LOS ANGELES -- Two years ago, Jeff Carter was the high-scoring former All-Star who found himself languishing in Columbus after parting ways with an East Coast power before being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline.
It was a deal that led the Kings to win their first Stanley Cup, with Carter scoring the winning goal in Game 6 of the finals and finishing the postseason with eight goals and five assists.
Fast-forward to this season, and the leading role for a possible summer sequel is being played by Marian Gaborik, the high-scoring former All-Star who was dealt to Los Angeles three months ago at the trade deadline from Columbus a year after being traded from the New York Rangers.
The similarities to Gaborik's journey to Los Angeles almost two years to the day of his trade to the Kings weren't lost on Carter. When Gaborik came to the Kings, they were in the midst of a three-game trip in Canada beginning in Winnipeg and continuing on to Edmonton and Calgary. Gaborik not only had to get acclimated to new teammates and coaches, but he didn't even know where he would be living or where to ship his belongings when the team returned to Los Angeles.
Those concerns were somewhat eased by Carter, who put his arm around Gaborik when he walked into the team's dressing room and told him there was no way he was staying at a hotel, as many players do who are dealt at the trading deadline. He would be staying with him in Manhattan Beach and immediately be woven into the fabric of the team that calls the South Bay its home.
When Carter was traded to Los Angeles two years ago, he stayed with Mike Richards, his friend and teammate with the Philadelphia Flyers. He was immediately embraced by the Kings, and it breathed new life into his career. The same can be said for Gaborik, who scored six goals for Columbus before being traded to Los Angeles and has exploded for a league-best 12 goals in the postseason for the Kings. Only Wayne Gretzky, with 15 goals in 1993, has scored more goals in a single postseason in Kings history.
"When I got traded, I wanted to fit in, in terms of on the ice and off the ice," Gaborik said Thursday. "This team has been together for couple years here, 90 percent of those guys won the Cup two years ago. When you're coming to a team that has won and been a contender past few years, you want to make sure you fit in, buy into the system, try and contribute. That was my focus. Also, off the ice it's important to be part of the team, to have the team take you in, to feel a part of it. It feels great."
When it comes to the on-the-ice fit of a player, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi will rely heavily on input from coach Darryl Sutter and pro scouts Rob Laird and Alyn McCauley. But when it comes to the off-the-ice fit, Lombardi has learned to rely on veteran leaders.
"I think the thing that jumped out at me, the first thing, was when we got him, the way the players embraced him was critical, for him to know, you're not a rental, you're not a mercenary, we're going to get you in this family, in this circle in a hurry," Lombardi said. "Carter taking him to his house instead of making him stay at a hotel. Mike Richards taking him to breakfast. The way they've embraced him has made this transition easier for him and got him to buy in."
That kind of seamless transition in 2012 with Carter, and in 2014 with Gaborik, is only possible if there is a solid foundation already in place. If there is a system that everyone in the dressing room has already bought in to and set roles on the team for every player with each one accepting that role for the greater good of the team. It was a foundation that was hardening by the time Carter arrived and was rock-solid by the time Gaborik came to Los Angeles.
"This group has been here for years and years and can bring guys in and implement them in and make them just feel comfortable, and allow them to play the game they want to play," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Gabby is probably the best example. We knew what we were getting. It's just making him comfortable, pushing him in the right direction the way we want to play, then his game takes care of itself."
It's not just the big-name trade deadline acquisitions who have fit in nicely then and now; it's also the young players called up who have fallen in line and filled important roles on the team. In 2012, it was Jordan Nolan and Dwight King, who combined for six goals and four assists in the postseason. This season it's Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, who have grown up in a hurry and combined for 10 goals and 10 assists in the playoffs. Each player spent time with the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings' AHL affiliate in New Hampshire, before their postseason run.
"They've obviously stepped up in a big way for us," Anze Kopitar said. "I think Gabby coming in at the deadline gave us an extra weapon that we needed and didn't necessarily have in the past. Usually for a run like this, you need young guys to step up. A couple years ago that was King and Nolan came up, made an impact. This year it was Tyler and Tanner. They've been doing a great job for us."
When Lombardi came to Los Angeles in 2006, he knew what kind a team he wanted to build. He wanted a tough, defensive team that controlled the puck and was built to win in the playoffs. Within three years he had drafted Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, Trevor Lewis, Kyle Clifford, King and Nolan, and had traded for Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene and Justin Williams. They made up a core that had already included previous draft picks -- Brown, Kopitar and Jonathan Quick.
With the foundation of the team on solid ground, it's easier for Lombardi now to add a piece here or there to help the team get over the top without having to worry about that piece disrupting the chemistry. At this point, the players in the dressing room will take care of that.
"We've been together for years," Brown said. "I can't remember what year it was, but we traded for Stolly and Greener [in '08-'09], and since then, there's five, six, seven of us that have been together. We've kind of added to that each year. We're close off the ice. When you have a group of guys that get along really, really well, and you get a guy like Gaborik coming in, it's easy to just mesh him into the group because there's no group of players over there. There's none of that on our team. On the road we have a lot of time, and you're not hanging out with the same two, three guys every time. There are no cliques on our team. When a new guy comes in, he doesn't have to go hang out with those guys or these guys."
It's almost hard for Gaborik to think that three months ago he wasn't a part of a team that he feels intertwined with at this point. But seeing how his career has been re-energized the same way Carter's was two years ago, it's not hard for Gaborik to now see why the Kings are three wins from winning their second Stanley Cup in three years.
"I started on the road, which was good, to get to know the guys a little bit better off the ice. We were in Canada for a week, and it was great," Gaborik said. "You could tell that this team has a great locker room. Without that, I don't think they would be able to be a winning team."