LA Kings palace coup mostly makes sense

General manager Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter were fired after the Los Angeles Kings failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs on Monday afternoon. The moves from parent company AEG startled the teams’ fans who hadn’t had the chance to finish grieving over the retirement of broadcaster Bob Miller one day earlier.

By the way, that’s not meant as an insult on Kings fans. Miller’s words-eye view introduced millions on the west coast to the NHL for 44 years. And he was a good man, to boot. He should be missed.

Having said that, replacing Miller now becomes an afterthought instead of a priority for the team.

I mostly agree with the decision from AEG on Lombardi and Sutter, despite the two Stanley Cup titles won on their watch. Particularly with Sutter, it was time to go. Very few coaches and managers have lengthy runs with their respective teams for a reason, even with winning championships. No, Sutter didn’t forget how to coach. I would even argue he didn’t do anything particularly wrong, other than not give playing time to Kings prospects.

Over time, players tune out the message. Don’t be too hard on the players. That’s human nature. Fans claim to love coaches who are taskmasters, screaming and throwing tantrums. Players can live with it, but after a while the messsge becomes stale. Hell, in the 1980s, the Lakers won four titles with Pat Riley as the coach. At the very end, even Riley could tell Magic and the rest were tuning him out.

They didn’t hate him. They didn’t even disagree with him. They’ve just heard it all before.

When the Kings play a primal, physical game for six seasons under Sutter, how long before the players subconsciously think “OK, hit the other guy harder. I got it” before stifling a yawn?

Lombardi was a tougher call to me. I think he should have had the chance to find that new coach. Having said that, it’s possible he stood by Sutter. If that happened, you have no choice but to fire them both.

There is a case to be made against Lombardi. The Kings are in a financial mess — not in terms of profitability, but the salary cap. Marian Gaborik is still owed $15.9 million. Dustin Brown is still owed $25.5 million. Jonathan Quick is still owed $27 million. Anne Kopitar has 7 more years on his contract at an average of $10 million per year.

Even worse, Lombardi erred by keeping the floundering Mike Richards on the payroll when he could have cut him and saved money before a salary cap deadline. He didn’t, and Richards — who is no longer with the Kings, anyway — will get paid until 2032.

Former defenseman Rob Blake takes over as GM. I have no idea what his plan for the future is. I’m not going to fool myself and claim he can solve these problems.

But for the Kings to have reached the pinnacle of hockey twice, they simultaneously dug themselves a massive crater.

It only makes sense that the people responsible for the benefits be held accountable for the aftermath.

The Kings’ quest: Maintain the defense

We interrupt our euphoria over the return of the NFL to Los Angeles and misery over Vin Scully’s retirement to discuss a team that brought recent championships to SoCal.

For decades, and the Los Angeles Kings are celebrating five of ’em this year, the franchise was one of many that had no discernible plan to win. In my opinion, sports franchises are like businesses. In competitive climates, you need a business plan or you’re in bankruptcy court. Your franchise has no plan, you rarely win titles. The Pittsburgh Steelers are an excellent example of this: Players change, sometimes coaches do, but the “blitzburgh” defensive philosophy doesn’t and they’re usually in the discussion for the Super Bowl.

Similarly, the Patriots had no such overarching plan until hiring Bill Belichik.

The Kings had no direction until hiring general manager Dean Lombardi. When he was hired in 2006, Kings front office employees were still using typewriters instead of computers. The office, indeed the entire franchise, was a blank canvas. So after a trip to Best Buy to outfit everybody with PCs, he set out to build the team with three relatively simple ideas:

1) Competition at goaltender,

2) The biggest, most capable defense possible,

3) On offense, centers before wingers.

Goaltender has been and will continue to be a done deal. Jonathan Quick won that competition years ago. Offense, while important, isn’t as important as what will lead the two-time Stanley Cup champs back into the picture for the third.

The Kings allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL last year, mostly thanks to the Herculean contribution of Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty. Don’t be fooled: Doughty played more shifts than any other player in the league last year and the Kings can’t rely on Doughty being bulletproof in a violent sport every year. The belief was that Slava Voynov would be the guy who could alleviate the press on Doughty, but um… this happened. 

Much like the Kings have struggled to move on from that ugly split, I get the distinct feeling they would love to give at least one younger, cheaper player a shot.

In training camp, it appears four of the six defensive roster spots are locked up — Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Brayden McNabb. None of them are going anywhere for awhile. Muzzin and McNabb play with a bit of a mean streak. Muzzin takes more penalties than perhaps he should. McNabb has more room to grow at age 24. Muzzin is the oldest of the four at 27.

There are three players in their 30s with shots at making the team, but two are coming off of injuries and the third played for three different teams last year. Of the three, probably Matt Greene has the confidence of the fans, but that doesn’t carry into the front office.

Of three top younger prospects, what I’ve read is this is a training camp where the Kings have to make a decision on former first-round draft pick Derek Forbert. At 24, he’s had years to make an impression. Good luck standing out.

That leaves Zach Trotman and Kevin Gravel, and if you’re a casual fan you’re likely shrugging. Fair enough. The bottom line: Trotman is one of those underdog stories people love because he was literally the last player taken in the 2010 draft and eventually made the NHL. He’s considered a stay-at-home defenseman. NHL scouts say Gravel has “exceptional” defensive poise and a decent shot. They’re both about the same size.

I’m no hockey scout. You’re guess is as good as mine, but my belief is the Kings usually match one defenseman who takes offensive chances with a guy who camps out in front of the net. Doughty with Rob Scuderi or Robyn Regehr, for instance. I’m guessing they keep steady Matt Greene and match him with Kevin Gravel.

In a future post, I’ll take a peek at the offense. 

The week in L.A. sports (6/3/16-6/9/16)

I’m writing this a day early, because watching these commercials for the upcoming “Ghostbusters” bomb during the NBA Finals is making me bitter. I know people like NBA players, but you can’t trick me into making me think it’s “Space Jam” by adding Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony to the ads. If this hunk of cinematic phlegm is so great, and it likely isn’t, where are the stars of the movie in the ads?

I’ll take a deep breath now. On to the teams…

Dodgers: The team continues to tread the waters of Lake Inferior, but made a rather noteworthy player transaction this weekend by designating Carl Crawford for assignment. That’s a fancy-pants way of saying “you’re so bad, we will pay you not to be on the team.” Considering that he’s owed $35 million, that’s an intense level of bad.

What’s particularly striking about that decision is that nobody thought this golden parachute was a bad idea even though the Dodgers could only manage one base hit in Monday’s loss.

LA also cut Cuban defector Alex Guerrero, who hadn’t been seen in the majors since before Ted Cruz announced his presidential candidacy.

Lakers: Elite draft prospect Brandon Ingram is scheduled to showcase his wares in a private workout session for the team in El Segundo today. They have yet to schedule one with consensus top pick Ben Simmons. Make of that what you will.

There’s also a bit of a pissing match over whether the 1980s “Showtime” Lakers could beat the modern-day Golden State Warriors. Everybody said the obvious things and at the end of the day, Magic still has HIV for I believe 25 years now. That’s a silver anniversary, right?

Also, Brandon Bass has declined an option in his contract in order to become a free agent. Can you blame him?

Rams: This might not be as sexy a pick as the new quarterback, but if you’re looking for a player to love with the team returning, consider defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who was rated the No.3 overall best player in the NFL by CBS Sports beat writer Pete Prisco. Donald is behind only Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Houston’s multi-talented J.J. Watt.

“He was a dominant inside force for the Rams last season, breaking out into the star category of players. Donald is so quick and strong, even if he is undersized. He had 11 sacks last season and was outstanding against the run,” Prisco wrote. “The ability to get off the ball as quickly as he did sets him apart from the rest of the defensive tackles in the league.”

Clippers: Dude, are I hear about them are wild rumors and the only fantasies I deal with are about women I can’t have.

Galaxy: Major League Soccer is in this funky little pause/non-pause with the Copa America tournament. The Galaxy is missing some of its top players and it showed in that it couldn’t score in a tie against a rather lame Sporting Kansas City.

Kings: General manager Dean Lombardi talked about the team with ESPN “First Take” gasbag Stephen A. Smith. I’d tell you what happened, but I could sense my IQ plummet like a diabetic’s blood-sugar level.

The week in Los Angeles sports (5/20/16-5/26/16)

Before recapping a week that was weak from my old stomping grounds, I want to address the idea of the Oakland Raiders moving to either Las Vegas or Los Angeles.

If the Raiders can’t make it work in Oakland, the Rams should tell them to move to Vegas.

The cold truth is the Rams could lose the city they fought so hard to move to, because the Raiders are a damn entertaining football team right now and on the cusp of being a playoff threat.

The Rams? I’m not sure what the hell they are right now. I know they want to run the football, but they let a lot of their defensive depth go in order to make room for a quarterback. They’re likely a couple of years away.

The return of the LA Raiders could damage the LA Rams. Why would team owner Stan Kroenke allow that?

Now…

Dodgers: A national outlet’s power rankings asked if it was time to write off the Dodgers. Depending on what you’re writing them off for, it’s a fair question. Playoff berth? I wouldn’t write them off. World title? Grab your pen and start scribbling, because this team is currently very poorly designed and poorly led.

Consider they just finished a string of 10 consecutive games against last place teams and finished a painfully mediocre 5-5.

I have plenty of time to deconstruct the team, though. Instead, I want to take the analytics-enslaved management to task over how it treated Ross Stripling. You might remember how manager Dave Roberts ruined Stripling’s push for a no-hitter in his major league debut. Roberts, beholden to the spreadsheet the alleged “smartest front office in baseball” forced him to abide by instead of common sense, pulled Stripling, and the Dodgers lost.

Had Stripling — a journeyman minor-leaguer — finished the no-hitter, he would have had a better shot at landing a job with another team because he wasn’t in the Dodgers future plans. Or at least, he would have been known as “the guy who threw the no-hitter” everywhere he went afterward.

Stripling was demoted in the last week. It’s unlikely you’ll see him in Dodger blue again.

Good going, “smart guys.”

Lakers: Brian Shaw was hired as Luke Walton’s lead assistant coach, and sportswriters from sea to shining sea got the story totally wrong.

Shaw is not there to bring the Warriors “small ball” style to the Lakers. We don’t even know if Walton is going to try to replicate that.

Shaw was an assistant under Phil Jackson. Walton played for Jackson. And Jackson ran the triangle.

You’re jumping to a conclusion that the facts don’t support. Idiots. You don’t know what Walton will do yet.

By the way, if “small ball” is so great, why are the Warriors down 3-1 to Oklahoma City and its three seven-footers?

Galaxy: Rivarly Week for Major League Soccer ended with a thud when San Jose picked up a 1-1 tie with less than 10 minutes to go in the game. That sucked. It really did, especially since LA got its goal when a San Jose player accidentally kicked the ball into his own net.

Kings: The NHL draft is in late June. The Kings don’t have a first-round pick and even if they did, I couldn’t tell you if the dude could play.

Clippers: Just a gut feeling. Despite all the talk about blowing up the team, I think they simply focus on finding J.J, Reddick’s replacement at shooting guard. Dude is 31.

When was the last time an NBA franchise blew up, by the way? The last I can think of … the Chicago Bulls when Pippen and Jordan left?