 goals, in 24 contests before the Kings faced the New York Rangers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday.
Now the question is how quickly will the Kings move to re-sign the 32-year-old Slovakian?The price could be steep since Gaborik’s last contract, a five-year deal he signed with the Rangers before the 2009-10 season, paid him an average of $7.5 million per season.
Gaborik certainly has proved to be worth every penny of a pro-rated deal that required Columbus to pick up 50 percent of his salary for the final one-quarter of 2013-14 after Kings general manager Dean Lombardi acquired him for Matt Frattin and two draft picks at the deadline.
“You want to be a complete army,” Lombardi said.
The Kings needed scoring.
They went into the playoffs as the lowest-scoring team of the 16 postseason qualifiers, averaging a meager total of 2.42. Thanks in part to Gaborik, they upped their average to a playoff-leading 3.50 going into Game 4 of the Final at Madison Square Garden.
Best of all, as far as the Kings are concerned, Gaborik and Kopitar have formed the dynamic scoring combination that was glaringly absent in what was a popgun offense before the trade. They have played together since Gaborik joined the team for a March 6 game against Winnipeg.
“Darryl stuck with us every since he got with us,” Kopitar said, referring to Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “It is a process, but it seemed like we clicked fairly good and fairly fast. Now it’s time to really bring it, obviously. He’s a big-time player.
“I’m sure it’s hard to come to a different team with different systems and different styles of play. You have to fit in really quick, and I just think everybody helping him out, you try to be in his ear, but at the same time you kind of want to lay off and have him do his thing. I think he’s done a really good job.”
Dean Lombardi of the Kings, Bob Murray of the Ducks and Marc Bergevin of the Montreal Canadiens were named as finalists for the General Manager of the Year Award. It’s the first time for Lombardi; Murray and Bergevin are finalists for the second consecutive season.
Lombardi guided the Kings to their fifth consecutive playoff appearance and pulled off a trade for veteran winger Marian Gaborik that jump-started the Kings’ lackluster offense following a March 5 deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Voting was conducted among the 30 NHL general managers plus a group of league executives, print and broadcast media after the second round of the playoffs. The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards Show on June 24 in Las Vegas.
“It’s good because it’s an award that’s voted by the managers … Lot of them aren’t,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said when asked about Lombardi.
The Kings on Wednesday told Mark Morris, coach of their American Hockey League team in Manchester, N.H., that his contract would not be renewed. The Monarchs lost to Norfolk in the first round of the AHL playoffs earlier this month.
Here’s a quote from Kings general manager Dean Lombardi:
“We appreciate the job Mark has done for us in Manchester. The team’s success on the ice during his tenure and his contributions in helping us prepare our young players to be successful at the NHL level have been key contributors to the success of our organization as a whole. These ideals will continue to be a priority for us going forward and we wish Mark the utmost success as there is no doubt he is ready for the next step in his career.”
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi had two concerns going into Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline. First, he knew he wanted to find a player to bolster the goal-starved team. Second, he had to do it within the constraints of the salary cap.
Lombardi targeted veteran Marian Gaborik quite some time ago, but with a hefty salary of $7.5 million for 2013-14, it figured to take a little extra work to make the deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets work to the Kings’ advantage.
In the end, the solution was to ask the Blue Jackets to agree to pay 50 percent of Gaborik’s salary, pro-rated for the final one-quarter of the season. The Kings also sent forward Matt Frattin, a second-round pick either this year or next and a conditional third-round pick to Columbus.
The Kings also had to re-assign forward Linden Vey to Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League to clear salary-cap space before acquiring Gaborik. Vey recorded five points, all assists, in 18 games with the Kings. He spent most of the season in the minors.
In return, the Kings acquired a crafty 32-year-old with 688 points, including 342 goals, in 791 games with the Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild. He is a former 42-goal scorer with the Rangers in 2009-10 and the Wild in 2007-08.
The Kings also gained a player who has been sidelined for all but 22 games this season because of a collarbone injury. He is expected to join the team for tonight’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg, the start of the a three-game trip.
“I inquired right after New Year’s,” Lombardi said during a conference call with reporters when asked about starting talks with the Blue Jackets for Gaborik. “That’s kind of when we started the process. It picked up about two weeks ago. It goes to 11 (Tuesday) night, then picks up again at 5.”
Lombardi said he believed Gaborik is the right man to aid the Kings’ offense.
“He brings an element we thought we’d like to add to the mix,” Lombardi said when asked why he targeted Gaborik. “There are very few players capable of doing what he does. We thought he was the only guy available who had those dimensions.”
When goaltender Jonathan Quick suffered a groin strain during the Kings’ shootout loss Nov. 12 to the Buffalo Sabres, the original estimate was that he would be sidelined for between four and six weeks. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi more or less confirmed that diagnosis when he told a Canadian radio program Wednesday that Quick would be out for at least another month and might not be back before Christmas at the soonest.
“It’s going to be a while,” Lombardi said. “At least another month. We’re probably looking, if things go according to plan, at Christmas.”
End of the season interviews can be tough under the best of circumstances, but since Dean Lombardi doesn’t do sound bites and since he was awake until 5:30 a.m. after the Kings were eliminated Saturday from the conference finals, he was a little more long-winded than usual when he spoke via conference call Sunday.
There was quite a bit more from Wednesday’s extended question-and-answer session Kings general manager Dean Lombardi held with reporters after the NHL trade deadline passed: Lombardi talked about why he didn’t make any blockbuster moves in my earlier post. But he also explained why keeping a winning roster intact is so important to establishing a consistent winner. Here what Lombardi said in his own words: