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Ryan Smyth is off to the Los Angeles Kings. (Jimmy Jeong/CP)
Ryan Smyth is off to the Los Angeles Kings. (Jimmy Jeong/CP)

Weekly notebook

Kings making their move Add to ...

Lombardi acknowledged that when the Red Wings' Marian Hossa unexpectedly became available on the free-agent market, he soared to the top of the Kings' wish list.

"Our free-agent list was very limited. We were interested in Hossa, but realized we were out of that early. Mike Knuble was our next guy - he plays hard, he's a no-nonsense guy. As far as (Martin) Havlat and (Marian) Gaborik, the only thing we were interested in with them were one-year deals. And that was it. Then we were down to third-line guys and we were waiting.

"The thing is too, clearly left wing was our biggest hole. We still have holes in the middle, but we just could not - Hexy and I, as much as you're tempted and you're frustrated and you get hammered in blogs for not doing anything - we said, 'nope, we're sticking with our convictions.' Fortunately, Ryan came around. The cap hit is high, but the cash made sense for us.

"The bottom line is, he's a heart-and-soul guy, plays the game the right way, goes to the blue (goal crease). He's not a highlight film, but he gets it done. So that's it."

Last year, three of the Western Conference's long-time also-rans saw their rebuilding programs pay off when the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets all made the playoffs after lengthy absences.

The Kings fell 12 points short of the 91 needed to qualify for the playoffs in the West. Still, their goaltending seemed to settle down with Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg, two youngsters, sharing the load. And highly regarded Jonathan Bernier, a former first-round draft choice, is waiting in the wings. Under coach Terry Murray, the Kings were vastly improved defensively, finishing a respectable 11th overall.

In addition to Smyth, they also brought in Justin Williams at last year's trading deadline, a key member of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes championship team who has had injury issues these past couple of years. Murray and Williams have a history together from their Philadelphia Flyers' days. The belief is that Smyth and Williams will provide the veteran stability, and a little added offence, to help the Kings' youthful core mature and improve. But when might that happen?

"I've said this before," answered Lombardi. "Regardless of our additions, it's not going to matter unless (Anze) Kopitar gets better; unless (Drew) Doughty gets better. (Wayne) Simmons has to get better. The kids within our system, unless those seven or eight key young players come back here in the summer and make themselves better, and then take another step next year, we're just spinning our wheels.

"That is first and foremost. It started last year. It's their team, so to speak, but it's not their team until they show me that they're willing to become the best they can be. And Kopitar is a huge issue. He has not been in shape yet his entire career. And that's normal. As we all know, so many top players have gone through this and they've got by on their ability. They don't realize there's another step they need to take to become great.

"Dustin Brown, for the first time, did it last year. Now, it's Kopitar's turn. And Doughty, last year, because he had to lose so much weight, was nowhere near a finely conditioned athlete. Jack Johnson - a whole slew of them have a lot to learn internally.

"For all the splash, or who you're adding (as free agents), the most important thing is that the kids get better. Then, it becomes important to add the right people - a Ryan Smyth, a Justin Williams, a character guy like Scuderi - and staying with the theme that we're not going for the sex, we're going for the meat."

ETC. ETC.: The Blackhawks moved quickly this past week to sign all the players that potentially could have become unrestricted free agents as a result of an administrative error involving their qualifying offers. The first wave - Troy Brouwer, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser and Aaron Johnson - all signed for reasonable dollars and term. The last two, Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg, received virtually identical contracts - three years, $9.25-million - sweeter deals probably than the Blackhawks wanted to offer at this stage of their respective careers, but faced with the uncertainty of an arbitration hearing and the not-so-palatable prospect of losing them as unrestricted free agents, they ponyed up in the end. The Blackhawks are tight to the cap now after adding Hossa, Tomas Kopecky and John Madden as free agents, but they can make the numbers work for 2009-10.

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