Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 5/27/12
Dustin Brown was at the Toyota Sports Center when a courted Ilya Kovalchuk visited the Los Angeles Kings' offices and practice facility in the summer of 2010. The two eventual Stanley Cup Finalists exchanged the friendly pleasantries one would expect between a pair of conference-separated forwards who had appeared against each other in a regular season NHL game only four times. "It was so brief that it was hard to really gather any type of feeling for him," Brown said of the encounter. Kovalchuk eventually signed an NHL-amended 15-year, 100 million dollar contract with the New Jersey Devils in July, 2010, setting off a pair of organizational trajectories that after several deflections, re-directions and poke checks have led both franchises to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Interestingly, another free agent who spurned the Kings to play in the less-travel burdened Atlantic Division, Brad Richards, skated opposite Kovalchuk in the Eastern Conference Finals. Back on subject, of course, this is Year 6 of Dean Lombardi's tenure as president and general manager of the Kings, a team he has reshaped the culture and constitution of. Over his tenure, there has been much discussion of his "Five Year Plan", a blueprint that seemed right on the money when Terry Murray became the third coach in club history to lead the team to at least 100 points while tying the franchise record of 46 wins in 2009-10. Dwindling point totals the following two seasons and an ominous eighth seed entering the 2012 playoffs have both been wiped away in the span of six weeks as Los Angeles captured its second conference championship, a symbolic feat that represents the completion of the club's overhaul and rebuilding process. Reports such as Chris Foster's 2006 L.A. Times feature identified several emblematic shortcomings when Lombardi took over anecdotally, there were staff members still using typewriters at the time that had hindered the success of a team in need of a gutting both schematically and operationally. Six years later and only four wins from the Stanley Cup, the club is drawing praise from the Sports Business Journal for its innovative approach to digital marketing and social media. On the ice, several of Lombardi's very first player personnel moves have paid dividends for this current Kings team. His first trade occurred on draft day, 2007, when Pavol Demitra was sent to the Minnesota Wild for Patrick O'Sullivan and the 17th overall pick. That 17th pick was used on Trevor Lewis, who has six playoff points, after their 11th pick netted central scouting's top-ranked goalie, Jonathan Bernier. O'Sullivan was eventually part of a three-team trade that acquired Justin Williams in March, 2009. Williams has 149 points in his L.A. tenure and plays an integral role alongside Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar on the team's highest scoring line. "When I came in, it was three and a half years ago, the team was kind of trying to find their way. I'm just another piece that was brought in to fill up this roster. Year by year we've improved." Among the players Los Angeles drafted and developed, former general manager Dave Taylor had already supplied several key pieces. Kopitar (11th overall) and Jonathan Quick (72nd overall) had been taken in 2005, while Brown was selected 13th overall in 2003 one of five first round picks from that draft that will be appearing in the Stanley Cup Final, along with Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Zach Parise and Steve Bernier. Though Lombardi is yet to have drafted a player to Los Angeles who has become an NHL All-Star Drew Doughty, selected second overall in 2008, was named to the Young Stars game in 2009 his drafting between 2007 and 2009 has populated the current Kings roster with several second rounders and a handful of players chosen in the later rounds. In 2007, L.A. used a pair of fourth round picks on Alec Martinez and Dwight King before opting for Slava Voynov in the second round of the 2008 draft. Kyle Clifford was a second round pick in 2009, followed by an over-age Jordan Nolan, who was selected in the seventh round, 186th overall, four days after his 20th birthday. The most pronounced stamp Lombardi and the team's hockey operations staff have put on this team have come through trades. By acquiring Cup-experienced veterans Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll in exchange for Lubomir Visnovsky in June, 2008, the club's work ethic and defensive structure began to take shape. Even when Ryan Smyth had backed the team into a tough position by requesting a trade back to his native Alberta last summer, Lombardi made the most of the situation by prying from Edmonton a character defensive center who had won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010 as a tight-checking, defensive forward. Colin Fraser may not have accumulated the 2011-12 point total of Gilbert Brule another player mentioned at the time as a potential acquisition in exchange for Smyth but added another two-way option to an already-deep center corps and brought the character, hockey acumen and compete level perfectly befitting a fourth line center. The acquisition of Richards for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second round draft pick signaled the reversal of roles from earlier in the team's turnaround. Not only were they acquiring a skilled forward in the prime of his career, they were also receiving another positionally sound player with two-way intelligence that meshed well with the team's responsible characteristics. By dealing from a position of depth to acquire a position of need when Carter was brought in for Jack Johnson and a first round draft pick, Lombardi took pressure off a struggling Kings offense and opened up greater possibilities for the Brown-Kopitar-Williams line. Since the last bit of roster tinkering, Los Angeles has won 25 of 35 games. "I'm sure Jersey's not sitting there, saying 'Oh, look, we're playing an eight seed,'" Brown said.
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