The Kings are waiting for a response after having made what was described as a “very fair” contract offer to their two-time Stanley Cup winning coach, Darryl Sutter, and continue to work toward signing forward Milan Lucic to an agreement before he hits free agency on July 1.
The offer is believed to be for two years plus an option year.
A bit of clarity emerged about the organization’s direction as Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi spoke for the first time since his club was eliminated two weeks ago in the first round of the playoffs. Lombardi on Friday described the loss to the San Jose Sharks as a “punch in the gut.”
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2014, the Kings have missed the playoffs and lost in the opening round. Lombardi has spent the last two weeks immersed in meetings and went beyond his usual season-ending soul-searching, admitting — to a certain degree — they got “a little full of ourselves” after the Stanley Cup successes, and the organization stagnated.
“You can’t approach things, ‘This worked in the past,’ all we have to do is go back and do it this way again and we’ll recapture it. This season clearly demonstrated that’s not the case and there’s a reason why,” Lombardi said on a conference call.
“Your players are different, your economic chemistry is different. Your spiritual chemistry is different and you stop striving to take the next step….I had this premonition coming before the playoffs and I could see it. You could see it within every part of the organization.
“…Now once again, failure is the best teacher. We have to get back on that path, the innovation, the spark, the challenge that was there seven years ago when we were coming from the gutter. You’ve got to get it back.”
At the top of Lombardi’s to-do list is re-signing Sutter, who has not spoken since the night of the Kings’ first-round exit and is without a contract. Sutter is 186-112-45 since replacing Terry Murray as head coach on Dec. 20, 2011.
In addition, the Kings are 42-27 in the playoffs, have won the Stanley Cup twice, and made it the Western Conference finals a third time. Sutter is considered one of the NHL’s best bench coaches and — along with assistants John Stevens, Davis Payne and Bill Ranford — has the Kings near the top of the league in possession stats, a key measure in assessing performance in the modern-day NHL.
Most certainly, Sutter will be obliged to play a younger lineup next season, given the team’s salary-cap challenges. But he and his family appear to enjoy life in Southern California, and his son Chris is a fixture at most home games. Indications are that Sutter likes the personal and professional fit here.
“Yes, that would be my take,” Lombardi said. “Which is why I’m not concerned, like I said.”
Notable coaching deals include Mike Babcock signing an eight-year contract worth a reported $50 million with the Toronto Maple Leafs almost a year ago, and Todd McLellan coming to terms with Edmonton last May for a reported $3 million per year for five years.
“I think there’s an offer that’s certainly respectable,” Lombardi said. “But I don’t think this is about money. I think it is, ‘OK are we ready to do this?’ Because it’s going to be a lot of work. Just like building it in the past, you had to stick with some tough times.
“We’re not going back to there [to 2007], but make no mistake, we’re going to get this back on track. There’s going to be some minor punches in the gut, too, as we fight our way through.”
For Lombardi and Sutter, the task ahead is slightly different than the one they handled together when they reconnected with the Kings. They previously worked together as a GM/coach tandem in San Jose.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re in unchartered waters,” Lombardi said. “When I brought him here, we had great experience building. We knew what we wanted to do. There’s safety in doing things the same way after you’ve won….Now you have to fix it. That’s a different challenge from what any of us had faced because we never won before.”
Follow Lisa Dillman on Twitter: @reallisa