General Manager Dean Lombardi, whose philosophy of building through the draft and prizing character provided the foundation of the Kings’ Stanley Cup championship last spring, has made a handshake agreement with the organization on a four-year contract extension through the 2016-17 season. The deal, expected to be finalized within days, will be announced at the same time as a long-term agreement with Coach Darryl Sutter, who took over in December 2011 and led the No. 8-seeded Kings on a dominant playoff run.
Those moves, and Lombardi’s ability to keep the Cup-winning roster nearly intact while putting the team in good shape for a lower salary cap next season, promise stability to a franchise that has rarely enjoyed such luxury.
“I’m excited about the prospect of continuing my partnership with Darryl as we strive to keep the team among the elite in the NHL,” Lombardi said.
Tim Leiweke, the Kings’ governor and chief executive of their parent company, AEG, told The Times that Lombardi’s deal will be made official before the Kings raise their championship banner on Saturday at Staples Center.
“He’s put together a great staff. He’s done a great job,” Leiweke said in an interview Sunday.
“The great thing about the Cup is it’s a huge reward to the patience of the fans. The hard thing about the Cup, and the challenge it will create for us, is once you’re on top of the mountain you’re probably going to be even angrier when you’re at the bottom of the mountain.
“So we prefer not to go through that again, and the challenge for all of us is how do we stay on top for a long period of time within a new cap world and not having the second pick in the draft anymore? And that will be Dean’s challenge going forward in these next few years.”
Lombardi was hired in April 2006. He inherited some talent but made great strides in replenishing the farm system and dispelling a losing culture.
He made mistakes but accumulated enough prospects and depth to trade for players who ably filled holes. The Kings made the playoffs in 2010 after an eight-year absence but lost in the first round. They also exited in the first round in 2011. After the team stumbled early last season, Lombardi made the difficult decision to fire Terry Murray and hire Sutter, who gave players more freedom without compromising defensively.
Leiweke said uncertainty over AEG owner Philip Anschutz’s sale of the company and Leiweke’s busy role in the process contributed to delaying Lombardi’s extension.
“There were some distractions in the course of the conversation,” Leiweke said. “Dean’s very intense, and so I think there is always a healthy friction in the relationship between Dean and I — and by the way, I think that’s to be said about just about everybody that deals with Dean.
“Dean’s intense and when he believes in something he’s even more intense. … He and I are very different human beings, but that probably is a healthy thing for the organization.”
Extending the contracts of Lombardi and Sutter and soon, that of Luc Robitaille, the Kings’ president of business operations, “has created great predictability and certainty no matter who the owners are,” Leiweke said.
He said Anschutz might not sell AEG if the right buyers aren’t found, but he said the process is down to a final group that is “very bullish about sports.”
Leiweke, Lombardi and Robitaille will join Anschutz’s wife, Nancy, as she distributes players’ Cup rings. The banner-raising ceremony is scheduled to include members of a hockey-loving family that lost a child in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings.
“It’s our effort to do something good for the game and use this moment to heal the rift that was created for them and for us,” Leiweke said. “The banner has a bit more of a meaning to us now because we accept a bit of a responsibility that there is a burden upon us to help get the game back. We’re well aware of the national platform we’re going to have.
“We’re well-aware of the attention we’re going to get. We’re not going to miss a moment to use that as an opportunity to heal wounds on all sides of the equation.”