The Los Angeles Kings on Monday fired coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi, the duo that led the franchise to its only two Stanley Cup championships.
The Kings promoted former defenseman Rob Blake to vice president and general manager. Longtime executive Luc Robitaille was promoted to team president in charge of all hockey and business operations.
The moves bring an emphatic end to the best era in the mostly ordinary history of the Kings, a Second Six expansion franchise. Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, but hasn't won a playoff round since.
"This was an extremely difficult decision and was made with an enormous amount of consideration for what we have accomplished in our past," said Dan Beckerman, the president of AEG, the sports conglomerate that owns the Kings. "But the present and future of our organization is the highest priority."
The Kings (39-35-8) missed the playoffs this spring for the second time in three years with their worst record since 2009. They finished 10th in the 14-team Western Conference, fading down the stretch with a veteran-laden team that struggled to keep up with faster, younger opponents.
Since shortly after his playing career ended, Blake has been an executive under Lombardi, who has run the Kings since April 2006. Lombardi built a Cup-winning franchise and then undermined it by handing out lucrative contracts to underachieving veterans, and many of his recent moves didn't pan out.
Robitaille has been in charge of the Kings' business operations for the past 10 years. Both Blake and Robitaille are Hall of Fame players, and both are former Kings captains, playing 14 seasons apiece with the franchise.
"Words cannot express our gratitude and appreciation for what Dean and Darryl have accomplished for the Kings franchise," Beckerman said. "They built this team and helped lead us to two Stanley Cup Championships and will forever be remembered as all-time greats in Kings history. But with that level of accomplishment comes high expectations, and we have not met those expectations for the last three seasons. With the core players we have in place, we should be contending each year for the Stanley Cup. Our failure to meet these goals has led us to this change."
Sutter is the winningest coach in Kings history. He went 225-147-53 after taking over in December 2011 and reteaming with Lombardi, his friend and former boss in San Jose.
Sutter immediately injected discipline and passion into an underachieving group, and the Kings shocked the hockey world by rampaging through the postseason as the eighth seed in the West, going 16-4 and winning the first Stanley Cup in their 45-year history.
The Kings made it all the way back to the Western Conference finals in 2013, losing a tough series to eventual champion Chicago. They won it all again in 2014, rallying back from a 3-0 series deficit against San Jose in the first round before storming to a second title.
But then the mediocre times started: In 2015, Los Angeles became the fourth team in NHL history to miss the playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup. After a bounce-back season last year in which they lost the Pacific Division title in their 82nd game, the Kings were easily knocked out of the first round by the Sharks last spring.
The Kings never came together this season despite a wealth of top-end talent including Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Drew Doughty, All-Star forward Jeff Carter and captain Anze Kopitar.
Los Angeles' 201 goals were tied for the fifth-fewest in the NHL, and the Kings seemed ill-equipped to skate with many of the West's young, fast clubs. The Kings again were among the NHL's best defensive teams in front of Jonathan Quick, but they couldn't match the pace of the league's top teams, particularly California's other two NHL powerhouses and the young, fast Pacific Division rivals in Alberta.
With the active support of Lombardi, Sutter molded the Kings into a defense-first team focused on crisp puck possession and grinding play in the offensive end. His old-school approach ran against the modern NHL grain in many ways, but it turned the Kings into a postseason powerhouse that won an astonishing 10 playoff rounds in three seasons immediately after his arrival.
Sutter's approach hasn't produced enough regular-season success in the past three years to get Los Angeles to that postseason stage, however.
Although the 58-year-old Sutter is still popular among Kings fans, the club finally decided it couldn't wait any longer to capitalize on the remaining years of its core's prime.
Although he never complained, Sutter also didn't have many of the ingredients he wanted with the Kings, whose roster is now littered with huge contracts for underachieving veterans.
Lombardi's loyalty to the Kings' championship-winning core has tied up their salary-cap room in lucrative, multiyear deals for players including struggling ex-captain Dustin Brown, oft-injured veteran forward Marian Gaborik and Quick, their workhorse goalie.
Los Angeles' farm system has also produced remarkably little top-end talent in recent years, although Sutter's reluctance to rely on youngsters in previous years could be a smaller factor in the decay. Sutter gave plenty of chances to young players this season, but the biggest impact was made by 22-point scorer Nic Dowd and dependable defenseman Derek Forbort.
While Carter and Doughty had their usual outstanding seasons, Kopitar had the worst production of his 11-year NHL career and the Kings produced just two 50-point scorers. Injuries didn't help, either: Quick missed 59 games with a groin injury, and Gaborik only showed glimpses of his usual self after getting hurt at the World Cup of Hockey.
Sutter coached in Chicago, San Jose and Calgary before landing in Los Angeles. The former Blackhawks forward from one of hockey's most legendary families is a farmer in Viking, Alberta, during the offseason, but he seemed to adjust well to the Kings' beachside lifestyle.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Greg Beacham on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gregbeacham