When Dean Lombardi was given the keys to the Los Angeles Kingdom in 2006, he inherited a team that had drafted Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick a year earlier. In retrospect, it was a little like being gifted a lottery ticket, one that wins the Powerball jackpot. While Kopitar was a first-rounder, he wasn’t a sure thing. Quick was a fifth-round project.
So why, then, are we anointing Lombardi The Hockey News executive of the year, when two of his key building blocks can’t be credited to him? And a third, Drew Doughty, was a no-brainer? Because the L.A. Kings are about so much more than their aristocracy.
Lombardi’s patient approach to constructing and maintaining a winner has been integral to his franchise’s success. Despite some rough patches, including a 1-8-1 slide, he resisted temptation to pull the trigger on a mortgage-the-future trade. While he did acquire playoff goal-scoring leader Marian Gaborik at the deadline, the cost was reasonable. No blue-chip prospect or high draft picks going the other way. He also has shied away from blowing out his brains on high-priced summertime free agents and his lineup is well positioned against the salary cap to remain virtually intact next season.
The supporting cast he and his talent evaluators assembled is formidable. Jake Muzzin was a scrap heap pickup, Alec Martinez a fourth-rounder, Tyler Toffoli a second-rounder. He pried Jeff Carter from Columbus at below market value and got Justin Williams from Carolina in what is now grand theft. Lombardi’s trade record is impeccable; he never hurts his team and almost always makes it better. His best transaction might have been landing Darryl Sutter to steer the ship. The antithesis of Hollywood, Sutter has been a master at managing his players, their emotions and ice time. That Lombardi has been able to put these pieces together without granting a single no-movement clause is remarkable. That’s why we’re crowning him the top executive.
This is an edited version of an article that appears in the 2014 Stanley Cup commemorative edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.