In a meeting with Kings officials on April 30, the opening question was directed at Dean Lombardi, president and general manager, and it was about the future of his man behind the bench, Marc Crawford.
Lombardi responded by saying Crawford was the coach "right now."
Apparently, right now was just that.
The shelf-life of right now barely extended into June, and didn't even reach the upcoming NHL entry draft. Crawford's rocky two-season tenure with the Kings ended Tuesday when the team announced he would not be back for a third. He had one year left on his contract.
Despite Lombardi's quip, the move was a surprise in terms of timing. An immediate change after the season, in which the defensively challenged Kings (32-43-7) finished second-to-last overall in the NHL, would have been less of a stunner.
Lombardi, on a conference call with reporters, termed it "a gut call" in terms of projecting the team's future and accelerated youth movement.
What happened between the end of April and Crawford's firing, in part, amounted to an organizational change in philosophy.
"I think we looked at what's happening in free agency, where the payroll is, where it's going, we had the time to look at the draft and how it's going to affect us next year," Lombardi said. "We also had the time to look at some of our young players and where we think they'll be, in the last couple months, in terms of integrating them.
"It just comes down to, I guess, fit, and there's no doubt we're committed to the way we're going after my meeting with ownership this week. It's more evident than ever that they're committed to building a young core, for lack of a better term, the old-fashioned way."
And Crawford's previous NHL success, most notably in Colorado, has come with veteran players. If anything, the Kings will be getting much younger on the defensive end, an uneasy alliance with Crawford's often-bellicose, in-your-face management style.
His record with the Kings was 59-84-21 and he did not respond to several phone messages for comment.
"I think it's fair to say we did not expect the team to be out of the playoffs in January," Lombardi said. " . . . Certainly that goes into the equation when you're evaluating your coaching staff and players. The most important thing for me was going forward."
The search for the man who would be Kings' coach No. 22 may well start and finish in the hallways of the team's offices in El Segundo.
Lombardi said one member of the Kings' coaching staff would be considered for Crawford's spot: associate coach Mike Johnston, who also worked alongside Crawford in Vancouver.
Johnston is known as a sound technical coach, and well-schooled in the mold of other notable coaches out of the Hockey Canada system, such as Tom Renney of the New York Rangers and Andy Murray, formerly of the Kings and now with the St. Louis Blues.
In a later interview, Lombardi was asked by The Times whether he would be casting a wide net in his coaching search. "Not too wide," he said.
He gave Crawford the news in the morning and said it was a difficult day. In addition to a horrible season, Crawford was pulled into the headlines of the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore lawsuit in November.
Asked if he came close to making this move in December or January when the Kings were in a prolonged free fall, Lombardi said, "Not really. And I know there was a lot of speculation and everything."
The name Lombardi kept coming back to over and over throughout the afternoon was Darryl Sutter, his former coach in San Jose who is now the general manager in Calgary.
It was suggested, in jest, that Sutter was at the top of his wish list. "I can call Darryl Sutter, the general manager, to ask for permission to talk to Darryl Sutter, the coach," said Lombardi, joking.
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How Marc Crawford teams have done in the playoffs:
*--* Year, Team Postseason '94-95 Quebec Second Round '95-96 Colorado Won Stanley Cup '96-97 Colorado Conference Finals '97-98 Colorado Second Round '98-99 Vancouver Missed Playoffs '99-00 Vancouver Missed Playoffs '00-01 Vancouver Second Round '01-02 Vancouver Second Round '02-03 Vancouver Second Round '03-04 Vancouver Second Round '05-06 Vancouver Missed Playoffs '06-07 Kings Missed Playoffs '07-08 Kings Missed Playoffs *--*
Crawford's two seasons with the Kings, and place in Western Conference out of 15 teams:
*--* W L OTL Pts PL 2006-07 27 41 14 68 14 2007-08 32 43 7 71 15 Totals 59 84 21 139 *--*