Lombardi, Sutter let go; Robitaille, Blake promoted

Two figures chiefly responsible for building an environment, amassing players and cultivating a style of play that resulted in two Stanley Cups were let go by the Kings on Monday as an AEG announcement revealed that President and General Manager Dean Lombardi and Head Coach Darryl Sutter “have been relieved of their current duties,” and that Luc Robitaille has been promoted to President of the Kings and Rob Blake to Vice President and General Manager.

Robitaille’s new role allows him to “oversee all hockey and business operations.”

“This restructuring of the front-office will establish a single leader of the organization that will provide a unified vision, focus and alignment between the team side and the business side,” President and CEO of AEG Dan Beckerman said in a statement. “It mirrors the same structure we recently implemented with the LA Galaxy and it will not only enable the integration of these two sides of the club into a single organization but will bring symmetry between the Kings and Galaxy.”

More details will be shared at a 1:00 p.m. press conference at Staples Center Tuesday afternoon.

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

It is not a surprise that the Kings, who have not been helped by weighty contracts, trades that resulted in a loss of assets for short-term return, and a growing sense that the performance, especially over the final month of the season, did not represent a fully and emotionally bought in group for every game, chose to make a significant move. For a team that waited 45 years to finally reach hockey’s zenith – and then to replicate the feat in a grueling 26-game marathon two years later – it is a difficult day when two of the primary architects of its construction are let go. Lombardi, hired to restart a concerted rebuilding process at all levels of the organization on April 26, 2006, is among those heavily responsible for the construction of a culture and raised expectations that took significant steps under Terry Murray before it accelerated nearly instantly in the spring of 2012 when Sutter guided a team that exploded breathtakingly out of the gates in jumping out to 3-0 leads in all four playoff series before winning a Stanley Cup in 20 games.

Injecting skill into a team built primarily on its size, goaltending, puck protection and shot volume advantages proved difficult, and today’s news raises questions of whether the organization, when searching for its next head coach, will favor skill and speed over other attributes. Los Angeles is not a team lifted by supreme individual speed, but when fully bought in, such as in its three extended playoff runs between 2012 and 2014, is able to play with excellent pace, make quick reads and decisions and operate with an aggressive attack that features tight, quick exchanges between its defensemen and forwards. Those attributes were not consistently present in Los Angeles’ performance this season.

There had been attempts to bring in speed and skill in prior years, and Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik’s arrivals paid instant dividends, directly leading to Cups and Lombardi’s raised managerial profile across the sport. But Gaborik’s seven-year contract extension soured quickly, one of several contracts owned by a salary cap-strained team that has provided little wiggle room and inflexibility when negotiating with its younger free agents. With trades that brought in Andrej Sekera for an injury-shortened 16 games at the cost of a first round draft pick and a well regarded defensive prospect, and one year of Milan Lucic for a major asset in Martin Jones, along with a first round draft pick and NHL defenseman Colin Miller, Lombardi did not enjoy the same success in his more recent personnel decisions as he did during the team’s championship years. There were also things completely out of his control that made his governance exorbitantly more challenging. Slava Voynov literally hurt an actual person, and anything else comes secondary, but the Kings never fully recovered from the absence of a number two defenseman from the roster. The day he was allowed to practice with the team in 2014 remains the lowest point of an era that reached heights no other Los Angeles administrations did.

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Front and center in helping build champions out of a pair of talented rosters, Darryl Sutter, gruff, honest and demanding as a coach, also built up profound relationships and created an inner sanctum with his players that he vied to keep inoculated from outside commentary and potentially derisive speculation. He also deferred heavily to his veterans, an asset in guiding the team to a pair of Stanley Cups and emphasizing the importance of players such as Robyn Regehr, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene in addition to his star players, but a cumbersome tendency when it became apparent that the team could benefit from an infusion of youth. As Los Angeles advanced in age, and with few players available to arrive from the American Hockey League to provide tangible dividends, the performance and roster became stale, and star players counted upon to supply offense such as Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli did not come close to hitting previously reached marks. Sutter deserves tremendous credit for implementing structure rigidly executed by his players, and, more recently, for helping keep the team afloat when one with a flimsier spine would have folded after losing its star goaltender to a major injury one period into the season. But the Kings’ poor starts and, gradually, a visibly decreased buy-in later in the season exacerbated scoring woes in the aftermath of Lombardi’s inability re-sign Lucic or acquire a viable alternative up front. These challenges appeared to make the status quo a hardly tenable option.

Lombardi has one year remaining on his contract, while Sutter has one year remaining, plus an option year.

Andrew D. Bernstein / NHLI

The full release:

LOS ANGELES (April 10) – AEG, the world’s leading sports and live entertainment company, has announced the following changes to the front office of the LA Kings hockey club. Luc Robitaille has been named club President and will now oversee all hockey and business operations, and Rob Blake has been named Vice President and General Manager, and will direct all day to day hockey operations for the organization.

The announcement of both promotions was made by Dan Beckerman, President and CEO of AEG, the parent company of the LA Kings.

In addition, Beckerman today announced Dean Lombardi, who has served as Kings President and General Manager since 2006, and Darryl Sutter, who has served as the club’s Head Coach since 2011, have been relieved of their current duties.

The Kings are scheduled to host a news conference tomorrow, Tuesday, at STAPLES Center in the Chick Hearn Press Room. It is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. and will be streamed live at LAKings.com. Kings season media and photo credentials will allow access into STAPLES Center for tomorrow’s press event, which is scheduled to feature Beckerman, Robitaille and Blake.

“This was an extremely difficult decision and was made with an enormous amount of consideration for what we have accomplished in our past. But the present and future of our organization is the highest priority,” said Beckerman. “Words cannot express our gratitude and appreciation for what Dean and Darryl have accomplished for the Kings franchise. They built this team and helped lead us to two Stanley Cup Championships and will forever be remembered as all-time greats in Kings history. But with that level of accomplishment comes high expectations and we have not met those expectations for the last three seasons. With the core players we have in place, we should be contending each year for the Stanley Cup. Our failure to meet these goals has led us to this change.”

Robitaille, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, has served as Kings President, Business Operations the last 10 years. The highest scoring left wing in NHL history, under Robitaille’s leadership the Kings have had a tremendous overall impact on the Kings Business Operations department – revenue has doubled — including the areas of Sponsorship Sales and Renewal, Fan and Customer Relations, Game Entertainment, Media Relations and Broadcasting. Since 2007-08, the Kings have increased or maintained their number of sellouts at STAPLES Center each full season, and the team concluded the 2016-17 season with a sellout streak of 213 consecutive regular season games and 246 consecutive contests overall (both team records). Under Robitaille the Kings were named the Sports Team of the Year at the Sports Business Journal’s Sports Business Awards event in 2015.

In 19 seasons as an NHL player, including 14 with the Kings, Robitaille – the all-time Kings leader in goals scored (557) and a former Kings captain — recorded 1394 points (668-726=1394) and won a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2002. His jersey was retired by the Kings in 2007.

Blake, who is also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, becomes the ninth general manager in team history. He was named to his most recent role of Vice President/Assistant General Manager in 2013 and has held the position for last four seasons. Prior to that Blake, a former Kings captain, worked in the National Hockey League’s Player Safety department for three years.

During his time as an executive with the team, Blake has also served as the general manager of the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League (that franchise won the Calder Cup in Championship in 2015). In addition, Blake served as General Manager of Canada’s National Men’s Team for the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, and he worked on the Management Staff for Team Canada’s entry in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

In 20 seasons as an NHL player, including 14 with the Kings, Blake recorded 777 points (240-537=777) and he won a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001. He was in his front office role with the Kings when the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2014m and he had his jersey retired by the Kings in 2015.

“This restructuring of the front-office will establish a single leader of the organization that will provide a unified vision, focus and alignment between the team side and the business side,” said Beckerman. “It mirrors the same structure we recently implemented with the LA Galaxy and it will not only enable the integration of these two sides of the club into a single organization but will bring symmetry between the Kings and Galaxy.”

Lombardi was hired by the Kings on April 21, 2006. His overall regular season record as the club’s general manager is 425-339-104 over 868 games (the games and wins are most among Kings general managers all-time; his 11-year tenure is the longest as well) and in the playoffs the Kings were 46-35. Lombardi and his executive staffs were instrumental in the Kings winning the Stanley Cup in both 2012 and 2014.

Sutter was hired by the Kings on December 20, 2011. His overall record as the club’s head coach is 225-147-53 over 425 games in the regular season (the wins are most among Kings head coaches all-time and the games coached is second all-time) and in the playoffs the Kings were 42-27 (the 42 wins is also a franchise record). Sutter and his coaching staffs played pivotal roles in the Kings winning the two Stanley Cups.

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

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