Lombardi, Part 3

OK, this is where we really get into the meat of my talk with Lombardi. This is where he grabbed the marker, went to the board and illustrated, line by line, how the team could look in a couple years. Dean will be the first to admit that it’s far from a science, and there’s no way to determine how close to reality this turns out to be, but I found it to be a fascinating look into his thought process and a window to how he thinks the Kings will turn things around. The bad news is, well, I didn’t have a pad and pen. Rule No. 1 for journalists, right? Right. But afteward I wrote it all down from memory as quickly as I could, and I was able to faithfully recreate it.

Remember, this is a couple years down the road, and if you have questions like, “What about (fill in player’s name)?” well, that’s how Dean wrote it down. Of course, he has only taken into account guys who are under contract right now. Therefore, it doesn’t include unsigned prospects or potential free-agent signings, so don’t take it as the gospel. Below, you’ll also get the long-awaited update on the goaltending situation, in which Lombardi is quite candid, and an update on Cammalleri’s contract situation.

There will be one more part to the interview, and hopefully later this week I’ll get to sit down with Lombardi again and get to some more topics. Click below for this installment…

Lombardi went to the board and started with the first line: Frolov, Kopitar and Teddy Purcell, the kid the Kings just signed out of Maine. A surprise? Yes, but remember that as many as 10 NHL teams were after this kid. Dean said, “He’s a scorer and he’s got good hands. He fits that role, but again, you have to be careful about how you project that.” The second line had Cammalleri and Brown on the wings but a hole at center. Dean said, “That’s a big problem. We have to fill that,” and said a future draft pick could be the answer. The third line had Cliche at center and Lewis on one wing, with Brady Murray or Tukonen on the other wing. The fourth line had Kevin Westgarth, a kid the Kings recently signed out of Princeton, along with Boyle and Zeiler. Dean said, by way of caution, “You don’t want to start putting kids in boxes because then you’re dreaming. You have to be careful. But you look at it, and the only real reach is (Purcell). Everything else is reasonable.”

Then came the problem areas, defense and goaltending. Lombardi had Visnovsky and Johnson inked in as top-four guys and Harrold as a fifth or sixth guy. Lombardi left the possibility of Blake coming back as an option and…this is where it gets tough, because Dean tossed out a couple names that I can’t disclose right now, because it would be tampering. I’ll say this for one of them…think recent past, very recent past.

Here’s what Lombardi said about the defensive group:

“That’s reasonable for (Harrold). He might be better than that, but that’s reasonable. I’m not putting him in the top four. (Johnson) is going to be a top four. The only question is whether he’s a one, two, three or four, but he’s top four. I need another kid (to go with Johnson). The middle group is (Visnovsky) and hopefully a free agent this year. Then (in the third pairing) you’ve got (Blake), a veteran King, and this is why I’m glad we kept him.”

Then Lombardi moved on to goaltending, although he could only write in one name for certain. Dean said:

“Then the major problem is (in goal), because all the kids are way too young. You’ve got LaBarbera, and then I’m going to have to do something. I’m looking at an ’81 to ’83 (born). I’m probably going to get a guy from Europe. I’m not sure. Nothing is going to look good until the goaltending is squared away. It shows up everywhere. .905 was the lowest save percentage in our conference that made the playoffs. It was Detroit, but their shots against was 220, which was the best in the league. So next year, or the year after, we have to get our shots against way down. We have to find a way.”

“So maybe there’s a deal out there, or you bring in a guy or you just try to hold the fort. You can’t win without it. That’s the thing about San Jose, is that I always had goaltending. I had Vernon and Shields, which bought some time, then Nabokov, Kiprusoff and Toskala came up. That’s why we were able to make the playoffs all those years as we were building, because we got solid goaltending. Not great goaltending, but solid goaltending.”

At this point, I asked Dean if he looked at Cloutier as someone he could count on next season. He said:

“If we had to do it again, we would have gone slower in evaluating the three (Cloutier, Garon and LaBarbera) and let it play out. Because then we lost access to LaBarbera. Carrying three goalies… I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, because historically in hockey people say you can’t carry three. Well, I’ve been thinking, where does that come from? (People say) it’s a pain in the ass to practice. OK, that’s true. Well, what’s the next reason? `Guys can’t get into their roles.’ `They don’t get enough playing time.’ OK, so you’re telling me, let’s go through a season like last season, where guys can’t stop a basketball, instead of having a little creativity in practice? And, guys aren’t going to be comfortable with their roles? Well, nobody should have been comfortable with their role last year, because nobody was stopping the damn thing.”

“Well now, we’re looking at what we can do going into next year, and we might not be able to do anything because the market isn’t great. The way we handled it last year, we just didn’t do a good job. We should have been more patient, carried three, let it play out and see what happens. The bad part is, it sucks going into camp not knowing who your No. 1 is. On the other end, it sucks going through a year like we did last year. So right now we’ve got Jason and Clouts under contract. You need a third guy and (Jon) Quick is there but he’s not a No. 3 guy. So you need a third guy in case the first two go down, and then you’ve got to look at other options. Who knows? There are always deals that come along that you don’t anticipate.”

“Last year, Danny was clearly the (No. 1) guy, and given his experience and track record, he probably deserved it. The guy had 30 wins a year and was preordained No. 1. All we’re saying this time is, this is wide open. Whoever performs is going to be the guy. And as part of that we might, might be willing to carry three goalies through that process. We’re going to let it play out. We hurried (last year). With good teams, everyone is in place and they know their roles already, but as you’re building, you have to evaluate maybe a little more than you’d like to. Nobody likes evaluating their pitching staff going into the season. That’s just a reality.”

At this point, I changed focus and asked about Cammalleri and whether Dean thought it was a priority to lock up Cammalleri with a long-term contract. Dean said:

“Yeah, he’s a guy you want to lock up. Now you get into the age-old cap question of locking him up at the right price. Now when you do your payroll, and this is what we’re looking at right now, is the percentage of your cap dedicated to players and certain roles. In Cammy’s case, would you like to lock him up? Yes. The kid’s a competitor and he cares, but remember, all of these kids haven’t been exposed to a lot of winning. They have to learn to win and take responsibility. There’s a big difference between a 35-goal scorer on a playoff team and a 35-goal scorer on a team that’s third- or fourth-worst in the league. So when we look at locking him up and making him part of our core, we have to make sure that (contract) number fits, not only now but down the road. That’s the temptation now, when you’re not a good team, is just to get it done. You need it, because you’re not very good and you need that 35-goal scorer, but then if it cuts you off from getting pieces that you’re going to need 24 months and 36 months down the road…you have to be smart about it.”

“In Cammalleri’s case, the thing you like about him is his competitiveness. He cares about winning. One of the things, when you go through a season like we had, is that these young kids have to learn to take responsibility for winning. First they want to play in the league, then they want a role and finally they want to win. They have to be pissed off. They can’t just be like, `Oh, I’m playing in the league and I’m getting my goals.’ In Cammalleri’s case, he gets it. He wants to be the man and he cares about winning and losing. That sounds simplistic but it’s not. Not everybody cares the right way. It’s not easy to play well and lose and be pissed. A lot of young guys can’t do that. If they lose and play well, they’re OK.”

Picking up on Dean’s theme about the young kids, I asked him if the temptation was there to simply go “all in” with some of the kids and let them play at the NHL level. Dean said:

”You have to be careful in this day and age, especially with the number of holes we have. I think you know enough about me now to know how much I care about development, and a big part of development is timing and making sure they’re trained properly. There’s a big difference between putting in a young kid who is ready to play and ready to contribute versus putting a kid in there just so you can say, `Hey, we’re getting younger.’ That’s (B.S.). That never works. Teams that try to go down that road, it ends up rebounding in your face. You have to get younger with a purpose.”

“The problem with last year is that we didn’t have a big youth movement because we didn’t have the young players to put in. Who did we put in? John Zeiler. So it wasn’t really a movement toward youth. The assets went into draft picks, to make sure that part of the reserve list would get stockpiled, but we didn’t have anybody to bring up. … So the only guy we really brought up who’s on the (long-term) board is Zeiler. We didn’t have a movement toward youth in the sense that we were bringing up young kids. There was nobody to bring up. That’s the problem we have in Manchester right now.”

At this point, Dean returned to the dry-erase board and wrote names like Matt Moulson, Trevor Lewis, Kevin Westgarth, Richard Petiot and Jon Quick on the board as possibilities for Manchester next season. Dean said:

“This is young. … (If) you can win (in the minors) with young players, that’s great, because they’re playing in the playoffs and it’s intense. One playoff game is like five regular-season games. But that’s a problem. We’re old down there. Next year, we’ll have a slew of young ones. I’d like to be able to keep them there, but then you have the problem of where we are now (on the Kings’ roster). To fill holes, if you go free agency they’re going to be too expensive. You can do one or two but you’re going to overpay, dollar wise. Then the temptation is, `Hey, we need bodies, we’ve got to play these kids.’ But then you’re not playing the kids for the right reasons.”

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  • GMatsuda

    Rich…wow…you sure got a ton of information from Dean Lombardi. Nothing that would tip his hand towards anything he’s got up his sleeve involving other teams, of course, but as I said last time, no way you would’ve gotten anything like this from Dave Taylor. You could talk to him for an hour and although he’d respond, he’d rarely say anything of substance.

  • Ed Kao

    Rich,

    Will you ask Dean about leadership on the team?

    Who will be captain of the Kings next season. Is that a decision solely on Marc Crawford? Or does Dean has some input/influence on that?

    It sounds like Dean likes Cammy’s passion, is that what the team needs?

    Thanks again for keeping us informed.

    Ed

  • Rich Hammond

    Gann…with all respect to Dave, for whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration, I agree 100 percent with you.

    And Ed, I will ask Dean about his input, but I can tell you that after the Norstrom trade, I asked Dean about this very subject and he said it was Crawford’s choice. I would imagine that will remain the same.

  • Ziggy

    Interesting that O’Sullivan’s name was omitted from those line pairings, but he does go on to mention his name when discussing what prospects in Manchester he calls about. Does he not fit into the long term plans of the team?

    I’d like to find out where Lombardi sees O’Sullivan, as a center or winger on one of the top two lines. He was showing some chemistry with Kopitar and Brown towards the end of last season, and Cammalleri seems to work well with Frolov.

    And is the defenseman from the recent past someone who wore a Kings uniform in the past, who still comes down to LA during the summer?

    Thanks for the amazing reports Rich.

  • Carey

    I find it very interesting that O’Sullivan’s name isn’t anywhere to be seen in that lineup.

  • EthanH

    interesting…no O’Sullivan. guess he wasn’t doing it for Dean.

  • Darren

    Great stuff, some real substance here. One name that was missing from his list of forwards was O’Sullivan. Just an oversight or is there something there?

  • triplcrown

    I’ll bet he signs Scott Hannan this summer to pair with Visnovsky.

    I got a feelin’…

  • Mikey

    Very recent? What the hell does that mean? I hate you a little Rich, just for that. Now you gave me something to think about all summer! The only real guy I can think of is Mathieu Schneider, whom I loved when he was here. But he’s old.

  • Marc Nathan

    A fantastic and LOGICAL read but for one bizarre and glaring (to me) omission. That team with Purcell and Westgarth and the like was missing the name O’Sullivan. Perhaps he is a bargaining chip down the road, but honestly, I see him as being a far greater upside player than most, and isn’t a third or fourth liner under ANY circumstance. Rich, could you dig a little deeper into why P O’S wasn’t on that dry erase board when we caught a glimpse of the future? (I was relieved to see his name among the list of people he cared to hear about during this Monarchs run for the Calder Cup.)

    Thanks.

  • Rich Hammond

    In all fairness to Dean, he was doing that list off the top of his head. I will ask him about O’Sullivan, but the fact that he’s on the Manchester list does mean that he’s a part of the future. It might even have been a mistake on my part, so I’ll get that clarified.

  • Brian S.

    Wow. O’Sullivan isn’t on that list anywhere?

  • Schroeder

    Spectacular stuff!

  • Derek

    “think recent past, very recent past.”

    Hmmm….

    “Very recent” makes me think this year. Norstrom or Gleason?

  • http://www.forsythe.com Chuck

    Rich-

    Sully’s omission has been mentioned by others. Another name from Manchester omitted that was puzzling to me, was Lauri Tukonen. Is Dean ready to give up on Tuk???

  • GMatsuda

    Rich…don’t get me wrong…I have all the respect in the world for Dave Taylor. Quite frankly, I would love to see what he can do with a team as GM without having one (or both) of his hand tied behind his back by ownership, which is what AEG did to him. All I was saying is that he kept everything so close to the vest…he never wanted to say much of anythinig at all. Wasn’t trying to insult him in any way. Just talking about his style. As a wrtier, it sure was hard to do interviews with him, though!

  • Trevor Higgins

    Hey, I dont mean to harp over questions already asked, but I was just wondering if you could slip in a question about whether he sees Piskula, Petoit, Ryan and maybe even Fast or Hersley as build from within defensive solutions in the near future for the Kings.

  • Dee

    Rich, I think I love you!!! Looking forward to more of the same, it’s like getting a glimpse into the mad scientists laboratory to hear Dean talk…and I mean that in a good way. I have faith, which is a new Kings-related feeling for me. But the “very recent past” defensemen drop…now, that kinda stuff drives me crazy!!

  • Rich Hammond

    Gann…I understand completely, and I agree. It’s nice to see that the AEG chains have come off a little bit. Dean doesn’t seem like a guy who is walking on Tim Leiweke eggshells.

    Trevor…Dean did mention Hersley as a guy for Manchester next season (I went back and checked) and I did quote him as talking about Petiot for Manchester next season. I was surprised that Piskula wasn’t mentioned and I’m not certain about Fast or Ryan.

  • Geoff

    Recent dman eh….. Why not Sopel? I’m not saying he is the ideal one, but he fits the variables….already has the relationship with the coach, he isn’t old old at 30, he was just traded to a team that doesn’t have under contract next year. I’m pretty sure he is a UFA.

    No mention of Boyle playing any D either, but as a 4th liner. Interesting.. so no Ivanans and Boyle on the 4th line….. Does this mean he wants Boyle as a goon/low use guy ?

  • BobMillersHair

    Rich, I was wondering if you have any insight on Petr Kanko and playing a 4th line roll or taking on the roll of agitator. Watched the guys career from afar, on the internet of course, when he was with Kitchener and also with Manchester and was hoping that he was going to bring it to L.A.

    My pick for returning King defenseman is Sean O’Donnell. He is a free agent this summer. Dont worry Rich we wont tell Lombardi you told us.

    2nd line center, Scott Gomez. He would love the fan fair he would get and so would the Kings with him being of Mexican descent. Just an unlikely sanario. Probably to expensive. Oh man, that Cloutier extension really stings when you start thinking free agency. I hope and hope and hope Cloutier makes me eat crow. I would eat it with a smile.

  • Mikey

    Rich, I think that the greatest interest among Kings fans seems to be DL’s analysis of a player’s development (like O’Sully and Tuk). Maybe for your 2nd interview, you can ask him his thoughts on the way some of the kids have progressed and played up to this point?

    I’d personally like to hear his thoughts on Boyle (which I’m assuming is coming up), Rich Petiot, Dustin Brown, TK, Piskula, and his opinion on “Lionheart” Jeff Giuliano.

  • mike

    i wonder if “very recent” means Gleason…hmmm that would be a perfect re-addition to this team.

  • Fredi

    Thank you so much Rich. I’ve never had so much insight into what the thought process of a gm is. Thanks you for the learning material.

    About the defenseman…i was thinking tim gleason as well. Defensive defenseman that can skate.

  • BobMillersHair

    Congrats to the Monarchs advancing to the next round!!!

    Rich, what do you know about Lauri Tukonen’s condition?
    Last I heard he was injured in game 6 of the first round……?

  • Rich Hammond

    Tukonen has a concussion, and you know how those things go…

    The real question is, is someone going to start commenting under the name “JimFoxsHair”?

  • Nick

    do all GMs refer to the birth year of the age group they’re looking at or is it just Dean? I’ve never heard anyone use that before.

  • BringAveryBack

    Fantastic interview. I commend both Rich Hammond and Dean Lombardi for conducting such a thick and heavy interview for us Kings fans to read. Although I was a large Dave Taylor fan, I do welcome the refreshing interviews where Lombardi expresses his hopes and direction for the team. This openness is a far cry from the Dave Taylor style and gets me, as a fan, more and more optimistic about the future of our team.

    But what I think I love most about this interview is to see what frustrates me also frustrates management. At times it seemed as though management still felt satisfied with Cloutier, reading this interview makes me happy that he was just as angry about it as I was.

    Keep up the good work, thanks to the both of you.

  • Stephen Hawthorne

    I have a few questions.

    Is Cliche a center or a right winger? Does Trevor Lewis play wing? Why switch both guys?

    David Meckler scored 14 goals in the OHL playoffs on the same team as Patrick Kane. Is he the real thing?

    Why is Joe Piskula not part of the defensive plan?

    Are TJ Fast or Joe Ryan going to play defense for us?

    Are we going to sign Ryan McGinnis?

    How about to the two Swedish defensemen, Fransson and Hersley?

    Why did he not make a huge push for Brian Boyle’s partner at BC, Mike Brennan?

    Do the Kings want to sign Jeff Likens?

    Does Dean believe in pairing lefthanded and righthanded defensemen the way Crawford seemed to do last year?

    What does Dean think about Lewis, Westgarth, Petiot and Likens being scratches for almost every game in the playoffs?

    Thanks for all the information.

  • JimFoxswallet

    How close to the max is DL predicting the payroll to be next season.

  • Roger

    Rich,
    Was there any discussion with regards to Scott Parse? Are the Kings still interested?

    Thanks for the info, it is much appreciated.

    Roger

  • Joey

    Simple question. Do you realize that U DA MAN! Mr. Hammond.

  • Jeffrey Dean

    As an avid Kings fans (favorite team in all of sports), and a recent transplant to the Big Apple, I cannot thank you enough for this blog. I am also thankful for Lombardi’s candid demeanor. I can honestly say that after 20 some odd years of following the team, the story line is finally compelling from top to bottom. Before there was only hope, now there is belief.

    As far as the defenseman is concerned, it can only be Sopel. Gleason getting traded back to LA after one season, in addition to losing Jack Johnson would get Rutherford fired. Schneider and O’Donnell are hardly recent history, and quite old. As far as projections of the various prospects………………I think it’s speculation even from Deans mouth. Nobody will really know anything until these kids get on the ice together and we get to see the cream rise to the top. Nonetheless, Lombardi’s “stream of conciousness” thought process has me hooked, and this blog is my new church. Thanks again.

  • BobMillersHair

    I am going to have to renege my previous wrong prediction on the possible returning Dman and go with Jeffrey Dean and say Sopel. very recent.yeaso missed that.

    On another note: Its going to be interesting for the Kings.I mean Monarchs going into the Conference Finals against Hershey. 2 former King prospects, Scott Barney and Dave Steckel, lead the Hershey Bears in playoff scoring.
    Lets hope that Patty O and Marty Murray keep up their great play and scoring prowess.

    Rich, what was the word on Oleg Tverdovsky? He appears to be having a pretty good playoff run with the Monarchs. He does have a heavy salary so I am sure it will be hard to move him. He has great offensive upside but has major defensive lapses. I was wondering if anybody ever tried him in a forward position.. And no that was not a joke..it could happen.

  • Birddog126

    Did Dean mention Scott Parse at all? Does he have any intention of trying to get him signed or has he completely given up on him?

  • Sharona24

    I didn’t read anything about Jamie Lundmark either. I guess he’s not being signed this season? I think he should get the second line center.

  • CBGB

    Rich,

    Next time…. tape recorder. Sony ICD-MX20 with Dragon. Dragon allows you to just turn on the tape recorder and the words just appear on the screen – you don’t have to do a thing! Come on, Rich, with all the $$$$ you make at the News?
    :)

  • Dave

    Great stuff! Is there a part four on the way?

  • mikey

    Rich, Can you ask Dean is there has been any improvement in signing Scott Parse since negotiations broke and he signed an ATO with Detroit?

  • Dean Bushik

    Rich, just want to know if I’m lossing my mind or not, but I read this article a day or two back and recall a few things being in it that I don’t see now. Is that the case?

    I recall Clarke being mentioned by name and also a quote about when Dean calls Manchester he’s only asking about a handful of guys. Realize some of those comments might have been better kept confindential, but just wondering if I’m going nuts or not. Thanks.

  • Rich Hammond

    Dean…you’re not going nuts. If anything, you’re the most astute reader out there. The Kings specifically asked for those things to be removed. Normally, I’d be hesitant to do so, because I did offer Lombardi the chance to go off the record whenever he wanted, but the Kings have been very good to me as far as access and there’s no sense in starting a fight over something that relatively small. Next time I talk to Lombardi, we’ll be very clear about what’s on and off the record.

  • Anonymous

    Rich, can we get an update on how Lombardi sees these boxes being filled now, more than one year later?

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