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Pacific: Kings eschew the quick fix for long-term gains

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Doug Ward | correspondent
May 8, 2007, 12:00 PM EDT

In Southern California, springtime has become Duck season.

It's the time of year when the Kings routinely find themselves playing a round of golf that's followed by a 19th hole spent watching as their nearest rivals go deep in the postseason.

If Anaheim General Manager Brian Burke is in the midst of building the a new millennium version of the New York Islanders, then it is incumbent upon to King GM to make sure his team does not become Southern California's version of the New York Rangers, circa 1941-1993.

After a year on the job, Lombardi looks like a man who knows opting for a quick fix can be like stepping in quicksand. Lombardi's refusal to swap the Kings' future for aging veterans who might be able to offer immediate help has his team moonwalking. The Kings won just 27 games last year after winning 42 in 2005-06.

But taking a few steps backward might be the best thing for the long-term progress of the Kings. Even if it means another off-season devoid of the kind of blockbuster deal that could dramatically change the team's outlook for next season. When Lombardi's predecessor, Dave Taylor, was reassigned after the 2005-06 season, he left a well-stocked cupboard. In Anze Kopitar, Mike Cammalleri, Alexander Frolov, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Dustin Brown, Lombardi inherited a talented group of young players that provide the Kings with a promising foundation. At 30, Visnovsky is the oldest of those core players.

Last September, Lombardi's first significant deal in Los Angeles was aimed at bolstering his team's future, as he acquired 20-year-old defenseman Jack Johnson from Carolina, in exchange for Tim Gleason and Eric Belanger.

How Lombardi spends his second summer in Southern California will go a long way toward determining how the Kings spend the next couple of winters. If the Lombardi makes only minor tweaks, it will become clear that this is a team willing to take a few lumps on its way back to competitiveness.

Should Lombardi remain unwilling to part with any of his youngsters, he could, of course, augment his roster by adding a veteran presence through free agency. Buffalo's Daniel Briere, 29, and Chris Drury, 30, are among the players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, and either would be a welcome addition.

Until the Kings get a little further along in their renovations, however, they might not be able to attract top-tier players who can write their own ticket.

After signing Dan Cloutier as a free agent last summer and then handing him a two-year extension before he appeared in a game for the Kings, the organization no longer has the luxury of throwing money at their persistent goaltending woes.

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