Monday, May 28, 2012
Taylor big part of Kings' success
By Pierre LeBrun ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- A Stanley Cup winner is not built in one year. It takes years and years of drafting and developing, and often a few hirings and firings, before the final pieces fall into place.
In the end, there are often more than a few people who have come and gone that helped frame that final edition of a champion. Brian Burke as GM of the 2007 Cup-champion Ducks made sure he credited predecessor Bryan Murray and his staff for drafting the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Similarly, key young Blackhawks stars such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were quick to bring up the name of former GM Dale Tallon on the night Chicago brought home Stanley in June 2010.
OK, if the Devils win this year's Cup, that won't quite be the case. It's been GM Lou Lamoriello and scouting guru David Conte running this baby forever, it seems.
But if the Kings prevail for their first-ever championship, there's credit to go around.
First and foremost it will go to GM Dean Lombardi, and deservedly so, for his gutsy moves on and off the ice. He has brought a young, rising team over the hump, adding hugely important pieces like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, and drafting Drew Doughty, just to name a few. Not to mention the hiring of Darryl Sutter in December when his team was sputtering.
Having said all that, Lombardi's predecessor in the GM chair also deserves a measure of praise. Former Kings fan favorite Dave Taylor spent three decades with the organization on and off the ice from 1997-2006. It was under his helm that the Kings drafted the likes of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick.
That should not be forgotten, even though Taylor on Monday was quick to shift the credit elsewhere.
"I always thought the general manager gets too much credit," Taylor told ESPN.com over the phone from L.A. "Al Murray was head of amateur scouting for the Kings and I thought he did a tremendous job for the Kings over the years, not just for the players that were there now, but for other guys that moved and traded."
Murray is now the director of amateur scouting for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Taylor is the director of player personnel for the St. Louis Blues, the Kings' second-round victims this spring.
"I was hoping this year the Blues would beat them," Taylor said, chuckling. "We're kind of on the similar path, I think. We've got a nice core of young players. ... A lot of upside attached to our team. It's all positive and we're looking forward to next year."
It's with the Blues that Taylor hopes to win a Cup. But he also can't ignore what's happening in L.A., where he still lives.
"I spent 30 years with the Kings organization as a player and on the management side," said Taylor. "I said the same thing six years ago when I was let go, I felt that our group did a number of good things. There were a number of very good young players in the organization. I thought the team was well poised to move forward. Certainly, the current Kings management team has a done a great job, they've got a very good team, lots of depth. Ownership has certainly stepped up, they're a cap team."
Taylor credited the Richards and Carter acquisitions by Lombardi, for example, as moves that "have really added to the balance of the team."
But he's also proud of the core players that his staff drafted, first and foremost the Kings' captain, drafted 13th overall in 2003.
"Dustin plays the same way today that he did back then," said Taylor. "We put him in the NHL right away. He was very mature and strong for his age. When we drafted him, he probably weighed 220 pounds and he absolutely crushed people. It was almost too heavy because his skating was very average. ... He's worked at improving his skating and he now plays at around 205 or 208 or something like that. His skating is so much better. But he's still the same player, plays north-south and never skates by a check. He doesn't retaliate.
"When we drafted him, Al Murray said, 'This guy is going to be a future captain of the L.A. Kings.' He has indeed been a tremendous leaders for the Kings."
Two years later, Taylor and the Kings stole Kopitar at 11th overall in the draft. Consider that among the players chosen before him that year were the likes of Benoit Pouliot (fourth), Gilbert Brule (sixth), Jack Skille (seventh) and Brian Lee (ninth).
"We had him third overall on our list," said Taylor. "Al came back from Europe and he was really excited by this guy. I saw Anze play in the world championships that year, he was only 17. He was the best player on Slovenia and when they played teams like the Czech Republic and Finland; he was scoring. And I was most impressed when we interviewed him at the combine, you didn't know what to expect, he walked into the room and he had this wild hair going everywhere. But he had so much poise and composure and excellent English.
"In the hundreds of kids that I've probably been part of interviewing, he might have been the best interview."
Two rounds later that same draft, the Kings took a chance on Quick at 72nd overall.
"The credit there goes to Brian Putnam, who was a regional scout for us covering the U.S. high schools," said Taylor. "He really pushed for Al to take him."
As a player, Taylor played all of his 17 NHL seasons with the Kings and was captain for four. And, of course, he played on that 1993 Kings team that made the franchise's only appearance in the finals until now.
"That's still a highlight of my playing career, the opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup finals," said Taylor. "That's what everybody dreams of when they lace skates on as a kid. I think in '91 and '92 we might have had better teams, but in '93 a lot of things fell right for us. Gretz was hurt in the first half of that season, so when he came back he was certainly fresh. We had a pretty good club. Certainly the Toronto series was one of the best I've ever seen or was involved with. It was pretty exciting. I was fortunate to be on the ice in the last minute when time ran out. We knew we were going to the Stanley Cup finals. ...
"The finals didn't go the way we or Kings fans wanted, but just having that experience was pretty special."
And while he would much rather have seen the Blues lift the Cup this spring, he is happy for long-suffering Kings fans that they've had this run.
"The Kings have always had a tremendously loyal following," he said. "L.A. is a huge place, there's a lot of competition for the sports dollar, but the Kings' fans who have been through the thick-and-thin years are very, very loyal. For their sake, it's nice to see the Kings with such a successful team and now a chance to win the Cup. Because those fans have certainly supported the Kings over the years and they deserve this."