Schlossman: Matt Greene helped turn it around for L.A. Kings
GRAND FORKS -- Four years ago, I got in touch with Los Angeles Kings assistant general manager Ron Hextall to do a story about his son, Brett, coming to the University of North Dakota.
In making small talk, I mentioned that his team just acquired a former Sioux in defenseman Matt Greene.
Before I finished the thought, Hextall interrupted.
"We need more guys like him," he said.
When Greene arrived in Los Angeles in 2008, the Kings had just finished last in the NHL. Their defensive corps largely lacked toughness and couldn't keep the puck out of their own net, finishing 28th of 30 teams in goals allowed.
So desperate to fix that, Los Angeles traded its only all star -- defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky -- to Edmonton to the former Sioux captain and teammate Jarret Stoll.
Many viewed the move as a salary dump to get rid of Visnovsky and his big contract, but the Kings made it clear that it was about much more than that. They immediately signed Greene to a five-year contract worth almost $15 million.
Then, before ever playing a game with the team, the Kings gave Greene an 'A' as the team's alternate captain.
In Greene's first season, the Kings finished eight points better than the year before. The next season, they made the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
As the Kings added more guys like Greene such as reliable, tough-to-play-against defensemen Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell -- while ditching the offensively prolific but defensively unreliable Jack Johnson -- they changed the identity of their team.
This season, Los Angeles was second in the NHL in goals allowed (2.07 per game), fifth in shots allowed per game (27.4) and fourth in penalty kill (87 percent).
Greene was a major key to all of that, and he's been at his best in the playoffs.
That's no surprise to those at UND, who watched Greene lead the Sioux to the national championship game in 2005 while playing with a separated shoulder. Greene didn't practice down the stretch that season. But come the weekend, he would play and physically dominate the competition.
"One of the most incredible things I've ever seen," one of his former teammates later remarked.
The talk of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was the Kings' penalty kill. Despite playing 120 minutes shorthanded -- more than any other team -- they amazingly scored as many goals as their opponents did during while shorthanded (6-5).
Their best penalty killer? Greene.
The Kings also were able to wear down opponents with their big, physical lineup.
The leading defenseman hitter in the NHL playoffs? Greene.
It's subtleties such as that that make Greene such a great player -- clearing a screen out so his goalie can see the puck, separating a guy from the puck on the end wall, breaking up a rush at the blue line and physically punishing opponents.
That style of game never attracts the spotlight that goal-scorers command. But that's all right with Greene. His teammates, his coaches and his general managers know his value.
That's why he has a $14.75 million contract.
That's why he's always a captain of his teams.
And that's why his name is going on the Stanley Cup.
Schlossman is a hockey reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. Read his blog at undhockey.areavoices.com.