Here’s the first part of the Lombardi interview. This part is all about the goalies, so hopefully it will provide the answers everyone is seeking, in terms of Bernier and Aubin and the rest of the gang. As always, Dean isn’t afraid to explain his thought process, and I think that’s appreciated by both reporters and fans.
So here you go. This is probably about one-quarter of the total interview, so I’ll try to get the rest of it posted throughout the day. Here’s Part 1:
(P.S.: The Sharks just signed Marleau to a two-year extension)
Q: There’s a lot of talk out there right now about Jonathan Bernier. Do you come into training camp fairly certain that he’s headed back to juniors?
A: Well, I don’t want to dissuade the kid, because anything can happen. But the standard of certainty has to be a lot higher when you’re dealing with a young goaltender. You can hedge a little with a forward or a defenseman. Forwards you can hedge more, because of the position. Defensemen less and goalies really less. It’s just the nature of the position, because a lot of times the growth process is about being able to learn from mistakes. Unfortunately, mistakes that are made in the back-end positions are harder to overcome, for the team and the athlete. That’s basically where the theory comes from, in terms of why you have to be careful.
That being said, you never say never. But between applying that standard and looking at the history of the position itself, how many young goalies can really do that? The bottom line still goes back to, let him come in and play. To sit here and set expectations and make projections, just like last year with Kopitar, it’s not fair. I guess it is fair to say, in response to your question, that the standard of certainty — and I guess you can never be certain — but that standard is a lot higher for goaltenders because of having to be so careful.
Q: In Bernier’s case specifically, is it more about his age and lack of experience, or the fact that you don’t have a solid veteran goalie to pair him with right now?
A: First you have to look at where he is himself, and if you think he’s there, then you would consider the other part. And this is a problem. I don’t like this and I lobbied for this, five or six years ago. There should be some leeway in the CHL agreement that players such as this, who were first-round picks and have done very well at the junior-hockey level and arguably are ready for the next challenge…they miss this whole middle ground. It’s a huge, huge step from junior hockey to the NHL. And for a goalie, it’s a huge step going to the AHL.
Everybody always forgets, with Nabokov and Kiprusoff , they both went through that period in the minors where they struggled. You had to even question at times, “Holy smoke, are they going to make it?” They learned two things. They learned how to be better goalies, but they also learned to deal with adversity. You forget that with this position, as we saw to a degree last year, and Ron Hextall and Billy Ranford will tell you, that’s a huge part of the battle. We forget that step in the training. If you were satisfied with everything else, that the training was right and we thought he was ready and mature, then I think what you brought in, about the environment, then that becomes relevant. But I’m not even at that point, to be honest with you.
Q: Where does J.S. Aubin fit into all this, as another veteran guy with a fairly low salary commitment?
A: It’s fairly simple. Last year, our third goalie ended up being two young players who clearly weren’t even AHL goalies. Let’s get real. So, you don’t want to call him a (number) three (goalie), but what it gives us is three NHL goalies. Anything can happen in camp, and this guy has played pretty well. He’s only 29. But don’t forget, the other thing is that he’s on a two-way contract. That’s the other thing, is to get your contracts in line. Same thing with Jon Klemm. You’re getting depth, and these type of players are experienced, they certainly can play in the league and they’re on the right type of contract, in terms of being able to go up and down without spending a ridiculous amount of money in the minors. Then you don’t have to worry about recallable waivers.
Going back to the young goalies, I think Ersberg and Quick are clearly ready for the American league, but I’m not prepared to say they’re ready to be a (number) three. So we want to be able to keep them in the minors and not force them in. Knock on wood, anything can happen, but if those kids are one injury away from being (in the NHL), I don’t think that’s good for their development either. Just like going back to your Bernier question. So it’s a matter of making sure we have three NHL goalies.
Last year, let’s face it, we had access to two NHL goalies and two goalies who — no knock against them, it wasn’t fair to them — who were clearly not ready for this level. We didn’t want to be in that position again. Secondly, it allows us to make sure that Quick and Ersberg can stay down there in the minors and get the right treatment. Now, they’re a little older than Bernier. If they show us, by Janurary, that they’re ready to back up or play that three spot, then great. But at least we’re not forced to do it, based on necessity, versus where they are in their development.
Q: I know a lot of factors can change this, but are you thinking of having three guys at Manchester, or how will that work?
A: You’ve got to keep them playing. That’s one of the things we’re looking at. There’s nothing wrong with young goalies playing in the East Coast league, as long as number one, they’re playing, and number two, the goalie coaches are on top of them. You don’t really want a guy there as a second-year pro. But a first-year pro, as a goalie, that’s not a bad environment. It’s a step up and they can learn. The key is, you can’t leave them there and not give them tutoring.
That’s why we actually have two goalie guys, if you look at our media guide, because I do believe strongly that these guys need attention. You might flip-flop them, because you just want to keep them playing and make sure they get the right instruction. We have guys who can fly in there and make sure they’re getting watched and watch their tapes. So as far as one of them playing in the East Coast league, that’s not a bad things for a goalie. I’m not thrilled about it if it’s a defenseman or a forward, but if it’s a goalie, you’re fine in the first year.