It has been a long rebuild for Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi. Hired in April 2006, he's been through four coaches, three more playoff-less years, two first-round exits, and a lot of patience as he steadily built a team capable of reaching the Western Conference final in 2012.
But as long as Lombardi's wait has been, it's nothing compared to how long Kings fans have waited to revisit this precious land. Last time they were here was 1993, when they advanced to the Stanley Cup final.
Since that fabled run:
- Wayne Gretzky played 443 more regular season games, most of them for two other NHL teams.
- Gretzky turned 40 ... and 50.
- Drew Doughty turned 4.
- Gretzky's daughter Paulina -- just 4 years old herself at the time of that 1993 playoff run -- grew up and became, ahem, famous for other reasons.
- Local football legend O.J. Simpson became re-famous for, ahem, other other reasons.
- Marty McSorley, whose illegal stick famously turned the 1993 Stanley Cup final, was suspended and put on probation for a two-handed stick swing to Donald Brashear's skull.
- Jacques Demers, the victorious Montreal Canadiens coach in 1993, told people he was illiterate.
- Barry Melrose, the losing Kings coach that year, began displaying his unique hockey literacy from a TV studio.
- Gretzky became part-owner and coach of an NHL team in Phoenix ... which was still in Winnipeg in 1993.
- That team went into bankruptcy, was taken over by the league, and won its first playoff series since 1987 ... then won another to reach the conference finals this month for the first time ever. To face the Kings, of course.
- The NHL added another team to the Kings' smoggy, congested neighborhood of casually interested sports fans. That team went to the finals in 2003 and won California's first Stanley Cup in 2007.
- The New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and those Anaheim Ducks each won their first Stanley Cups.
- Luc Robitaille was traded, came back, left as a free agent, won a Cup elsewhere, came back again, retired and entered the Hockey Hall of Fame.
- Los Angeles lost an NFL team.
- Los Angeles lost another NFL team.
- Los Angeles added an MLS team.
- Los Angeles added another MLS team.
California AnaheimLos Angeles Angels of Anaheim won the World Series; the Los Angeles Dodgers did not.
- The Kings switched from their Gretzky-era black and silver, to a hybrid of black and silver and purple with a new logo, then swapped logos again, then abandoned purple again for just black and silver and their simplest logo yet.
So much has transpired since the Kings last went this deep. And so much has transpired this season to take an underachieving team on the playoff bubble to a team that's suddenly a favorite for its first ever Cup. Why, here is something that's happened since just late February 2012: The team's beat writer for the Los Angeles Times wrote an article titled, "Dean Lombardi's Job Could Be On The Line," leading off with:
This could be the most important week of Dean Lombardi's six seasons as general manager of the Kings.
If he acquires a high-impact scorer by the trade deadline of noon Pacific time Monday, he can salvage a season that began with high expectations but descended into a grim battle to score goals and make the playoffs.
Failure to reach the postseason could cost Lombardi his job and there would be no reason to argue he should stay.
Not only did Lombardi find that scorer in Jeff Carter, he did it in a rare "addition by subtraction and addition" trade, shedding Jack Johnson's contract and his defensive zone walkabouts while creating space for upcoming young Kings defensemen like Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez to permanently fill the void, as it were.
The Kings have now won eight of their first nine playoff games. They've knocked off two Western Conference favorites. They're in the Conference finals for the first time since the last time they abandoned their purple roots to wear "none more black" from head to toe.
And Dean Lombardi's job is not on the line.