EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi could see the potential dynasty starting to crack at various times this season, and neither he nor his players could stop it.
Whether they will learn from that, and who will return to learn from that, remain up in the air.
Lombardi acknowledged Sunday this might have been the last go-around with the core that won the Stanley Cup twice in three years because center Jarret Stoll and right wing Justin Williams are due to become unrestricted free agents this summer.
AROUND THE LEAGUE NEWS & NOTES
"The reality is we didn't set out to accomplish what we set out to accomplish and, two, we've got (salary) cap issues," Lombardi said. "What we're going to do here is probably more difficult than in the past."
The Kings are up against the salary cap and must also re-sign restricted free agents Tyler Toffoli and goalie Martin Jones, among others. Lombardi raised the possibility of buying out center Mike Richards, who has four years remaining on his contract. Richards was demoted to the American Hockey League in January and was a non-factor when recalled for the final 11 games.
"I think you can figure that out," Lombardi said. "Those will be one of the things I think I have to meet with him face to face … the player has to hear it from me first. How I can answer this? It's a possibility."
The Kings are the first defending champion to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006-07. Lombardi is concerned because it happened with most of the players in their prime or entering it.
"That's kind of what I'm looking at here … is this a big-time slap in the face when it finally hits you [when] you're sitting up there in Calgary (where the Kings were eliminated on April 9)," Lombardi said. "But the one good thing about it is it's not like this can't turn into a big-time positive if it's handled right because so many of these players are not maximizing their ability, so maybe you need that.
"It's big-time slap in the face for me too. You think you're so smart. Same with the coaches. And we can all turn this into a positive because this isn't a team that lost and you look at our roster and it's a bunch of 35-year-olds. We have a marvelous opportunity to learn from this experience, and maybe we needed it."
Lombardi, as is his tendency, turned a sharp eye on himself for decisions relating to the salary cap and not being able to adjust from losing defensemen Willie Mitchell to free agency, Slava Voynov to suspension and then Robyn Regehr, Alec Martinez and Andrej Sekera to injury. Sekera has an MCL injury but it is not a tear, according to Lombardi.
"If you put the grade down, once we won the Cup, I was batting around 50 percent. Pretty good," Lombardi said. "But I tell you what. This year? I'm batting about five percent. That's just reality."
Kings players recognized after the regular-season finale Saturday that it's not realistic that they can keep the roster intact next season.
Defense - LAK
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 39 | PTS: 46
SOG: 219 | +/-: 3
"It's going to be difficult, but obviously everyone in here wants everyone back," defenseman Drew Doughty
said. "Everyone loves each other like brothers and we've been through a lot together. Winning two championships together, you never want to lose someone on your team. We hope to keep everyone together, but we know it will be difficult for Dean to do that."
The Kings will at least have an opportunity to refresh after the 64 playoff games the past three seasons caught up to them. That manifested itself in frequent lapses which cost them games, particularly late, a sharp contrast from previous seasons.
"Probably the one thing for me that was different was our ability to lock up third-period leads," captain Dustin Brown said. "We were really, really good at that in years past, and this year it feels like we gave a lot more of those wins away and that's the difference in the playoffs for us."
Lombardi verified a New York Post report that players locked out coach Darryl Sutter from the dressing room, and said it occurred after a Feb.7 game at the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Kings won that game, 4-2.
Asked if he was troubled by it, Lombardi said, "No, and here's why: I could look at it and say, 'That's when we won eight in a row, so let's do it more often.' In terms of what actually happened, maybe (players) don't have to go to that extreme, but theoretically I have no problem with it."
Lombardi went on to say that raising the emotional level is something that has to come within the room and "obviously one of the problems this year was just that, for whatever reason, we weren't where we needed to be mentally."
Lombardi said there wasn't any internal conflict in the dressing room. Outside the room, observers thought the Kings could turn it on when they needed to, but Lombardi said it was a fallacy.
"Deep down, we all knew that they weren't working like they needed to work, because that's the way we're built," he said. "We work, we're a (darn) good team. You don't, you become very average. I think that they were as frustrated about this whole thing as we were. The key is for them to learn from it now, but I never doubted that they cared. I think they all were as frustrated as we all were that they couldn't get that car revved up. I think they did eventually, and then I think they ran out of gas."