It's amazing how much things can change in a matter of months. For Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, the 2011-12 season ended on such a high note with the franchise's first Stanley Cup win that it's easy to forget the team's tumultuous regular season.
Just under a year ago, the Kings were opening the season in Europe with one of their best players, defenseman Drew Doughty, holding out for a new contract. Eventually head coach Terry Murray was replaced with Lombardi's former coach in San Jose, Darryl Sutter. That's a lot for any team to deal with in just half a season.
"[Last season] was really hard in a lot of ways. Starting out with Drew, it was frustrating not having a top player in your camp. Then going to Europe, you're not sure how it affects your team with the travel," Lombardi told NHL.com. "Making that [coaching] change was very difficult, but fortunately I had a man like Darryl who I knew was willing to do it. What he did speaks for itself."
In all the drama surrounding the Kings' first half last season, Lombardi didn't escape unscathed, either. Leading up to the NHL trade deadline, there was some speculation that his job could be in jeopardy if he didn't make a significant addition to a team that ranked near the bottom in League scoring. But for a longtime executive mentored by Cup winners like Bill Torrey, Bob Clarke and Lou Lamoriello, that speculation didn't mean much.
"Whether it was Clarkey or Torrey or Lou Lamoriello, they would pound that into you. You can't listen to it. You're a pro, you can't let it affect your judgment. At this stage of my career, it really didn't affect me. I've been trained so well," Lombardi said. "They're very single-minded men who aren't going to be influenced by things they don't believe. Early in my career, it might have [been a distraction]. But I guess that just comes with experience."
In the end, Lombardi was able to acquire Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the deadline and the rest is hockey history. And with the entire Cup-winning roster returning for a chance to repeat, Lombardi sees an opportunity for the Kings to make even more history.
"We're very fortunate to bring everybody back," he said. "We were the fifth- or sixth-youngest team in the League. These guys have to continue to get better. I just talked to Jeff Carter last week, he sounds better than he ever has in terms of conditioning. Dustin Penner is way ahead of schedule.
"They're a great bunch of guys. The bottom line is it's about the players. The way they stuck together, I'm so proud of them."