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.