General manager Dean Lombardi, who built the Kings into a two-time Stanley Cup champion but became ensnared in a series of questionable trades and signings and couldn’t sustain that shining success, and coach Darryl Sutter, who left his Alberta farm to coax and push the Kings to their only championships in club history, were dismissed on Monday, less than 24 hours after the team’s second non-playoff finish in the past three seasons.
Hall of Fame member Luc Robitaille, who had been the Kings’ president of business operations, was promoted to the club’s presidency and will also oversee hockey operations. Rob Blake, another Hall of Fame player who had been the assistant general manager since 2013, was promoted to vice president and general manager and will be in charge of the team’s day-to-day hockey operations.
Lombardi had a year left on his contract. Sutter just completed the first year of a contract for two years plus an option.
The Kings were 39-35-8 in the just-concluded season and were among the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams. Lombardi, handcuffed by salary-cap problems that were caused by the team’s success, his own misjudgment and his overestimation of players’ worth, couldn’t fix that scoring problem. Since their 2014 Stanley Cup triumph, the Kings have won a single playoff game, which came during a first-round elimination last spring at the hands of the San Jose Sharks.
Sutter, an old-school coach who favored brawn over the current trend toward speed and skill, was reluctant to regularly play the prospects who had been produced by the Kings’ development system and who might have helped increase the team’s speed and scoring ability. His decision to play faded veteran Marian Gaborik and scratch top prospects Adrian Kempe, Jonny Brodzinski and Paul LaDue from the lineup Sunday against the Ducks — a rivalry game in which the trio might have gained valuable experience playing an intense contest — might have been the last straw for those in the organization who recognized the need to look to the future and wanted to see how the youngsters would handle such a game.
The announcement of the changes was made by Dan Beckerman, president and chief executive of AEG, the Kings’ parent company. The Kings will hold a news conference on Tuesday at Staples Center to further address the moves.
“This was an extremely difficult decision and was made with an enormous amount of consideration for what we have accomplished in our past. But the present and future of our organization is the highest priority,” Beckerman said in a statement. “Words cannot express our gratitude and appreciation for what Dean and Darryl have accomplished for the Kings franchise. They built this team and helped lead us to two Stanley Cup championships and will forever be remembered as all-time greats in Kings history.
“But with that level of accomplishment comes high expectations and we have not met those expectations for the last three seasons. With the core players we have in place, we should be contending each year for the Stanley Cup. Our failure to meet these goals has led us to this change.”
Lombardi was hired on April 21, 2006. He restocked the club’s farm system, which had been depleted, and tried to change the culture of a team that had been all too willing to accept mediocrity. He succeeded on many levels, and he applied the finishing touch when he hired Sutter to succeed Terry Murray in December 2011. The Kings entered the 2012 playoffs as the No. 8 seed but went on to win the Cup after building a 3-0 lead in each of the four series they played.
They lost to Chicago in the 2013 Western Conference finals but rebounded in 2014. They erased a 3-0 San Jose series lead in the first round to win in seven games and went on to defeat the Ducks and the Blackhawks in seven games before defeating the New York Rangers in a five-game Stanley Cup Final.
The natural aging process took away some pillars of the team’s defense, and other players became less effective after years of playing a physically punishing style. Lombardi had the chance to buy out center Mike Richards without an impact to the salary cap but chose not to; the Kings will have Richards on their payroll through the 2031-32 season.
Lombardi also was behind the decision to strip Dustin Brown of the captaincy after last season and give the “C” to Anze Kopitar, who admittedly struggled with the responsibility in the first year of the eight-year, $80-million contract Lombardi had given him. It was Brown, in fact, who spoke loudest after the Kings lost on Sunday and told teammates to remember how bad they felt after ending the season without a playoff berth.
Leadership will be among the issues Blake and Robitaille will have to address, in addition to finding scoring and speed while still working under the constraints of the salary cap.
One possible coaching candidate is John Stevens, who has been the team’s associate head coach and previously coached the Philadelphia Flyers.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen