In a massive overhaul of their front office, Los Angeles Kings ownership group AEG announced that head coach Darryl Sutter and General Manager Dean Lombardi have been relieved of their positions. A pair of former players and current executives have been promoted with Luc Robitaille named President and Rob Blake named the new General Manager and Vice President. The duo will oversee all of hockey operations which now includes finding a new coach. The Kings will hold an official press conference tomorrow to introduce Robitaille and Blake in their new capacities.
The sweeping changes come after a disappointing season that saw the perennial contenders miss the playoffs entirely. Despite a long-term injury to starting goalie Jonathan Quick, it was instead the offense that struggled for much of the season. Anemic at times, the offense finished 24th in the league with 2.4 goals per game behind poor production from Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Dustin Brown and a step backward in development for Tyler Toffoli. Much of the blame for the goal-scoring struggles fell on Sutter’s dated style and slow-paced structure and Lomdardi’s inability to add scoring via trade. Lombardi likely sealed his fate with a strange deadline deal to acquire Tampa Bay Lightning starting goaltender Ben Bishop in exchange for expectation-shattering veteran backup Peter Budaj and other pieces just as Quick had finally gotten healthy. The move did little to help the Kings down the stretch, whereas those same pieces or others could have been used to acquire a scorer instead. Los Angeles finished in tenth in the Western Conference, eight points behind the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames for a playoff berth.
AEG CEO Dan Beckerman called the move “an extremely difficult decision… made with an enormous amount of consideration”, but in the end they felt that it was the best for the team. Beckerman expressed his gratitude to both Sutter and Lombardi in the company’s statement, as the pair did build and operate a Kings team that won two Stanley Cups in a five-year span, but simply felt it was time to move on. Sutter joins a growing list of highly decorated veteran coaches available on the open market, but only time will tell if his old-school style is appealing to one of the teams in the hunt for a new bench boss. Sutter is a Hall of Famer, but his NHL future is currently in doubt. Lombardi meanwhile is not long removed from being considered a top team builder in the NHL. Lombardi built a winner in L.A., but simply forgot to keep building. Nevertheless, he will find a job in a front office sooner rather than later. The new team of Robitaille and Blake have their work cut out for them this off-season, as the Kings faces a difficult Expansion Draft scenario, likely a middling first-round pick unable to contribute next season, several contracts that should be shed if possible, and, of course, a desperate need for scoring help up front.