Kings general manager Dean Lombardi fields questions during a press conference… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Moments after the Kings' season ended in the longest game in franchise history, General Manager Dean Lombardi walked into the dressing room and was confronted by silence.
There was a visible sense of disappointment and anger from players at the fact their Stanley Cup reign ended Saturday in a Game 5 double-overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
"There's almost no emotion," Lombardi said Sunday afternoon on a conference call. "You're almost frozen. There's so much going through your head, there's nothing going through your head. ... It's almost like you don't know what you've lost until it's gone — or whatever that saying is — until you've experienced it.
"You can't condone losing — you never want to do that — but I have to condone their sense of honor. They didn't quit. They fought through and given the history of it, they deserve to be commended for what they did accomplish."
What they accomplished was a run all the way to the Western Conference finals, something that the last three Cup champions were unable to manage. In fact, all three lost in the first round the next year.
The Kings also dealt with injuries to key players in the regular season and many more than they had last season. One of the major early concerns was goalie Jonathan Quick's off-season back surgery, which undermined his play in the first half of the season.
"It wasn't good enough, obviously," Quick said Sunday. "I wasn't very good throughout the regular season, a little better later in the season. Pretty good hockey for a couple of rounds and a big letdown in the Chicago series."
You could say the Kings' season was wrapped into a package, bookended by all things Chicago. It started Jan. 19 when Chicago watched the Kings raise their Stanley Cup banner at Staples Center and then pounced as the Kings never quite showed up for the opener.
It ended Saturday in Chicago when the Kings got started a little late, twice overcame deficits and were defeated by Patrick Kane's third goal of the game in the second overtime.
Quick echoed Lombardi's comments about disappointment and took them a step further.
"Well, you think about it, who finished 30th this year?" Quick said. " I think it was Colorado? But we're in the same boat as them. There are 29 teams that don't accomplish what they set out to and there's one team that does."
Lombardi did not want to use injuries as an excuse but did acknowledge the slumping Anze Kopitar was "banged up." Kopitar said later he was not carrying any significant injuries.
Those who were included center Mike Richards, who had a concussion, forward Justin Williams (separated shoulder), defenseman Drew Doughty (ankle) and team captain Dustin Brown (posterior cruciate knee ligament tear).
"There's no secret that we needed more from me in terms of the production this postseason," Kopitar said. "I honestly wish I could point a finger at something and do it different. It seemed like the cold streak came at the wrong time."
Lombardi thought that Kopitar was targeted more by the opposition after last year's championship and he had difficulty adjusting to the increased scrutiny.
"Just like the team faced different challenges, individuals faced different challenges," Lombardi said. "It was harder on him, just like it was harder on the team. But then I come back to the fact, again, wait a minute, this kid is like Drew [Doughty] and so many others, he is far from having maximized his potential.
"Some of them are going to take a little longer to figure it out, but deep down, they're a great group of kids. ... They are about each other. Deep down, they're all competitors and I have no doubt he's going to figure it out."
Lombardi already has gotten a head start on his off-season to-do list, having extended defenseman Robyn Regehr's contract. His priorities will be dealing with two unrestricted free agents, defenseman Rob Scuderi and forward Dustin Penner, along with two restricted free agents, defenseman Slava Voynov and goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
The Voynov talks will probably be the most costly, given that the young Russian defenseman had a breakout season and excelled in the playoffs. Bernier has been waiting in the wings for an opportunity to be an NHL starter, something he logically cannot do in Los Angeles with Quick's 10-year, $58-million contract extension set to start next season.
In all probability, Lombardi will be fielding trade offers for Bernier this summer. Scuderi's future with the Kings may hinge on whether the injured Willie Mitchell, who missed the entire season, could play again next season. Lombardi did say Mitchell has shown some improvement.
Penner, meanwhile, is a polarizing figure who once again played better in the playoffs than he did in the regular season. A year ago, the Kings signed him to a modest one-year contract extension. It may well be that the Kings could let him test the market, with a view to opening up a spot among the top six forwards for a young player such as Tyler Toffoli. Tanner Pearson, last year's No. 1 draft choice, is also a candidate to play as a regular next season.
"I'm going to try everything to bring the pieces back like I did last year,' Lombardi said. "It's just going to be a little more difficult.
"The most important thing is: The players want to be here because it's a good team and they can win. Now we [can] take advantage of the fact that this is one of the best places in the world to live. I'm confident these guys want to stay together.
"There's no question this is a very tight group."