Kings Appear to be Built to Last

The LA Kings had a press conference Thursday afternoon at Staples Center, where they won the Stanley Cup on June 11th. They used the conference to deliver a simple message: We’ve had a great and long time to celebrate this win. And after Saturday when the banner is raised, we’re going to forget all about 2012 in pursuit of another trophy. Then they laid out their plan to do that.

Several key points were raised in the meeting which might be of interest to non-local fans. That is especially true since, if the league holds fast to its plan for the shortened regular season to feature only Conference play, those on the East coast may not have much of an idea what’s going on in LA until the playoffs start. Maybe not until the Stanley Cup final of 2013. But not paying attention will be a mistake.

First, Tim Leiweke, AEG CEO and President, said, “The last thing you want to do is wait to raise that banner.” But he said that despite the lockout, the management and players of this organization are in lockstep. Their goal is simple: to defend the Cup, as no one has done in fifteen years. “What the league does the league does,” he later commented. “I’m interested in our guys and our fans.” The clear message was that this LA win is not a fluke nor a one-off, but the result of long-term planning, and that it will be followed up with an effort from all levels this year that expects equal success.

Bringing back the same roster is hard to do in a salary cap era when players move on so fast due to money constraints. However, the team is exactly what it was last June. Every player is coming back. One significant result of this is that this team is not going into training camp in tryout mode. They will bring 25 guys in, and Coach Daryl Sutter said that it’s not training camp at all, but five days of what will hopefully be good practices. “The key is that we have the whole team together again,” said Sutter. He also cited the fact that this is unprecedented.

In fact, it was said that in 1983, the New York Islanders had 23 of 25 guys return from their prior year’s Stanley Cup. That, as far as anyone is aware, is the greatest return rate in modern sports franchise history. The Kings, as was mentioned, top that. GM Dean Lombardi said that the camp will have no time for tryouts, no large roster of hopefuls or people the team wants to get a look at. That, in another respect, is because bringing in a bunch of people at this point disrupts the work that the team’s farm system is doing as well.

What the Kings have done, said Leiweke, is build an organization, not a one-off winning team. He also said that the team has money to spend. They have a budget, but he’s told Lombardi that there’s money to spend, especially later in the season, if a new piece is needed. He also commented that they will do everything they can to make things work for players currently with the team. Money is not an object, was the idea (though that’s my phrase, not anyone’s from the podium).

When asked by Dennis Bernstein of The Fourth Period whether having the green light (a phrase used by management at the presser) means spending to the cap limit if necessary down the stretch, the team said, “Yes.” One word, no equivocation. Leiweke later put it this way: “We will add depth this year if we can add the right depth.”

The team Leiweke compared the Kings to is the Red Wings, saying “We aspire to be Detroit,” which was the team which repeated most recently (and also won a single Cup in 2002 and went to two finals in a row in 2008 and 2009, winning the first).

Following this season, the team has a plan to re-sign guys as they come up on their contracts, potentially keeping the group together for a number of years. Again, the model is a Red Wings team which has had stability since the mid-1990s, and a lot of success since they won their first modern-era Cup in 1997 and three others since.

Three players were at the conference, including goalie Jonathan Quick, defenseman Matt Greene, and forward Jarret Stoll. Only Stoll spoke from the podium, talking about their resolve to get back at it and please the fans.

Both players and management seemed to agree with reporters’ suggestions that playing a shortened season might even be an advantage. Coach Sutter said there are a lot of unknowns, and that even as the only coach left over from the prior lockout season, he doesn’t expect things to be the same as 1994-95. Despite the unknowns, one thing that the team can take advantage of, as former player and now TV colorman Jim Fox said on air after the formal conference was over, is that their Stanley Cup hangover is over. There were so many events all summer, Fox cited, that it was great fun but exhausting. Getting back to play in October might have been much more difficult, but all the fun is well behind the Kings now.

All that’s left is one moment next Saturday when the banner goes up. Then it’s time to refocus. But with a team starting, perhaps, exactly where they left off, it’s going to be go time in LA. East coast hockey fans, pay attention!

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