Interviewing Dean Lombardi is one of the more fascinating things a sportswriter can do in this town. Dave Taylor couldn’t have been more helpful during his days as GM, and the Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak, the Dodgers’ Ned Colletti and the Ducks’ Brian Burke are three more truly nice guys, but there might not be a more interesting interview in this town than Lombardi. He doesn’t talk in sound bites, which makes it difficult to ask him a lot of questions because his answers tend to be long and in-depth, but I can honestly say that every time I’ve spoken to Dean, I’ve come away with a better knowledge of how a hockey team is run. Fifteen minutes into our talk, he was at his office whiteboard, writing down names and showing me exactly how he wants the Kings to look in a couple years, line by line, defensive pair by defensive pair. Then he showed me how the team might look next year. Then he showed me how the Monarchs might look next year. Some of it was said in confidence, but I’ll share everything I can. He is exceedingly honest and confident in himself to put things out there, things that many GMs are afraid to say in public.
To get things going, I’ll put up Lombardi’s analysis of his recent three-week trip to Europe, in which he, Ron Hextall and several other staff members evaluated draft prospects and some of the kids who are, or might soon be, a part of the Kings’ system. Included is the answer to the question many of you had about Jan Marek. There will be much more in the coming days, but I thought this would be a good starting point, so here’s the transcript:
“The front end (of the trip) was seeing the kids for this year’s draft. The first part was in Finland. We were seeing the ’89 borns and most of the kids were there, so that was the first week. The second week was to go down and see that Marek kid, because we have to make a decision there, whether to take him or the draft pick. [The Kings would get a third-round pick in 2008].”
“The key in that deal with Cliche. Now it’s either (Marek) or a pick, so we went to see him play and we met with his agent to get a feel. The hard part is that they can get so much money in Russia, so there’s the question of whether he even wants to try it and then there’s the question of where he fits. He’s a ’79 born, so he’s not old but we’re still working through that process. He played OK. He’s a talented guy, but the thing you run into is that he’s small, so you have to look at that. So, we’ll see how that works out.”
“Then there were a couple other younger kids I wanted to see in Prague. You have to find some of these guys who kind of slipped through the cracks. Then we went to the World Championships to see some older Europeans who might be able to come in and help us. Players like (Minnesota’s Petteri) Nummelin, who are older free agents and might be able to come in and help you fill a hole. We looked at some goalies in that age group of ’81 to ’83. We got a lot done but it was a grind, with the travel and all.”
“Then we had meetings with a lot of scouts. Chemistry within your staff is not done overnight. I’ve still got to make some adjustments there before I’m happy. So there was a lot of work in that area that’s just as important. I’ve got to get the scouting staff doing things the way I want and they have to develop a trust, and that doesn’t happen overnight. We had a lot of guys over there. I don’t want to say we were overstaffed, but part of it was because we need to start getting a feel for each other.”