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Pacific: Robitaille getting down to the business of Kings

by Doug Ward / NHL.com

The Los Angeles Kings named former King all-star Luc Robitaille president of business operations in the off-season.
The Los Angeles Kings named Luc Robitaille president of business operations during the off-season. Depending on how you view his job history, either the franchise icon is in for a steep learning curve — or he’s the only person with the perspective and work ethic to change the organization’s culture.

The last time Robitaille was launching a new career, he was arriving in Los Angeles for training camp after being a ninth-round draft choice. Conventional wisdom sauid that Robitaille, not a strong skater, had no business believing he could play in the NHL.

Twenty years and 668 goals later, Robitaille retired as the highest-scoring left wing in NHL history — so underestimate him at your own peril.

Robitaille’s goals are different now, and one of his primary objectives is to help the Kings to regain credibility in a marketplace they share at least partially with the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.

As market timing goes, Robitaille’s is either god-awful or pitch perfect.

He takes over the Kings’ business side at a time when their greatest local exposure seems to come Saturday mornings — when tortured fans vent their frustrations with the organization in impassioned letters to the editor of the Los Angeles Times. Hiring the popular Robitaille was one way for the Kings to assure themselves some favorable press.

 

The flip side, of course, is that things can only get better for the Kings, and that’s always a good time to take over. They have a terrific young nucleus in Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, Michael Cammalleri and Lubomir Visnovsky. Also, 19-year-old Jonathan Bernier might actually be the answer to the goaltending woes that have haunted the franchise for most of its 40-year history.

Robitaille’s appointment coincides with a move by parent company AEG to make the Kings a stand-alone operation. That should help to dispel the notion that hockey is not a priority to the people running the team. The move was also a tacit admission that the ownership group was at best distracted and at worst disinterested. Robitaille says all that has changed.

“The entire organization was more like an AEG machine,” Robitaille admits. “Now, (AEG President & CEO) Tim (Leiweke) has given me the leeway to separate the two, and we’re more of a stand-alone Kings business. It took time to separate everything. Now, we have all our people thinking about the Kings all day. In the past, it really wasn’t that way.”

When Robitaille’s staff is not thinking about the Kings, he wants them thinking about the team’s fans.

“We’re going to service our fans much better.” Robitaille says.

The Ducks spent the summer parading the Stanley Cup around the Los Angeles area — the glare was so bright that the Kings could practically see themselves in the reflection. It had to be sobering. Robitaille knows it was not a pleasant summer for his best customers, and he pledges to roll up his sleeves and do whatever it takes make the Kings relevant again.

“We’re competing with the Ducks, and they won the Stanley Cup,” he says. “We understand we have to grind.”

Longtime Kings fans have seen their team make one trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 40 years. Robitaille believes they deserve better.

“For us,” Robitaille says, “the first step we need to take is becoming the best organization we can be. That will translate to the ice.”

Robitaille has invested as much as anyone in the Kings and hockey in Los Angeles, but his president’s title won’t make him the organization’s sole decider.

“I’m a team guy,” he says. “I’ve worked my whole life with a team mentality. I think the only way to be successful is to include everybody, and that’s the way we’re operating.”

19-year-old rookie goaltender Jonathan Bernier will be between the pipes for the Kings against the Ducks in London.
Robitaille has no input on player personnel decisions, but he’ll be the beneficiary of GM Dean Lombardi’s recent decision to admit he made a mistake on goaltender Dan Cloutier, who was recently assigned to the team’s AHL affiliate at Manchester. Bernier, the 19-year-old goalie who is being groomed for the future, will be with the Kings when they open their regular season this weekend against the Ducks in London.

“We feel we’ve fixed our goaltending problem,” Robitaille says. “On top of seeing a good team, the fans are going to see that we’re changing.”

Like Jet Blue or Apple, the Kings now seem willing to admit their mistakes. And, like any great corporation, it seems they finally aspire to be better.

“I feel like the L.A. Kings fans deserve for us to go out there every day to be the best that we can be,” Robitaille says.

If Robitaille can get the Kings to follow his lead, the organization’s underachieving days might be about to end.

Injuries bite Ducks — The defending Stanley Cup champions will be shorthanded when they open their season against the Kings this weekend in London. Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, defenseman Mathieu Schneider and Samuel Pahlsson all are sidelined with injuries.

’Mo’ ready to go — At 37, Mike Modano says he approaches hockey with more urgency. “You get very demanding,” Modano told Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News. “You want to go out and win, and win right now. So, yeah, you start looking around and you want the best from everyone — your teammates, management, everyone. I think that's definitely there in the back of your mind.”

Home-grown Coyote — In another sign of hockey’s ever-expanding reach into the Sun Belt, the Coyotes had an Arizona-raised player in their training camp this year. Dave Spina grew up in Mesa, Ariz., and played for the Junior RoadRunners before attending Boston College. Spina was assigned to the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL on Sept. 20.

Poll backs old — In a San Jose Mercury News poll, 80 percent of respondents prefer the Sharks’ old jerseys over the new ones. We offer this dissenting opinion: the classic, old-school look of the Sharks’ new jerseys is awesome, while old, new-age style jerseys they recently retired felt too much like a roller hockey uniform for our tastes.

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