The Los Angeles Kings didn’t exactly enjoy a spectacular run between the Christmas and Olympic breaks, a punchless stretch of hockey that saw the Kings win five times in 21 games as a wilted offense succumbed to the weight of a compressed schedule dotted with potent opponents that will soon fill out a postseason bracket.
There were calls to the team’s hockey operations by those on the outside to make something happen. Trade for a scorer. Provide the team a spark. Do something to pull the group out of a mid-season malaise as testing as anything it had experienced since former coach Terry Murray was let go.
Those presiding over teams’ hockey operations don’t attain their positions by capitulating and making knee jerk transactions, and General Manager Dean Lombardi wasn’t going to be influenced into alternating the dynamic of a core that has won the Stanley Cup and certainly has the pieces to once again contend for a league title.
“The players can certainly start cheating. The coach can start maybe start changing things, and the G.M. can start running around, looking for things that don’t fit with our identity and what we believe in to try and rectify this,” Lombardi said. “So we all have to stay focused on what we are and fight our way through. But, ultimately it comes down to the players, and the one thing that I find solace in with this group – and I met with a number of them through that period – I was able to look at them and believe it.”
The Kings have improved since the six-week slump, though they still have needs. As important as they are – they’ve explored the possibility of adding skilled left wings, left-shooting defensemen, and depth scorers – are the more intangible assets of those who have helped to uphold the team’s character.
There are players that the Los Angeles Kings have been eyeing, and there have been offers on the table for longer than the immediate lead-up to Wednesday’s trade deadline.
Instead, this team’s trajectory over the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs will largely be defined by those already on the roster.
“Throughout that downturn we had, we had a lot of discussion within our group in our room. I think that comes with the trust that we have for each other. That we’re going to get it done,” Justin Williams said. “We don’t give up on anybody. If they’re having a tough little stretch, if things aren’t going well, we know when push comes to shove, when our backs are against the wall, when it’s time to produce – we know we’re going to get it done.”
Still, this week represents the high season for roster reinforcements, and hunting season ends at 12:00 noon Pacific Time on Wednesday. The deals being discussed in the hours leading up to the deadline represent the evolution of negotiations that began in earnest months ago. The 2012 trade that brought Jeff Carter to Los Angeles for Jack Johnson and a first round draft pick took two months to complete.
“These people start talking and thinking. They look at their team,” Lombardi said. “The situation changes if they’re winning or losing. I don’t see too many deals, most of them are like that. Maybe not that long going back and forth, gets hot, gets cold, gets hot, gets cold. You’re not sure, we’re not sure.”
The team has looked to supplement its skill, though there is no shortage of character on a roster with a firm constitution. Prior to the win over Montreal on Monday, Drew Doughty was asked whether he accepts putting up fewer points on a team known for its defensive tendencies.
“Yeah, I accept that fact,” Drew Doughty answered. “It doesn’t bother me at all. All I care about is being on a winning team.”
But if there is that ability to add to the team’s skill level, negotiations will be made with the appropriate parties. The Kings aren’t a desperate team, and as a five-game winning streak was punctuated with a fine effort against the Canadiens earlier this week, it’s clear that a major step forward has taken place since the team’s mid-winter struggles, and that much of the answer to the questions surrounding the team can be answered from within.
“Dean has done a real good job throughout the last three or four years. He seems like he’s always put pieces together the way it’s supposed to be put,” Anze Kopitar said. “We’ve got all the confidence in him that he’s going to push the right buttons again. I don’t think anybody’s pushing, really, for a big trade, because we obviously feel really comfortable with the personnel that we have.”
Whether the Kings make a trade or not, it won’t be because other teams have made moves, and they’re looking to catch up.
“I think sometimes we get involved in the mentality of ‘We’ve got to do something,’ and people think you’re doing nothing if you don’t do [anything]. People forget this job is like what [Gordon] Gekko said on Wall Street. ‘I look at 100 deals a day; I choose one.’ But those 99 he didn’t take probably put more work in to evaluating it than the one he did. That’s kind of the way this is,” Lombardi said,
“It’s just that when you don’t do something, TSN says ‘They didn’t do [anything] to address this and that.’ They think you’re sitting on your [behind]. Like I said, the Gecko line, I always loved that line. ‘I look at 100 deals a day, I choose one,’ but he put the work in all day.”
It’s a work ethic that carries over to the players executing the vision and reach of the team’s hockey operations.
“These guys have always risen to the occasional through tough times,” Lombardi said, referencing the team’s struggles earlier this winter.
“There has always been a series of challenges similar to this one, some different, and they’ve always found a way. So, based upon their experience and the belief in have in the group’s character, you just get that feeling that they’ve risen to the occasion in the past and they’ll figure it out again. And I believe they will.”