Following a disappointing conclusion to the 2016 season, the Los Angeles Kings were reaching a pivotal fork in the road about the franchise’s direction. In the season prior, the biggest acquisition in Milan Lucic failed, for he walked into free agency and signed with the rival Edmonton Oilers. For back-to-back years, the Kings surrendered first-round picks for players who walked after the season ended: Andrej Sekera and Milan Lucic. Their captain, one of the best power forwards in the league, looked to be in severe decline. Four seasons had passed without a 30-point season.
Changes were coming, and for a championship team that followed up missing the playoffs with a five-game first-round exit, these changes would significantly affect the future. The writing on the wall started to reach the floor.
To kick off the offseason before 2016-2017, the King’s signature move was to transfer power from Dustin Brown to Anze Kopitar as captain. It was a move that came with mixed feelings, including those from the man himself. Dustin Brown took over the captaincy in 2008 when the team was in the cellar. He raised the cup twice as captain, transforming the culture into a winning team, a destination for players to come and win.
The Kings had some dubious preseason moves, which included signing a fallen star on a PTO in Devin Setoguchi. They signed former Kings player Teddy Purcell and an aging Tom Gilbert. None of these moves would pan out for the Kings.
Key Moments of a Failed Season
Before the season started, star winger Marian Gaborik was already slated to miss some time. Upon his return in late November, it appeared that the Kings were going to be healthy and make a push to start rolling. Unfortunately, the up-and-coming sniper, Tyler Toffoli, goes down on December 20th and misses over a month of action before his return in February.
On January 20th, the Kings were given another gut punch when blossoming defenseman Derek Forbort went down and was put on LTIR. Dean Lombardi was active on the phones and sent Peter Budaj and Erik Cernak to Tampa Bay for Ben Bishop on February 26th. (Cernak would be a key figure in Tampa Bay’s two championships. On March 1st, Lombardi also traded for a legendary but aged player in Jarome Iginla. These moves were more of headscratchers than anything and looked to be made out of desperation than momentum swinging in favor of longevity. The Kings never put it all together to make a final push to reach the postseason.
LA finished the season 9-8-2 the last two months and was kept out of the playoffs again. Elsewhere in the division, the Oilers were on the rise, though Milan Lucic would turn out to burn them as well.
The Kings ended with a record of 39-35-8 to 86 points and fifth in the Pacific Division. Though the team finished 6th in goals allowed per game to maintain their identity while decimated by injury, the Kings’ ownership group would not accept missing the playoffs for the 2nd time in 3 years.
Continuity never really seemed to spark during the 2016-17 season, and in Daryl Sutter’s North and South style of hockey, it’s imperative to be in sync. Sutter’s coaching style was already souring in the locker room, with the locking out of the coach from the locker room in Tampa a few years prior.
Dean Lombardi, the longest-serving LA Kings General Manager, was ousted. Ousted with him was Darryl Sutter, the two-time Cup-winning coach. An era of championships was over. The Kings had risen out of the gutter to be the premier team in the league just to fall from grace. Many players’ actions, including Mike Richards, Slava Voynov, and Jarret Stall, failed Dean Lombardi. But he also overplayed his hand and threw the kitchen sink at risky trades in an all-out, win-now championship window.
Darryl Sutter, an old-school, hard-nosed, and hard-pressed man, pushed the players like Alexander did his soldiers across the Gedrosian desert. The straw had been broken, and the camel could go no further. The then assistant GM ascended to the task at hand: Rebuild.
(Steps In), Rob Blake.