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NHL's new general managers cause shift in dynamic ahead of draft

Anaheim DucksLos Angeles KingsNational Hockey LeagueSportsBob MurrayDean LombardiMinnesota Wild
There have been six changes in general managers since the end of the NHL regular season
Kings' Dean Lombardi and Ducks' Bob Murray must form new relationships among general managers
The NHL entry draft begins Friday

Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi was sitting in his office the other day, flipping through a guide that listed his counterparts in the NHL.

It was like looking at a high school yearbook without the cheery messages and autographs, one organized by seniority rather than alphabetical order.

And now, seriously out of date.

There have been six changes in general managers since the end of the NHL regular season — seven if you go back to January and include Tim Murray, who got the Buffalo Sabres job.

"The middle group took it hard," said Lombardi, lamenting the fates of some of his peers.

The rapid reshuffling has changed the dynamic of how the managers do business with one another. With so many new faces in new places, it has forced holdovers such as Lombardi and Ducks General Manager Bob Murray to forge new relationships.

At a time when there is expected to be a lot of high-profile moves at the NHL entry draft Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia, it has taken them out of their comfort zones.

"The GM meeting [in New York] was a little awkward because there were so many new faces," Murray said. "I don't mean that in a bad way. You've got to be respectful of these guys. You've got to give them time to get into the position, to figure out what they're doing, and it's a process for them."

It matters to Murray because the Ducks are said to be in the hunt for help at center after the decision to let veteran Saku Koivu go. Among the players they are thought to be interested in are center Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators, who has asked to be traded, and Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks.

Murray, who was named the league's general manager of the year on Tuesday, has a long history with the Senators' Bryan Murray (no relation), a former Ducks general manager. Last summer they swung the deal that moved forward Bobby Ryan from Anaheim to Ottawa.

The same could not be said of Murray with the new man in Vancouver, Jim Benning, a former Boston Bruins assistant who is still trying to determine Kesler's value on the trade market. Benning took over from Mike Gillis after the Bruins were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.

The Ducks are expected to be active between now and the beginning of free agency on Tuesday. Murray has said that he has assets other teams want.

"It's a matter of what we're willing to give to get," Murray said.

The Kings, by contrast, have completed most of their off-season work. One of their last pieces of business involves restricted free agent Dwight King. Lombardi had a meeting with unrestricted free-agent defenseman Willie Mitchell over the weekend and told him there might not be room to sign him under the salary cap.

Mitchell, 37, is seeking a two-year deal. One of his former teams, the Minnesota Wild, has been in contact with him, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He played parts of five seasons for the Wild and his wife is from Minnesota. His agent, Mike Liut, said Wednesday that five teams have been in touch so far. It is likely that more will reach out.

Free agency officially opens Tuesday, but under the new collective bargaining agreement teams can start talking with pending UFAs already.

The opening round of the draft is Friday night and the Ducks have two first-round picks: No. 10, from Ottawa in the Ryan trade, and No. 24. Anaheim's draft record has been impressive in recent years.

"We think we'll get a pretty good player at 10," Murray said. "It obviously drops off a little bit after there. From 12, 15 to 35, you could do as well there at 13 as you can do at 35. We still feel we're going to get a good prospect for the future.

"You never know who is going to drop. This is part of the business I love is the draft. You never know what's going to happen. I was taught really well years ago … to prepare for everything. So I try to focus my guys on being prepared for anything to happen here."

The Stanley Cup-champion Kings will draft 29th and gems can be found at that spot. Two years ago, they took 19-year-old Tanner Pearson 30th overall and as a rookie he contributed in this year's Cup run. Columbus had the option on that pick but decided to take it in 2013.

Lombardi praised his scouts, saying: "Those guys knocked it out of the park with that one."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

Twitter: @reallisa

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Anaheim DucksLos Angeles KingsNational Hockey LeagueSportsBob MurrayDean LombardiMinnesota Wild
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