Kings' arrival is Lombardi's work
GM's moves -- including ones he didn't make -- are key to L.A.'s run to the finals
Nobody dared touch the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl as it was awarded to the Los Angeles Kings following their 4-3 overtime victory Tuesday night against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena, securing the organization's second trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
Still, the award was undoubtedly covered with Dean Lombardi's fingerprints.
It was Lombardi, the general manager of the Kings since April 2006, who traded for Dustin Penner in February 2011. He liked his scoring touch and thought his experience winning a Stanley Cup title with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 would be invaluable.
After wallowing well below expectations for more than a year and becoming a scapegoat for the team's lack of scoring the first three quarters of this season, Penner scored the overtime winner in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, the organization's biggest goal in the past 19 years.
It was also Lombardi who made the decision last summer to trade two young forwards to the Philadelphia Flyers for Mike Richards, giving the Kings a bonafide second-line center and one more player with Cup experience. Richards gave the Kings a 3-2 lead Tuesday night in Glendale, Ariz., and provided a blinding screen on Penner's winning goal.
Lombardi then brought in Richards' good friend and former teammate, Jeff Carter, at this season's trade deadline, providing the Kings with another top-six forward and one who teamed with Richards in their run to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals in Philly. Carter chipped in two assists in the series-clinching victory, including the primary helper on the overtime winner.
Lombardi also made a bold move by cutting ties with Jack Johnson, the type of young, puck-moving defenseman who's hard to find, trading him to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Carter deal. Lombardi was able to make that move because he knew an even younger and better defenseman was ready to step in to the mix. Slava Voynov made Lombardi look like a genius again Tuesday night, starting the overtime scoring play with a crisp outlet pass to Carter.
And probably the toughest decision Lombardi had to make might just turn out to be his best. He swallowed his pride two days before the start of the season and gave in to the demands of hot-shot defenseman Drew Doughty. After holding out all of the preseason, Doughty signed an eight-year, $56 million deal, the richest on the team. Doughty paid Lombardi back in Game 5, recording a goal, an assist and a tremendous defensive play to break up a 2-on-1 rush midway through overtime.
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Several other moves turned to gold this season. Most notably, the decision to recall rookie wingers Dwight King and Jordan Nolan from the minors in early February, locking Justin Williams and Willie Mitchell into contract extensions over the past year, and firing coach Terry Murray in December and replacing him with the more emotionally driven Darryl Sutter.
Maybe the best move was the one Lombardi didn't make, ignoring phone calls from other general managers who wanted to trade for team captain Dustin Brown at the February deadline.
Brown might have provided the turning point in Game 5, laying out Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival late in the first overtime with a clean hip-on-hip hit near the Phoenix blue line. After Rozsival was helped off the ice with his left leg dragging, the agitated Coyotes lost the ensuing faceoff to Richards. Voynov collected the puck and passed it ahead to Penner, who dumped it off to Carter. He took a shot that banked off the chest of Phoenix goalie Mike Smith, and Penner was in the right place at the right time, tucking the rebound into the net.
And, just like that, Lombardi's rebuilding plan was a step closer to completion. Putting his fingerprints on the Stanley Cup is the next item on the agenda.
Dan Arritt covers hockey for ESPNLosAngeles.com.