Kings GM Lombardi on Cup hangover case

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
10:02
AM ET
TORONTO -- We haven’t even sat down yet for lunch and his mind is already racing in a million directions.

The Mad Professor is talking about his scouting trip to Toronto and 15 other things, and he has many innovative ideas as to how he wants the Los Angeles Kings to continue to evolve.

More to the point, Kings GM Dean Lombardi wants his team to be more than a one-hit wonder.

With that in mind, he went to work this summer and researched and interviewed dynasty teams from the past 20 years to get concrete answers for how those teams achieved their success, and specifically how they either succeeded or failed in dealing with the so-called "hangover" effect after winning their first championship.

"I talked to a number of teams -- whether it was the 49ers, Yankees, Patriots, teams that were dynasties -- and wanted to know what they did after the first year they won," Lombardi told ESPN.com this week. "I found so many different schools of thought."

Lombardi spent years and years researching and talking to people from other sports on what it took to win. Now that Lombardi has his first Stanley Cup ring, his focus has moved on to the next level: winning again.

"This is a whole new frontier for me," Lombardi said. "You want to be part of those teams that transcend their sport for excellence. And that requires multiples [of titles]. People still talk about the 49ers teams, and that was 30 years ago, because that was 3-4 Super Bowls. And people still talk about the Patriots, the Red Wings..."

If you know Dean Lombardi, you know he didn't go at this halfway. Oh, no, there were spreadsheets and all kinds of data he assembled on all these teams before he interviewed them.

"It was an education for me," Lombardi said.

The clincher of them all, he said, was former 49ers star Ronnie Lott. They spoke two weeks ago by phone.

"I had 25 pages of notes after that call," Lombardi said. "He talked for two hours. He hit the button right on. You can tell this guy is a winner. He’s really astute. I was blown away by him. I’m so grateful to him."

Lott explained everything the 49ers did wrong after winning that first title. And what they did right in going on to win more titles.

"He talked about a frame of mind," Lombardi said.

Which is why Lombardi downplays the theory (which I espouse) that his Kings squad will actually benefit from the NHL lockout. I believe the Kings players will gain from having more time to fully heal their bodies.

"As far as the physical process, I’d agree with that, the players probably need more time to heal," Lombardi said. "But the mental part is not going to be cured by [a lockout]. So many guys I talked to talked about the way you have to adjust your attitude."

Case in point, Lombardi said, was how a strike-shortened season didn't help the 1982 49ers rebound from the hangover of winning their first title in 1981.

"To me, the 49ers were the best illustration: They had the young core; they rolled at the end of the year [1981] and started to believe in themselves," Lombardi said. "Then they had the strike-shortened season and came back 3-6 and almost blew up. So the time off didn’t help them."

Lombardi drove up to Sacramento, Calif., in the summer to chat with former 49ers executive John McVay, who presided over those glory years.

Trying to cure the Cup hangover was a key topic.

"One thing I like that he said, 'Too many people talk [about] why you can’t do it.' When people talk about the hangover, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," Lombardi said. "People want to talk about it in a negative sense. Versus the positive sense, as McVay said, you know how to win and you know the feeling of winning. Why not accentuate that you know the work is worth it because of how it felt?"

Lombardi hasn’t relayed his findings to his players yet. The lockout has seen to that. But once the NHL’s labor impasse is over, you know the GM will be lining up sessions with his core players.

The Kings GM, who has one year left on his contract, sighs as we bring up his players. A championship team is like a family. Right now the family is apart.

"I have to tell you, I really miss our players," Lombardi said. "I have to say that. Sometimes it’s good to know, in the end, what they mean to you. Sometimes you take them for granted. I miss having them around right now."

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