Alec Martinez and Marian Gaborik skate with the Kings, who await the Sharks
Coincidentally, this was the same conference room where Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi met with reporters about a year ago, sifting through the wreckage of a lost season.
The mood on Tuesday, befitting a 102-point season, was considerably lighter. The Kings held their first full practice since the end of the regular season, two days before Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center.
Everyone skated, including the likes of defensemen Alec Martinez and winger Marian Gaborik. Forward Nic Dowd and defenseman Kevin Gravel were later reassigned to the Kings’ minor league affiliate in Ontario. Coach Darryl Sutter was in full playoff lockdown mode regarding injuries, and Lombardi later offered his observations in a wide-ranging discussion with reporters.
Lombardi talked about getting the franchise back on track, the impact of Milan Lucic, Gaborik’s availability and the Norris Trophy candidacy of Drew Doughty for the league’s top defenseman.
Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators has won the Norris twice, including last season. Doughty was second, his highest Norris finish, with 53 first-place votes to Karlsson’s 44. Voters are to list five choices but the Globe and Mail reported Doughty was left off 31 ballots and Karlsson 11.
Maybe that’s why Lombardi suggested that the system be tweaked, saying that the media should vote to produce three candidates and then the league’s general managers should make the final selection. He said Tuesday that the issue came up at meetings this past season.
Karlsson’s numbers dazzled as he recorded a career-high 82 points this non-playoff season. The Senators have missed the playoffs two of the last three seasons and coach Dave Cameron was fired Tuesday. Ottawa has won one playoff round since losing to the Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final in 2007.
Lombardi highlighted the “beauty” of the position of a No. 1 defenseman, “where greatness is the subtleties,” he said.
“Unless you really understand the game and see some of the things he does,” Lombardi said of Doughty, later adding, “You have to study the game, not watch the game. … What he does is really special and has nothing to do with the highlights and the points and all of this stuff. Every general manager knows it, 99% of the players know it. It’s not a highlight-film position.
“It’s not supposed to be and then we turned [it into that] because Paul Coffey pulled it off,” he said of the former high-scoring star Edmonton defenseman. “But at least Paul Coffey was also in the playoffs.”
After some roster adjustments, the Kings are back in the mix. They traded for Lucic in June, acquired center Vinny Lecavalier and defenseman Luke Schenn on Jan. 6 and picked up Kris Versteeg on Feb. 28.
Lucic is refreshingly old school, Lombardi said. He will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and Lombardi said that efforts are continuing to try to get him signed.
“I don’t get a lot of con from him when it comes to the team,” Lombardi said. “He’s pretty sincere. I think he handled the adjustment. It’s not easy coming from a rock star in Boston and coming into a team that’s won. ... You’ve got to fit in, generally. You don’t come in with a megaphone. That’s the right way to do it.”
One playoff tradition has not changed: Sutter still dislikes questions about injuries. Martinez skated with the team for the first time in more than a week, having missed the final four games of the season because of an undisclosed injury. Gaborik skated too, but Sutter said he will not be available and did not provide specifics.
“I’m not God. I’m not a doctor,” Sutter said. “I’m closer to a veterinarian than a doctor.”
Gaborik suffered a knee injury Feb. 12 against the New York Rangers. The Kings had hoped he would be ready for the start of the playoffs but ran out of time, apparently.
“I was shooting here for this week,” Lombardi said. “A lot of those injuries — you’ve got two issues, one being physically stable and then the mental part of it, going out there and getting hit. ... We don’t have time for the ginger part — go down there, get hit and see if it’s OK. You’ve got to hit the ground running, so I’m not so sure.”
Gaborik said he is progressing, adding that he felt good. Contact in the corners and going to the net will be the next steps. He initially feared the knee injury might be more severe than the ultimate diagnosis, a grade 3 sprain.
“I was looking forward to this,” Gaborik said. “It’s good to have people around me and to feel like you’re a hockey player again. ... When you are skating on your own, everything is under control. You know what you’re doing all the time. When you are out there and have to react to certain things, that’s a good test too.”
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