There’s that old phrase: What happens in the room stays in the room. But what happens if the coach can’t get in the room?
Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi on Sunday confirmed an earlier report that his players kept Coach Darryl Sutter out of the dressing room after a game. The New York Post reported that the team locked Sutter out recently and barricaded the door with trash receptacles.
Lombardi met with reporters at the team’s offices in El Segundo for a season-ending session and though he confirmed part of the story, he disputed other elements. It happened, he said, after a game at Tampa Bay on Feb. 7, not in the last two weeks.
Tensions were particularly high on that long trip, which included a trip to the White House. Sutter was also bothered by the presence of an Epix television crew following the team on the Road to the Stadium Series and curtailed access. Lombardi said he was not troubled by what was perceived as a sign of disconnect between the coach and his players.
“No. And here’s why. I could look at it and say that’s when we won eight in a row, so let’s do it more often,” Lombardi said. “In terms of what actually happened, maybe you don’t have to go that extreme.
“Theoretically, I have no problem with it.”
The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They are the first team to win a title and miss the playoffs since Carolina did so in 2007.
“The players, essentially, you want in charge of your room,” Lombardi said. “Maybe the way to do it was: ‘We don’t need to hear from you now, we’ve got it.’ Maybe you don’t have to go to that extreme.”
As for the bigger picture, he spoke about the potential of the lesson learned from the stumble this season, the campaign that never quite got on track with road struggles, too many one-goal losses and a lousy overtime/shootout record.
Typically, he pointed a finger at himself.
“This is a slap in the face,” Lombardi said. “A big-time slap in the face. When it finally hits you, you’re sitting up there in Calgary. This can turn into a big-time positive if it’s handled right because so many of these players are not maximizing their ability at this stage.
“So maybe you need that.... You get smacked around a little and get beat up, you can turn it into a big-time positive.”
He addressed a handful of other off-season issues pertaining to the organization. The uncertainty over the salary cap number for next season has muddled things in terms of planning and efforts to keep unrestricted free agents Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams. The Kings still have to sign restricted free agents, forward Tyler Toffoli and goalie Martin Jones and can begin negotiations with center Anze Kopitar on July 1 about a contract extension.
Lombardi said it was a “possibility” that the team could buy out the contract of center Mike Richards, whose contract runs through the 2019-20 season, carrying a cap hit of $5.75 million.
Kings defenseman Slava Voynov is facing a felony domestic violence charge and is scheduled to go on trial a few days after free agency starts July 1. He had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles’ tendon and the timetable for recovery could be around the middle of September. Foremost, however, is the legal situation.
“We’re right back to where we were at the trade deadline,” Lombardi said. “That’s the frustrating thing that you can’t plan. You want to know one way or the other. Free agency is on July 1. How good is that?
“Could we get it over here, so we know if we can do some things here? But the way this whole thing has gone this year, I guess it’s emblematic of so many things that have happened this year.”