Maybe the Q is part of the A
"I had no clue to who he was when we got him." -- Los Angeles Kings coach Terry Murray on newest Kings defenseman Kyle Quincey.
[Los Angeles, CA] -- While it's still a struggle for the Los Angeles Kings to get above sea level and seriously challenge for a playoff position in the NHL's difficult Western Conference, the tide appears to be turning for a franchise that hasn't reached in the playoff in five seasons.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi has secured the future of the team by signing young stars Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown to long term contracts, made the team tougher by trading away softer finesse players like Mike Cammalleri and Lubomir Visnovsky, and has created a fat amount of cap space in the process.
That's the good news.
The bad news, and there's a bit of it, is that the team's on ice performance hasn't appreciably improved since Lombardiís arrival as president and GM of the club.
Early in his third campaign at the helm of the team, they're nestled in the 13-14-15 nether regions of the Western Conference and while the inventory of young talent has been replenished, the expectation of the team is a sixth consecutive season without post season hockey in downtown Los Angeles.
Despite the lack of success by the Lombardi regime, ownership (the Anschutz Entertainment Group) is on the record by saying the GM's job is safe. They gave Lombardi a free pass to fix all the ills of an organization that has secured just one division crown and one conference title in going into their 42nd year of existence.
Team Governor Tim Leiweke, the target of many frustrated Kings' fans venom, recently gave a detailed interview to Hall of Fame writer Helene Elliott of the LA Times in which he detailed the achievements of the current regime. In one fell swoop, he admitted the mistakes of poor free agent deals, gave an affirmation that this team will build in the draft and didnít close the door on the free agent market if Lombardi deems there is a talent that can put the team over the top. Leiweke eschews the current US economic downtown as the reason for the Kingsí attendance woes and puts some of the responsibility on the business side of the business to create a buzz around his team.
We attended the Nov. 6 match against the Florida Panthers and the crowd was shockingly sparse, easily the least attended hockey game in Staples Center history. While some would point to the battered economy as the reason for poor attendance, I juxtapose my attendance at the Los Angeles Lakers game the previous night in the same venue.
Although it was only the fourth game of the season and it pitted the home team against their cross-town cousins, the downtrodden Clippers, the joint was packed to the rafters. So while team management can't be happy about the lack of interest, they must realize that the hockey fans in Los Angeles are rightfully voting with their feet and staying away until this team is a contender.
In covering hockey in Los Angeles for the better part of the decade, I know there is a sufficient base of hockey fans that would fill the arena once the Kings rise to contention.
But how do the Kings get to contender status? Ownership won't pony up the big green deals on a consistent basis for a Mats Sundin or Marian Hossa, nor should they as the returns for those deals never seem to exceed the costs. They could trade some of their youth for a younger star like the oft-injured Marian Gaborik (and they have been in significant talks with the Wild), but those deals never seem to work out for this franchise. The smartest way to get to respectability is by taking the money that could have been earmarked for free agent acquisitions and pour it into its pro and amateur scouting system, just look at the New Jersey Devils to see how they continually lose players but always contend and occasionally win a championship.
The Stanley Cup champions Detroit Red Wings are the model the Kings need to replicate if they're going to bring back the crowds on hockey nights at Casa del Staples. Not unlike the Kings, the Wings went through a long stretch of failure in the late 80s.
Their first round picks, with the exception of Steve Yzerman, were failures and their trading for aging veterans (these were the dark days before free agency) garnered only continuing failure; their bookend first round picks around Yzerman in 1983 were Murray Craven in 1982 and Shawn Burr in 1984, enough said. The organization undertook an evolution when Jim Devellano and his successor, current GM Ken Holland, changed the spec for developing players.
"Size is great to have but we look at skill and hockey sense first," related Holland on an NHL Network telecast of this summer's rookie camp.
So with that methodology in hand, the Red Wings were able to unearth diamonds were others found dust.
If you break down the core of the current Red Wings roster, you'll see why they contend every season; they work harder and smarter in the never ending search for talent.
Exhibit A is future first ballot Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom. His decade of excellence has made people forget that he was a third round pick in the 1989 draft; 52 other players were selected before him and the Wings selected Mike Sillinger and Bob Boughner (two solid long term NHL vets but neither one a Lidstrom) with their first two picks. Three of their current top four forwards, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom were selected in the sixth, seventh and tenth rounds, respectively. When you are successful that many times (there isn't even a 10th round in the draft anymore), it's neither luck nor accidental.
To reinforce the importance of drafting and player development, this team that stands a good chance to repeating as champions has just four first round picks on its roster and only one, Niklas Kronwall, was originally selected by Detroit. Now, while some rail against the heavy European influence on the defending champs roster, every Kings' fan would be thrilled to swap lineups.
Trying to steal a page out of Detroit's modus operandi, the Kings did some due diligence on the Red Wings roster over the summer in attempting to rebuild one of the weakest defensive corps in the league.
Yes, Los Angeles smartly selected my early choice for Rookie of the Year Drew Doughty, had previously engineered a winning deal to get 2005 third overall pick in Jack Johnson while dealing an expensive Visnovsky for a cheaper and tougher Matt Greene. But the best move of this season was when the Kings plucked blueliner Kyle Quincey off the waiver wire.
Quincey was Detroit's fourth round pick in 2003 and has major frequent flyer (or bus) miles due to his six recalls from their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.
Prior to this season, Quincey had played as many playoff games as he did regular season games (13) over the course of three seasons, making him a spare part in the Detroit scheme. But he's been anything but spare in Los Angeles, after missing three games due to a back injury, Kyle has fit seamlessly into the Los Angeles defensive scheme. He possesses good size at 6-foot-1, 207lbs. and has shown solid decision making during his first ten games under Coach Terry Murray's watchful eye.
The better news is that Quincey's salary is near league minimum at $535,000 and is signed through next season.
In the course of a couple of weeks, he's gone from a healthy scratch in Detroit to a 20-minute-a-night defenseman in Los Angeles and that outplays the likes of veteran teammates Denis Gauthier and Tom Preissing. But to chat with those in the know in the Detroit organization, it's not a surprise.
"There have been stretches where he's been a force and stretches where we haven't noticed him. When he asserts himself physically, the rest of his game takes off. He constantly has to be reminded to be physical and make that first pass. When he does that, he's very good," conveyed Grand Rapids GM Bob McNamara when asked about his former playerís strengths and weaknesses.
The waiver claim by Los Angeles wasn't a shock to GM Holland, as he admitted.
"We expected it," he said. "We talked to five, six teams that had some interest. Thought we were close on one front to a deal that fell through. I'm happy for Kyle. He's been patient with us acquiring Brad Stuart, the development of Brett Lebda, the development of Jonathan Ericsson. We like Derek Meech. You can't keep everybody."
You'd think that a youngster coming off a Stanley Cup championship would be crestfallen going to the 29th rated team in the league, but not this defenseman. Quincey feels it's the perfect place to convey all the lessons heís learned with the champs.
"Being around all those great players you learn so much. In Detroit, they teach you that you always have to be ready. Two years ago, I was ready for the playoffs (he played in 13 post season games) and it was the best hockey I ever played," he related after last Saturday's triumph over the St. Louis Blues.
Quincey contrasted his position in Los Angeles to his smaller role with the Wings.
"Being paired with (Matt) Greene, he's a defense first guy and we are very similar players, so we've jelled very nicely," he said. "But LA is a very different organization, I went from having a defense partner that was 46 years old (Chris Chelios) to one that is 26 and the roster has seven guys younger than me, which is nice.
"Detroit is a puck possession team and the Kings are opposite of that style, but after a couple of games but at the end of the day, it's just hockey.
"In August, I was prepared to be a bench player, but this move to Los Angeles has been a blessing in disguise. Being part of the Stanley Cup victory was amazing and I didn't know if I'd ever be part of a championship team again. You never know, there are some great guys in this room and we could be at a championship level in two to three years."
His teammates have taken notice as well. Veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell, a recent acquisition (dealt from the Ducks during training camp due to Anaheim's cap restraints) remarked on Quincey's talent.
"I remember a couple of seasons ago when we won the Cup with the Ducks, he was plugged into the lineup due to the injury to Mathieu Schneider," O'Donnell said. "He played very well and was really composed on the ice. I think it was a great move of the Kings to pick up him on waivers. He's been an anchor for us; he's played some really big minutes and played solid defense for us."
And finally, to say that his coach was pleasantly surprised by this new addition is an understatement. When asked about Quincey's arrival, Coach Murray admitted he didn't know the guy.
"He's been a really good player for us. He digs in, he competes, he's a real heavy player, and he plays the game the right way from the defense side," Murray said. "He's got great composure deep in his own end, he starts a lot of breakouts with those 8 to 10 foot passes and he's been a great add.
"Give credit to our pro scout, Robbie Laird who found this guy. I had no clue to who he was when we got him. We put in him the lineup to basically see what he could do in the NHL and he's improved every day."
It's these kinds of deals, and not $60 million free agent acquisitions, that really build championships.