They have difference-making players at goalie, defense, and center. They thrive on smothering, defensive-minded physicality. They have a post-lockout history of winning. Their coach demands three-zone attention to detail. They didn’t make the playoffs in 2014-15.
The Kings and Bruins share many things. Yet one club fired its general manager, dismissed three scouts, and left its coach uncertain about his future. The other stood pat.
Los Angeles’s sparkling track record of drafting and development is the primary reason the Kings determined that staying the course was the prudent decision.
“It was a perfect storm of hell for our team last year in every facet,” said Mark Yannetti, LA’s director of amateur scouting. “So you take a look at the team. Is it the team that didn’t make the playoffs? Or are they the team that won two Stanley Cups? I think they’re a whole lot closer to the team that won two Stanley Cups.”
The 44-year-old Yannetti is a native of Boxford who lives in Topsfield. The Williams College graduate has led LA’s amateur scouting staff since 2007. Yannetti’s work manifests in the Kings’ results.
Drew Doughty at No. 2 in 2008 was a four-bagger. So were Wayne Simmonds (No. 61, 2007) and Brayden Schenn (No. 5, 2009), both flipped to Philadelphia for Mike Richards before the Kings’ first Cup in 2012.
But the Kings have turned into a picks powerhouse in later rounds. In 2007, they drafted Alec Martinez and Dwight King in the fourth round. In 2008, LA used the No. 32 pick on Slava Voynov. In 2009, they took Kyle Clifford in the second round and Jordan Nolan in the seventh round. All five are two-time champions.
In 2010, general manager Dean Lombardi traded picks No. 49 and 109 to Colorado to move up two slots in the second round. They drafted Tyler Toffoli with the No. 47 pick. The 23-year-old Toffoli, LA’s No. 2 right wing during its 2013-14 Cup run, is developing into an excellent shoot-first player.
In 2013, Lombardi got anxious again. In the second round, the Kings had the No. 57 pick. They did not believe their targeted player would still be available. So Lombardi traded Nos. 57, 88, and 96 to Edmonton for No. 37. They used the pick on Valentin Zykov. The 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound wing has yet to play a pro game.
It hasn’t mattered when the Kings have picked. They’ve had hits up and down the draft, through their own picks or ones that belonged to others. Yannetti, who is one of LA’s seven full-time amateur scouts (one of the league’s leanest groups), likes certain tendencies in players. His preferences balance out those of his colleagues.
Together, they assemble their draft board. When necessary, Lombardi trades to get the players his scouts want.
“You’ve probably heard, ‘We’re going to bang on the table for this guy,’ ” Yannetti said. “That stuff? I have zero time for that. Bang on the table? If you’re going to bang on the table, somebody’s doing something wrong. With our guys, it doesn’t matter who says what. Everyone’s voice is heard. Nobody’s fighting to get attention. Nobody’s trying to talk over anyone.”
Picks, while precious to the Kings, are also flexible. They sent their 2015 first-rounder to Carolina for Andrej Sekera on Feb. 25. But they got it back after they missed the playoffs. As a condition of the trade, the Kings could choose to trade Carolina their 2016 first-rounder instead if they didn’t make the postseason.
They entered the draft preparing to pick No. 13 overall. But then Lombardi used it in a package to acquire Milan Lucic from the Bruins. It was a price they felt was worth landing a No. 1 left wing to play with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik.
“We gave up quite a bit,” Lombardi said in a conference call. “We do not give up that unless that player is a fit. This isn’t done unless it’s that type of player.”
LA’s process sputtered in 2014-15. For multiple reasons — fatigue, bad luck, Voynov’s domestic violence charge and subsequent suspension, Richards’s downturn in concert with his high cap hit — the Kings didn’t make the playoffs.
“It was just never a consideration, whether that’s competitiveness, arrogance, or lack of reality,” Yannetti said of missing the postseason. “You expect certain things out of yourself. You expect certain things out of your team. It didn’t sink in until it sunk in. At that moment, it was a complete shift. That’s fine. Even though we didn’t think it would happen, we prepared ourselves for that eventuality. We started to shift our focus into different areas.”
Lucic becomes one of LA’s rare outsiders. Doughty, Toffoli, Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, and Tanner Pearson, all drafted and developed internally (Mike Donnelly, Nelson Emerson, Mike O’Connell, and Glen Murray lead the development process), are waiting for another crack at challenging Chicago as the league’s premier franchise.
“It’s unacceptable,” Yannetti said of missing the playoffs. “It’s unacceptable from Dean, down to me, down to anybody. It’s unacceptable from top to bottom, players to management. That being said, you still have a good feeling about the team.”
The Kings built the best foundation in the business. They felt no need to tear down their house.
WAITING IN THE WINGS
Weal exemplifies approach in LA
Jordan Weal had a dream season in Manchester, LA’s AHL affiliate. Weal and the Monarchs won the Calder Cup. The third-year pro was named AHL playoff MVP after scoring a league-best 22 points in 19 games. The center has a very good chance of cracking the Kings’ roster this fall.
Scoring was never hard for Weal. In 2009-10, his draft year, Weal registered a 35-67—102 line in 72 games for Regina of the WHL, just four points off teammate Jordan Eberle’s pace.
Just five years ago, however, 29 other teams were concerned about Weal’s size. He is a 5-10, 171-pound center. He doesn’t have Tyler Johnson’s blazing speed. But in 2010-11, when Johnson shredded the WHL with 53 goals and 62 assists, Weal wasn’t far behind. That year, Weal scored 43 goals and 53 assists.
The Kings have big, heavy players such as Anze Kopitar, Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown on their payroll. But they had no issues drafting Weal 70th overall. On the ice, they identified his intelligence and shifty skating. During interviews, Weal came across as driven to make the NHL despite his size.
“The thinking is antiquated. The thinking is irrelevant,” Kings director of amateur scouting Mark Yannetti said. “The way guys perceive lack of size? I think that’s antiquated. Now, size matters. If he’s small and he can’t skate, or if he’s small and he can’t think, or if he’s small and he’s scared, then size definitely matters. If you’re 6-foot-4 and not a great skater, size matters. It’s the perception of size that doesn’t matter.”
When Weal arrived in Manchester for his first season in 2012-13, his defensive game was not at pro standards. The coaching and development staffs went to work. Weal started to learn the defensive side, which kick-started his offensive game.
After a 33-point rookie season, Weal doubled that output in 2013-14, when he scored 70 points. In 2014-15, Weal scored 20 goals and 49 assists.
His in-tight skating — changing speeds, shifting weight, executing sharp cuts and exiting from them — made up for what he didn’t have in top-end speed. His head put him several steps ahead of his competition.
“He’s an elite thinker,” Yannetti said. “The way he sorts the game, his creativity, the way he reads and recognizes space with and without the puck. His mind allowed him to deal with spatial things in a way that helps compensate for size.”
On Thursday, Weal’s entry-level contract will expire. With zero games of NHL experience, Weal will be cheap to re-sign. On a cap-crunch team such as LA, every dollar counts. LA is still responsible for Mike Richards and his $5.75 million annual hit. Kopitar, LA’s version of Patrice Bergeron, will be an unrestricted free agent after 2015-16.
Next year, Weal will be a good candidate to replace Jarret Stoll on the third line. With Kopitar and Carter doing the heavy lifting, Weal will be in position to take advantage of weaker matchups.
Had Weal been slightly taller and heavier, another team would have nabbed him with a higher pick.
“By all rights as a player, he shouldn’t be going in the third round,” Yannetti said. “So here’s his negative: size. Here’s what he does to compensate. So you think he’s going to make it. For me, sitting in the third round at the table, a third-round pick on Jordan Weal? You want to take risk-reward on size? For our staff, it was a no-brainer.”
Quinn likely will stay put at BU
David Quinn is happy at Boston University. In his second season as Jack Parker’s replacement, the BU alum fell one win short of an NCAA title. On Thursday, Quinn signed a five-year deal to remain at BU. He enjoys the progression of dealing with players from recruits to alums.
So it would take a very good deal, such as the one that pulled North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol to Philadelphia, to convince Quinn to leave BU.
Hakstol’s hiring showed that NHL teams are thinking progressively about tabbing NCAA coaches. Others who would make good pros include Enrico Blasi (Miami University), Nate Leaman (Providence), and Norm Bazin (UMass-Lowell).
Quinn, who coached in the Colorado organization for four seasons (three as head coach in Lake Erie, one as an Avalanche assistant), belongs in this group. He’s smart, driven, and positive.
“You never say never,” Quinn said about returning to the NHL before signing his extension. “But I love it here. I work at my alma mater. I work at a place that cares about hockey. It gives you all the resources to have success. I can build relationships with players — lifelong relationships. It’s different in pro hockey.”
Goaltending emphasis in Buffalo
The Sabres finally landed their projected ace goalie on Friday, acquiring Robin Lehner and David Legwand from Ottawa for the No. 21 pick. Buffalo GM Tim Murray is familiar with Lehner, having been Ottawa’s assistant GM. Lehner is coming off a significant concussion that opened the door for Andrew Hammond. The Hamburglar played so well that he earned a three-year extension, which allowed the Senators to move Lehner. Legwand, meanwhile, will be a mentor for Jack Eichel. The Sabres were not planning to end the process of upgrading their goaltending with the Lehner acquisition. Before the draft, Murray stated his preference to pick at least one goalie every year because of the position’s volatility. “I think they’re a little more of a wild card than a forward or defenseman,” Murray told Buffalo reporters. “You’ve seen guys like Pekka Rinne, who was an eighth-round pick. I think you should throw a dart on a goalie in every draft.”
Coach’s challenge on the way
On Wednesday, the NHL Board of Governors approved the introduction of the coach’s challenge in 2015-16. The rule will allow a coach to use his challenge only if he has not used his timeout. League-initiated review not involving the timeout will happen only in the final minute of the third period and at any point of overtime. Because of the timeout stipulation, a coach is unlikely to call his timeout early in the game, for example, to halt momentum if his team is getting shelled.
Good value for Stone
Ottawa made a crackling signing on Thursday by extending Mark Stone for three seasons at $3.5 million annually. Stone would have been restricted on Wednesday. It’s good money for one year of NHL production. The right wing scored 64 of his 72 career NHL points in 2014-15. Other teams might have wanted to see another year of service before pegging Stone’s average annual value higher than comparables such as Ondrej Palat ($3,333,333) and Kyle Okposo ($2.8 million). But one season was enough of a window for Ottawa to determine that Stone is a top-two right wing. While Stone lands a good salary, the Senators win by securing a three-year term. Stone could have chosen a one- or two-year extension, then clobbered the Senators with a hefty third contract assuming he follows his expected development curve.
The NHL did not do the teams’ hockey operations groups any good with its scheduling and locations of the GM meetings (Tuesday, Las Vegas) and the draft (Friday and Saturday, Sunrise). Bruins GM Don Sweeney, for example, took a red-eye from Las Vegas to South Florida after the meetings. The decision didn’t just place GMs on the other side of the country from their colleagues heading into the most important weekend of the year, it also taxed the GMs by forcing them to fly from one coast to the other. With draft boards, trades, and RFA/UFA interviews on their agendas, GMs needed to be at their freshest physically and clearest mentally. The travel schedule did not allow that to happen.
GMs fail Vezina test
Three GMs did not consider Carey Price worthy of their first-place Vezina votes. Pekka Rinne, Devan Dubnyk, and Henrik Lundqvist each nabbed one apiece, keeping Price from sweeping the voting. Price should have been a unanimous selection given his dominance (44-16-6, 1.96 goals-against average, .933 save percentage, nine shutouts) on a flawed Montreal team. Price saved 36.51 goals above a replacement-level goalie, according to www.war-on-ice. Cory Schneider was No. 2 in that category, saving 29.93 goals above replacement level. Schneider, meanwhile, did not even qualify among the top nine in the Vezina ranking. Andrew Hammond, Jonathan Quick, and Cam Talbot tied for seventh place. None of those three came close to approaching Schneider’s performance. Perhaps the GMs did not have enough time to study the results closely enough. For that reason alone, they did not do the voting justice.
Toffoli takes what’s offered
On Friday, before acquiring Milan Lucic, the Kings signed Tyler Toffoli to a two-year, $6.5 million extension. Toffoli could have asked for more given his 37 career goals in 148 games. Had Toffoli waited for a better deal, LA would have been unable to land Lucic. “If Tyler Toffoli doesn’t step up and do this, we can’t do this deal,” GM Dean Lombardi said of the Lucic trade. “We’d expose ourselves to an offer sheet. He realized his time will come. He took a good deal and didn’t try and shoot for the moon. That allows us to make ourselves better.”
Peter Chiarelli already has forgotten his American geography. Before announcing his selection of Connor McDavid, the Edmonton GM thanked the “city of Florida” for its hospitality . . . It’s possible that Jack Eichel will announce his decision to go pro in concert with a sponsorship deal. McDavid signed with CCM Hockey earlier this month . . . If your local fireworks seem a little weak on Saturday, you can blame the Bruins. They used them all up by trading Lucic and Dougie Hamilton.
With three championships in seven seasons with Chicago, Joel Quenneville became the fourth NHL coach in the Expansion Era (since 1967-68) to win at least three Stanley Cups. Quenneville stacks up quite well with the other three, all Hall of Famers, and is the only one to be unbeaten in the playoff round that matters most.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.