Management Lessons from a Stanley Cup Champion

The Los Angeles Kings haven’t won the Stanley Cup yet, but they almost assuredly will. They’re up 3-0 in the best of seven final, and can clinch on home ice tonight.

The Kings are finishing up an incredible run. While they underachieved earlier in the season, they still entered the playoffs as the 8th seed in the west (their goal differential was 6th, so not far off what they probably merited). They are, so far, 15-2 in the playoffs. As this article notes, only the ’88 Oilers went 16-2; the only other team to lose 2 games in the playoffs was the vaunted ’77 Montreal Canadiens, though the then-shorter playoffs meant they only needed to win 12 games to secure the Cup. If the Kings lose tonight and win in Game 5? They’d equal the ’81 Islanders and ’85 Oilers, who both went 15-3 (when the first round was best-of-5). Their playoff run puts them in the company of the best teams from hockey’s most memorable dynasties of the past 35 years.

While the Kings’ run is certainly in part the benefit of a hot streak at the perfect time, their success is well-earned. There are a few lessons all of us can take from the Kings and apply to our respective organizations.

New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings 2.17.11
Flickr/Matthew D. Britt

Mine for Talent in Unconventional Places
The process of assembling this team has taken years – in particular, many successful drafts, but the 2005 draft would be the single most pivotal event. There, the Kings acquired both leading scorer Anze Kopitar and star netminer Jonathan Quick. Neither fits the profile of a conventional star. Kopitar, the top-ranked European skater, fell to the 11th pick. While he played in Sweden, he is from Slovenia, and was the first player from that country to play in the NHL. Quick came from the American prep school system (and, at 6’1, is slightly undersized for a goalie today), before playing at UMass-Amherst. While that has produced many successful pros, it does not enjoy the reputation of the Canadian leagues, or the higher profile American colleges. Kopitar was chosen 11th and Quick 72nd; both probably fell to where they did in part because of their pedigree, but have outperformed many chosen ahead of them with more conventional backgrounds.

Be Aggressive in Going for Your Goal
The Kings spent years acquiring (primarily young) talent, building one of the best groups of young players , both at the NHL level, and at the minor league and amateur levels. In the past 18 months, they began using some of this talent to build a team that could contend immediately. Key personnel like Dustin Penner, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter were all acquired in exchange for future draft picks, or recent high draft picks (and highly-regarded young players/prospects) like Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Schenn, Colton Teubert, and Jack Johnson. The Kings’ success in acquiring talent put them in a position to add the right pieces to flesh out a Stanley Cup contender. While in other industries you won’t have the benefit of trading talent (imagine if you could draft the best grads out of school!), but you can take to heart the lesson of timing – going above scope, or paying extra, to attract the right talent for the right initiative at the right time.

When Underperforming, Identify a Problem and Act Decisively
The Kings were struggling early in the season, and General Manager Dean Lombardi quickly replaced Head Coach Terry Murray, known for a laid-back style, with the more aggressive Darryl Sutter. Players credit Sutter with changing the environment.

A change in leadership isn’t an automatic benefit to a struggling organization, and can often make things worse. In this instance, the Kings correctly surmised that they had the right players to win, but needed a change in one specific role.

Show Your Personality, and Have Fun
One of the highlights of the Kings’ run has been following their entertaining Twitter account. Their social media activity has garnered many accolades, and with good reason. They’ve injected personality and fun into what is normally a staid, matter of fact activity – the corporate social media account. This has helped get the club attention, and I’d bet convert some fans, over the course of the past two months. People respond to personality, and fun, and the Kings have done a great job engaging and growing their audience.

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9 Responses

  1. No comment on the Kings’ arena district and its public funding, Alex?

  2. So, Alex Able Answer Abboud? Anything?

    I do appologise to deliver the message that the facts disagree with your opinions, if that’s of any use.

    • Interesting. That’s different than the information I found.

      More importantly, though, public vs. private funding isn’t really material to the content of my post, which was about the front office and on-ice moves of the club. I don’t obsess about arena funding, but don’t worry, I’ll write about LA Live another day.

      Also, in the future, I’d appreciate a day or two to respond. I don’t always have a chance to check in.

      • Appologies, truly. When I butt heads with others online about this issue, they do often put their heads in the sand and come right back repeating the same fallacies ad infinitum. (public funding has no justification whatsoever; single-season-facillities=year-round-facillities and can both be tarred by the same failures; arenas-drowning-in-surface-parking-lots=urban-designed-arenas; the Oilers couldn’t leave if they wanted; etc.) It somewhat restores my faith in humanity to see someone such as yourself take reality as it is and reconsider.

        True that funding isn’t really material to your post, that’s fair. I did think it was an appropriate segue though, considering we’ve discussed it before, and LA Live is a fairly similar concept to what we’re proposing here too, (some things we should adopt, some things we shouldn’t) and, you know, while we’re considering lessons from L.A…

        In truth, the fallacy-repeaters might actually be retarding the debate we should be having about the design, and rather than stopping anything, just making it worse. At this point, we _need_ some focus on making the expenditure fully worthwhile.

      • A fair question would be is whether or not (and to what extent) these new arenas help a team be successful on the ice.

      • That’s a hard question to answer, but guaranteed the Hartford Civic Centre, the Winnipeg Arena, and Le Colisee du Québec did not allow those cities to see a champion.

        Had any of those cities built the arena that their respective fan bases had justified back in the ’90’s, they would have kept their teams, their chances of championships, as well as their continental prominence. Other cities lost their teams due to lack of a fanbase, but those three prove that a competitive arena is key to retaining a team, and you definitely can’t win if you’re not in the league. Don’t be so naive to think the CA$ and the oil industry couldn’t decline in the future and put us right back in 1996.

        Truth be told, I’m not even personally very interested in hockey directly though. To me, this 100% about the city as a whole. We need a competitive downtown in order to compete to retain and attract people who have a choice where they live. Currently I would rank Edmonton’s downtown 19th out of the 20 largest cities in Canada (ahead of only Regina), and behind several smaller cities as well. Seriously, go to Prince Albert Saskatchewan and try to tell me we can even touch them. They have corner-to-corner, block-to-block retail frontage and upstairs residential and offices, consisting of so many standing historical buildings it’s like being in a living Ft. Edmonton Park, still peppered with little parks and galleries.

        I know things are creeping along downtown Edmonton, but it’s Vancouver and Toronto we have to compete with, and we’re not even on the radar.

        I grant that having an NHL team is critical to competitiveness as well, and there has always been the option of overhauling Northlands’ arena (likely with 100% public funding), but that is simply not going to help our downtown compete. We need downtown too.

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