Lombardi, on free agency

Just got the anticipated call from Lombardi. You’ll all be happy to know that he’s been ridiculously busy this week, putting together his wish list and working in the “war room” to determine how realistic it is.

Any of you who have spoken with Lombardi are well aware of his sense of humor. When I started with a softball question about how he sees things shaping up Sunday morning, he answered with, “Well, we expect to sign…” and then ran off a list of about seven top-level free agents. I reminded him that he forgot to mention his offer sheet to Ray Emery.

Lombardi spent some time talking about the new free-agency culture, and how the lowered age has complicated things for GMs and made the signing period unpredictable.

“I don’t think any of us know exactly how it’s going to go,” Lombardi said. “You used to have all the 31-year-old guys out there. In the old days, you didn’t have the Scott Hartnells of the world out there in their prime. Then when you give big money to those guys you have to project down the line and what it’s going to mean for Kopitar and Johnson.”

I asked Lombardi about the fact that the Kings have been attached to many of the top free agents out there and asked him if it was safe to say that they would be aggressive when the signing period begins.

“When you use the word aggressive, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be persuing some of those (high-profile) names,” Lombardi said. “`That being said, it’s all about the right player for the right price when you get to free agency. Sometimes you get into talks and you throw a big (salary) figure out there and you end up saying, `What did I do?’ and you have buyer’s remorse. You have to take the emotion out of him. On the other hand, I’m certainly not going to sit here doing nothing.”

The Kings are in an interesting situation. They’re trying to build with young players, but they also have significant salary-cap room and significant holes to fill. In that spirit, I asked Lombardi about how difficult it was to toe that line, and how aggressive he is about adding free agents to a team that is trying to bring young players into the fold.

“You’re constantly running through hypotheticals,” Lombardi said. “Ideally, we’d like to be going in with one or two holes to fill, but we have eight holes to fill. We want to be aggressive and fill one or two of them with this (free-agent period) opportunity and then project and say, `OK, this is what it’s going to look like in a couple years.’ It’s almost like you’re doing a mock trial.”

Lombardi has talked about classifying free agents as builders and bridges and has said that he would like to add two “builders” to the team this summer.

“A builder is a guy who fits in when you’re a contender and also fills a hole now, with what you have, and as you fill in your other holes,” Lombard said. “A guy like that will still be around when you’re a contender. Then with the bridge guys, they help that along. Part of being a contender is you have to learn how to win.”

Then, on to everyone’s favorite topic, the goaltending. I wanted to be very careful, and make sure I had a clear understanding of Lombardi’s thoughts about acquiring a goalie. And I heard pretty much what I expected to hear, which is that if the correct deal comes along, he would go for it, but it absolutely has to be the correct deal. He’s not going to reach, and give up picks and prospects, just for the sake of getting a goalie this summer.

“We’ll get a goalie as soon as he’s there and we can get him at the right price,” Lombardi said. “You’d like to be able to build the team from the back out (starting with the goalie), but it doesn’t always happen. We were in on the Vokoun thing but we’re not in a position to throw around first-round picks. We’re not in that position yet. When the right guy is there for the right price, we’ll do it. If it happens tomorrow, we’ll do it tomorrow.”

Without prompting, Lombardi brought up LaBarbara.

“Don’t underestimate LaBarbera,” Lombardi said. “The more I hear about him, the more I like what I’m hearing. He’s a guy who can allow us to be at the point where we don’t have to give up those first-rounders.”

As for the ever-popular Jaroslav Modry, Lombardi confirmed what most of us basically figured, that Modry would accept a one-year contract. In Lombardi’s view, he’s a veteran who can bridge the gap.

“We just don’t have the young defensemen right now,” Lombardi said.

That’s pretty much it for now. For those who had more specific questions, I apologize, but as fans I’m sure you’d much rather have Lombardi spend his time talking to agents than talking to me. As we head into Sunday, the Kings’ cap figure sits at approximately $27 million. It should be a very interesting couple days…

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Modry re-signs

Please keep the four-letter words to a minimum. Just kidding…

Modry got a one-year contract and Jeff Giuliano also signed a one-year deal.

Modry’s signing means that Aaron Miller almost certainly has played his last game with the Kings.

Again, I’m supposed to talk to Lombardi today so I’ll certainly bring this up.

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New cap

The NHL announced today that the 2007-08 salary cap will have a roof of $50.3 million and a floor of $34.3 million.

How interesting is it that the Buffalo Sabres are now the most important team in free agency. It’s hard to imagine they will lose both Briere and Drury. Briere is in Los Angeles because his agent, Pat Brisson, is based here. Drury also is supposed to spend the weekend in California, so…speculate away!

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The offers

Well, that didn’t take long.

The Kings have tendered qualifying offers to Michael Cammalleri, Peter Harrold, Petr Kanko, Jason LaBarbera, Richard Petiot, Matt Ryan and John Zeiler.

That means Barry Brust, Yutaka Fukufuji, Greg Hogeboom, Jamie Lundmark, Joey Mormina and Shay Stephenson have been cut loose.

I’m mildly surprised that Lundmark didn’t get tendered, but other than that it went pretty much as I expected. Anyone surprised by any of this?

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Qualifying offers

In the next couple hours, I expect to have the info regarding which players were tendered qualifying offers by the Kings. Hopefully there will also be some information about the developmental camp. The Kings have been oddly quiet about this.

Seriously folks, I’d calm down about the goalies. It would be much more productive to talk about which two impact skaters Lombardi might go after. I think Dean made a mistake by saying what he did about shopping for goalies, because I’ve talked to him several times about the situation and got the impression that he’d have to be overwhelmed in order to make a trade. He raised hopes about a deal, probably without intending to. Or perhaps he has changed his attitude since I last spoke with him about it. I’ll certainly ask him later this week.

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Goalie shopping?

Lombardi made this comment to the Canadian Press at the draft today, in regards to the number of goalies available on the market and the Kings’ potential interest:

“There’s still some people I’m interested in but if it’s not there, we’ll do it right and develop our own,” said Kings GM Dean Lombardi. “But I’m not done shopping.”

The only goalie currently on the market, or at least known to be on the market, who would seem to be a fit for the Kings is Manny Fernandez. That’s just my opinion. From what I understand, Risebrough’s asking price was pretty high this weekend, and that’s why you didn’t see the Wild deal Fernandez to someone, as expected. I would still bet against the Kings acquiring a goalie but it’s interesting that Lombardi would publicly say he’s interested.

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Lombardi, on Day 2

Just got off the phone with Lombardi, who ended up making 10 picks over the two-day draft. I’ll give you the comments from Dean and then give thumbnail sketches of the final four picks…

Of course, everyone is still talking about the selection of Thomas Hickey with the fourth overall pick. Lombardi brought it up himself today.

“I found out for sure that he wasn’t getting by eight,” Lombardi said, referring to the eighth overall pick, which was held by the Boston Bruins. “That’s why I knew we couldn’t drop down too far.”

As for today, Lombardi gave a proper tongue-in-cheek “Ask me three years from now” answer when asked how the day went, but did say he was generally pleased with how the draft turned out.

“The key, for me, is the next step,” Lombardi said. “They all have potential. It all depends on how we develop and nurture them. Each one brings something unique to the table but all of them have parts of their game that need to develop.”

The Kings made only one move Saturday, and that was a pick swap that netted them the 95th overall pick, which they used to take defenseman Alec Martinez of Miami (Ohio) University.

“We had a little swap there because we wanted an extra pick in that layer and I was hoping to get a defenseman in that layer,” Lombardi said. “ We said, `Let’s add a player there’ and we did and we didn’t get sidetracked.”

Lombardi seemed most enthused about the second-round selection of center Oscar Moller, who was ranked No. 20 among North American skaters by Central Scouting. In addition to Moller’s skill, Lombardi was highly impressed with Moller’s attitude and potential as a team leader. But Lombardi chuckled at the idea that Moller was a “steal.”

“It’s kind of the same as Hickey,” Lombardi said. “It looks out of whack. We take Hickey and they say it’s a reach. Then this other guy looks like a steal. If Hickey is out of whack, then I guess so is this guy. This kid, as a person, is great. I don’t get too caught up in interviews, but I’m going out on a limb on this guy. Everyday you see him, it seems like he never has a bad day. He has all kinds of energy and loves to play. We were impressed by the fact that… it’s unusual for a Swede to come over in his draft year. We talked to some of his (Swedish) teammates and we said, `Who’s the leader of your team?’ and they all said, `Oscar.”’

Here’s the last few picks…

Linden Rowat, goaltender, Regina (WHL)
Rowat had a 2.87 goals-against average in 52 games in his second season with Regina. He was ranked by Central Scouting as the fourth-best North American goalie in the draft, and here’s the analysis from Central Scouting: “A butterfly goalie with a consistent, hard work ethic… plays strong in the crease and challenges the shooter… has quick second-shot recovery… stops the puck well behind the net for his defenders and moves the puck effectively… needs to improve his ability to track the puck through traffic and screens… sometimes over committs to the shooter.”

Joshua Turnbull, center, Waterloo (USHL), 5-10, 172
Central Scouting had Turnbull ranked 207th among North American skaters. In a recent article, Turnbull said he would play one more year of juniors and then play for the University of Wisconsin. Turnbull had 25 goals and 29 assists in 60 games with Waterloo last season.

Josh Kidd, defenseman, Erie (OHL), 6-4, 220
Kidd was ranked 79th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, although seemed to take a bit of a dip, since he was ranked 49th in the mid-term rankings. Kidd had nine goals and 18 assists in 64 games with Erie last season, which was his third season in the OHL. Erie coach Peter Sidorkiewicz told Hockey’s Future, “He’s a big kid, but in saying that he’s got pretty good mobility. He can skate well, he’s got an NHL shot already. I think the biggest thing for him is to play assertive night in and night out. Sometimes he plays in between and I think when he figures out that he’s got to play with authority he’s very effective. When he starts thinking he just finds himself in between – he doesn’t react instinctively.”

Matt Fillier, center/winger, St. John’s (QMJHL), 6-0, 180
Fillier was ranked 49th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, so it’s interesting to see that he dropped this far. In his second season in juniors, Fillier had 18 goals and 18 assists in 63 games, plus 118 penalty minutes so clearly he likes to mix it up a bit. Here’s the Central Scouting analysis: “A hard-working forward… shows leadership and has a steady positive influence on the play… has a physical presence on the ice and is very dependable defensively… needs to improve his consistency around the net.”

That’s all, folks. I hope the blog was useful to everyone over the last 24 hours or so. Late next week, I’ll catch up with Lombardi again and we’ll get into free-agency stuff. In a couple hours, I’m heading out to watch the AEG-owned lacrosse team, the Riptide. I’m told I will love the sport. Maybe the Riptide has a goalie the Kings can borrow…

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Kings’ sixth pick

With their second fourth-round pick (109th overall), the Kings selected center/winger Dwight King out of Lethbridge of the WHL. (By the way, I just looked it up. He would be the first player named King ever to play for the Kings.) King is 6-3, 218 pounds and was ranked as the 104th-best North American skater by Central Scouting. His bio said he patterns his game after Joe Thornton. King had 12 goals and 32 assists in 62 games with Lethbridge last season. He is the brother of St. Louis’ D.J. King.

Hockey News thought well of King and had him as their 79th-best prospect. ISS had him ranked 100th.

At this point, I’m going to step away for a while. The Kings are scheduled to make five more picks, so I’ll recap them later, plus I’m told Lombardi will do a conference call after the draft concludes, so I’ll post his comments then…

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Kings’ fifth pick

Fast and furious here…the Kings made a deal and acquired a fourth-round pick (95th overall) from Washington. They drafted defenseman Alec Martinez out of Miami University. Martinez is 6-foot, 188 pounds and just finished his sophomore season at Miami. He was a teammate of Kings goalie prospect Jeff Zatkoff. Hockey’s Future had him ranked as the 12th best NCAA prospect in this draft, with this bio:

Alec Martinez, D
Sophomore, Miami University
6’1 205 lbs.
DOB: 7/26/87 Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: N/A

2006-07 season: When Andy Greene (NJ) graduated last spring, the RedHawks were left to fill a big hole on their blueline and one player who stepped up was Alec Martinez. The Rochester, MI native helped guide Miami to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and led the team’s defensemen in scoring with 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists). Most recently, Martinez was one of eight Miami athletes (and the only hockey player) to be named a Strength and Conditioning All-American. Having completed his sophomore season already, Martinez will be 20 in July.

Talent Analysis: The growth and maturity of Martinez from his freshman to sophomore year has allowed many aspects of his game, including his ability to make his defensive partners better, to give glimpses of the tremendous potential that he has. Martinez’s increased mass and strength have added power to his skating without impeding the fluidity in his strides or his foot speed. His willingness to shoot more and patience with the puck have helped increase scoring from the blueline. Two of Martinez’s biggest improvements have been in his confidence and consistency.

Miami head coach Enrico Blasi’s comments on Martinez: “Alec was asked to help fill the void of Andy Greene and he did that very well this year. We wanted him to grow and mature in a way that was beneficial to both him and our program. He’s taken on new responsibilities and his attitude has been great. Alec is one of those kids that’s smart and listens, and I see him growing even more going into next year.”

Hockey’s Future NCAA Prospects

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