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…