Kings General Manger Dean Lombardi speaks to the media before a game in February… (Andrew D. Bernstein / NHLI…)
When Dean Lombardi landed his first job in the front office with an NHL franchise, he didn't purchase a house by one of the 10,000-plus lakes in Minnesota or dabble in the rental apartment market.
This was the home address for a newly minted assistant general manager for six months: Met Center, Bloomington, Minn. The office of North Stars GM Jack Ferreira.
"He had it made," said Ferreira, who is now a special assistant to Lombardi in Los Angeles. "There was a sofa in my office. A TV. Used to be a restaurant up top. The gal that ran it used to leave food for Dean at night.
"He had the keys to everything in the building. He'd go up there when he was hungry and fix himself something to eat. She'd always leave him food."
From the sofa squatter to four wins away from the Kings landing in the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in franchise history. Game 1 of the Western Conference final between the Kings and Coyotes is Sunday at Phoenix.
In between his first NHL stop in 1988 and his current position as the Kings' president and GM, Lombardi thrived as the San Jose GM, hit a valley and was fired in 2003, and was later hired as a scout by Philadelphia, absorbing the Flyers' mystique like a healing balm.
Those years prepared him for a Kings renovation job when he joined them in 2006.
Bobby Clarke, then the Flyers' GM, was largely responsible for pulling Lombardi out of the darkness after his dismissal from San Jose. Lombardi had been occupying himself on his farm in Northern California.
"Clarkie would call me every two weeks because he knew it wasn't easy," Lombardi said. "He said, 'OK, time to get going.' Thank God I had a place for manual labor. If I didn't have that, I would have been a basket case.
"You can't sit around and do nothing. I think it's similar to what Darryl [Sutter] went through. You go up to his farm and see. You're drained and you don't want to think about hockey."
There are some parallels to what Clarke did for Lombardi and the phone call Sutter received from his old friend Lombardi in December, when the Kings made a coaching change.
Lombardi fired Sutter in 2002 as the Sharks' coach, but any tension from that situation eventually eased. Sutter took the Flames to the Finals in 2004, gave up coaching in 2006 and resigned as Calgary's GM in late 2010.
"I didn't want him to go too long away," Lombardi said in an interview in his office at the Kings' headquarters in El Segundo "You go up and step away from it. Just like I got more rounded with experience … that hasn't changed [for him]."
Lombardi and Sutter are open with their players, though they get to the destination in different ways.
Sutter is a man of few words.
He likes to quote Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Winston Churchill and throw in a mention of Gettysburg. And he turned into a man of science after the scoreboard clock controversy at Staples in February against Columbus, explaining: "Those clocks are sophisticated instruments that calculate time by measuring electrical charges called coulombs."
"He's a very intense guy," said Kings center Mike Richards. "I think I was in there about two hours the first trip I was down here in July, just talking about everything. He's a unique, intense GM.
"Dean wears his heart on his sleeve. If there's something that needs to be said, he doesn't beat around the bush. He's not shy to voice his opinion."
Lombardi will even quiz reporters on obscure passages from movies before answering their questions.
"That's just Dean," Richards said. "That's how he gets his metaphors across. You'll get the point by the end of it."
Furthermore, the lawyer in Lombardi is not far from the surface.
"He likes to propose questions that he's already researched any answer that you could possibly give back to him," said Kings defenseman Matt Greene. "So he has his rebuttal ready."
Lombardi is used to getting teased about his lengthy meetings with players in his office.
"I enjoy that part of the job," he said. "Maybe it's like my wife said, because we don't have kids, you think you've got 20 at the rink. Other than winning, the second-best part of the job is watching these guys be the best they can, watching them grow up.
"Watching them make mistakes on and off the ice. But then watching them hug each other when they have success is the best part of this job."