Last night the Edmonton Oilers played the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings for the second time this season giving us perhaps a glimpse into the future and an organizational model to learn from.
Last season at the start of the year I predicted that the Kings, with the acquisition of the heart-and-soul of the Philadelphia Flyers, Mike Richards, were going to win the Stanley Cup.It was one of those rare occasions where I got one right!
To be frank, the Kings didn’t exactly follow a predictable script en route to writing their LA Story.
After struggling to score goals, L.A. General Manager Dean Lombardi fired defensive-minded coach Terry Murray and replaced him with former Calgary Flames Head Coach and GM Darryl Sutter.
The Kings squeaked into the post-season, but with a big, heavy team, tailor-made for the playoffs, the organization dominated Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix before out-lasting New Jersey to claim their first Stanley Cup Championship.
Like most champions, the core of Los Angeles’ team was built through the draft.
Power-forward Dustin Brown was a first rounder in 2003 (13th), with first line centre Anze Kopitar a steal going 11th overall in 2005. The Conn Smythe Trophy winner and number one goaltender Jonathan Quick was a great pick, going in the third round in 2006 and then the Kings landed a perennial Norris Trophy candidate Drew Doughty second overall in 2008.
Lombardi must be credited with also turning another first round pick, Brayden Schenn (fifth overall in 2009) and Wayne Simmonds (who was an excellent second round pick) into the aforementioned Richards.
And the final big piece for the Kings was getting Richards' former running mate with the Flyers, Jeff Carter from Columbus for Jack Johnson and a 2013 Draft 1st round pick.
Suffice to say, with a nucleus of Quick, Doughty, Kopitar, Brown, Richards and Carter, the Kings should have a very competitive team for years to come just as Oilers fans see the same type of core -- albeit a younger one -- with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz emerging here in Edmonton.
What is interesting with the Kings is there has been some flat-out misses along the way.
Pre-dating Lombardi’s tenure as GM in the City of Angels the Kings missed on first round picks Jens Karlsson in 2001 (18th) and Lauri Tukonen in 2004 (11th). Both big European wingers turned out to be busts at the NHL level combining for a grand total of five games played at the NHL level.
Lombardi inherited those picks but taking Thomas Hickey number four in 2007 occurred on his watch. The Kings reached for the undersized Hickey passing on both Karl Azner and Keaton Ellerby two prototypical big defensive defencemen from the Western Hockey League.
Alzner is a legit top 4 NHL defenceman who logs serious minutes in Washington. Ellerby has struggled to establish himself as an NHL regular and, ironically, was acquired a couple of weeks ago by the Kings to help bolster an injury-plagued blue-line.
Hickey never played an NHL game for the Kings and was claimed off of waivers by the New York Islanders.
Not a lot of teams blow a fourth overall pick and go on to win the Stanley Cup!
Lombardi would also probably like to have the Dustin Penner trade back, too.
The Kings gave up Colten Teubert -- a first round pick (13th overall) in the 2008 draft -- and L.A.’s number one in 2011 when they picked up Penner in February of 2011.
Penner scored 93 goals in just under four seasons with the Oilers but only has scored nine goals in 90 regular season games as a King, though he did score an OT winner to clinch the Phoenix series.
With injuries to hard-nosed defencemen Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene, you have to figure that Teubert would have been a Kings third-pairing D by now. Nonetheless the former Regina Pat stands a great chance to be an Oiler next season slotting behind Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry on the right side of the Oilers defence.
The first round pick the Oilers acquired from the Kings in the Penner trade turned out be Oscar Klefbom, who is Edmonton’s best prospect not playing in the NHL and could easily be a top-four left-shot D for a decade-plus.
The lesson here is that not every first round pick is going to pan out, nor will every trade work-out.
Moving Schenn, Simmonds and Johnson along with some top-end picks was surely not easy for Lombardi but was necessary for the Kings to take the next step. The Kings GM could have been reluctant to do so after it quickly became apparent that the Penner deal was not going to be a win.
But Lombardi realized the time was now and he stepped up.
For an Edmonton Oilers organization that is tracking behind the Kings, accumulating picks and prospects you have to wonder how soon the time comes to follow the same path in effort to get hockey’s ultimate prize.
Bob Stauffer is Radio Analyst of the Oilers Broadcasts on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” Monday thru Friday Noon to 2:00PM on 630 CHED. You can follow him on twitter at @Bob_Stauffer
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