In the din of the Los Angeles Kings
' dressing room last April, captain Dustin Brown
spent a good deal of time patiently addressing the 2008-09 season that ended in another spring without a Stanley Cup Playoff game being played at the Staples Center.
Questions flew at the young winger, mostly centering on how the Kings could improve and take the next big step. Brown saw one clear solution.
"If you look at our lineup, the last 15 or 20 games or so, the one thing that stands out personnel-wise is the left wing for me," he said. "I'm playing left wing and I'm a natural right. We had Zus [Michal Handzus
], who's a natural center, playing left wing for five or six games. And when you look at over the past year and a half, we traded Cammy [Michael Cammalleri
] who's a left winger and Sully [Patrick O'Sullivan
] who's a left winger.
"We either need to find a replacement within the system or find someone who can adjust to playing on the left wing. Or maybe make a deal."
Recalling that moment of candor, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi recently told NHL.com that he wasn't comfortable with his 24-year-old captain suggesting what management needed to do and told him about it. But that also didn't mean that Brown was wrong.
Lombardi addressed that need last month by acquiring 13-year veteran Ryan Smyth
from Colorado for defensemen Kyle Quincey
and Tom Preissing
along with a 2010 fifth-round draft pick. Nicknamed "Captain Canada" for his vast experience with Team Canada in international play, Smyth has topped 20 goals nine times and has scored 30 or more four times.
To facilitate the deal, Smyth needed to waive the no-trade clause he negotiated into the five-year, $31.2-million contract he signed with the Avalanche in the summer of 2007. A no-trade clause is something the veteran felt he had earned -- and it wasn't easy to give up.
"Obviously it's tough picking up your family and moving," Smyth told NHL.com. "You know what, it was a process that my wife and I did together. We felt in the end, the best interest was going forward with the excitement of seeing how L.A. was in the last few years and how much upside they had."
Smyth saw an opportunity to join a team many expect is ready to seriously contend for a playoff spot.
"I look at the Chicago Blackhawks
team and how young and how energetic it is," he said. "I see a lot of similarities with the Kings organization. You have [Anze] Kopitar, [Dustin] Brown, [Jarret] Stoll. There's a lot of young kids that are thrilling to watch."
Smyth is now on his third team in two years after 12 seasons with the Edmonton Oilers
ended in a tearful press conference when he was traded to the New York Islanders
at the deadline in March 2007. Of that, he now says, "Things happen for a reason. I'm a Los Angeles King. I'm just moving forward and I just want to be the best player I can be."
What he's focused on is being a leader by example and bringing the kind of gritty, determined play he has built his career on. The 33-year-old veteran can't wait to get the Kings back to the kind of prominence they enjoyed when Wayne Gretzky
turned L.A. into a hockey town.
"I'm not going to sit here say we're a first-place team," he said. "We know the history of the Kings hasn't been successful as far as winning a Stanley Cup. As far as the excitement, it'll happen once you start winning and getting to the playoffs.
"I remember being young and I'd watch Gretz play there. There is energy in that building. We can get to that level."