Your personal feelings on the Los Angeles Kings aside, the Sharks’ biggest rival has been very successful over the past five years. Two Stanley Cups and (mostly) consistent play make the Kings a sort of modern dynasty, given how difficult it is to string together Cup wins in the salary cap era of the NHL.
As such, general manager Dean Lombardi gets a lot of credit for the Kings’ success. He became LA’s general manager in April of 2006 and put together the team that won the franchise’s first two championships (you know when, I don’t have to tell you).
This sort of results-oriented credit is standard operating procedure in sports, but given some of Lombardi’s puzzling moves and terrible construction of Team USA it’s worth asking if he actually knows what he’s doing. The Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick contracts are no bueno, but even great GMs make bad decisions. I’m not looking to stack up a bunch of mistakes as much as I want to look at Lombardi’s overall philosophy.
Here’s the quote that prompted this article, excellently screen grabbed by the venerable Pierre LeBrun.
Dean Lombardi when asked about not picking Kessel and Kessel's tweet: pic.twitter.com/iFsInBgyy5— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) September 22, 2016
In reality, Lombardi doesn’t really say anything here. Let’s try to chip away at what he’s trying to say, though.
You’re going to have to play against those guys in a little while, but that’s basically the tradeoff. Those guys have big time heart and when I talk about caring, they’d be the nucleus of the caring and they compete and they can play for me any day.
The insinuation here seems to be that Phil Kessel lacks the heart and caring that Lombardi wants from his players. That seems to be patently untrue as every NHL player cares a lot — you don’t make it to the NHL by not caring. Even if we accept that Kessel’s heart weighs less than Justin Abdelkader’s, how much does that actually matter?
I’m not saying heart and grit don’t matter at all — maybe they do. But those attributes need to be properly weighed against how well a guy skates, makes passes and scores goals. If a guy is rated 90 in heart and 40 in speed, you might want to check out the guy who’s only got 60 heart and 80 speed.
So the Kings, loaded with players like Anze Kopitar and that really good defender we don’t talk about on here, may have been built as much by good luck as good planning. If Lombardi really puts heart and grit, whatever he believes those are, over speed and skill then it’s worth asking how much credit he really deserves for the Kings’ success. There’s nothing wrong with being lucky; every team needs that to win a Stanley Cup, but when Lombardi gets all the credit for building a LA dynasty, maybe we should give it a second thought.