Here’s the third and last part of the Lombardi interview.
Sometimes you never know what you’re going to get. I threw in the last question, just thinking he would toss a quick name or two out there, but he ended up giving a highly insightful answer, one that I think will frame the entire season for the Kings.
This is it for now. I’ll wish a fun and safe weekend to everyone, and on Monday I’ll try to give an in-depth report on the first day of the rookie camp.
Q: In Dave Lewis, you’ve added a respected, experienced coach. I know it was a year in the making. What was the genesis of that hiring and the idea behind it?
A: You’re right, we were going to hire him last year. I think he was coming here and then obviously he got a head coaching job so he went to Boston. This is probably a better question for Marc, but I know that our thinking was that was we were building a staff… building a coaching staff is a lot like building a scouting staff. It’s like building a team, and different guys fit together and bring different things to the table. One of the things we talked about last year was the idea of a former player on the staff. That was one area we wanted to add, to round out the coaching staff.
So Marc went through the process and talked to a number of former players. Dave was his choice, but then he went to Boston. He really didn’t find another guy he felt totally comfortable with, so to Marc’s credit he didn’t just say, “OK, I didn’t get this guy so I’ll go with the next guy.” He just didn’t feel as comfortable. But after a year with this staff, we were able to revisit it again. So Marc’s been at this again, since three months ago. He interviewed three or four guys, and it came down to Dave again. This time, obviously he’s on board.
I think a lot of the reasons he was attractive last year are the same this year. The mix, with Mike Johnston and Jamie, you’re strong there, then you’ve got a former player. The idea of him being a former King who was a former captain, that was an added benefit. This is a guy who has been an assistant coach on a Stanley Cup champion, under one of the best coaches ever. I think that’s kind of appealing to Marc, and you’re going to learn a lot from that. So there are a lot of positives there. I think the other thing too is that Dave is kind of a calm guy. We all try to bring different things to the table, and Marc can get a little emotional, so this is probably a good mix.
Q: I know there’s a long-term plan here. But as you go into this season, do you set short-term goals. Is there anything you look at and say, “OK, I would consider this to be a successful season and this to be an unsuccessful season.” Can it be that cut and dried?
A: I don’t know. To me, when you’re in this situation… this might sound corny, but I don’t care because I believe this and it has worked for me before. You have to find a way to get better every day. Everybody has an obligation to come in this office, or wherever they are, and make this team better, whether it’s in a small way or a big way. If you keep doing that, it will translate. If everyone is doing their job, we’ll be a better team this year than last year. You keep that process going. The degree of getting better, that’s a little hard to predict sometimes. It’s just so hard. I don’t know if I could give you a sound byte. That’s the way I’ve looked at it in the past and that’s the way I’m looking at it now. What’s successful?
When I look at what a fire drill we were running last year, just within our staff… even to the point where, with the guy who does the travel, we’re finally getting guys’ flights done on time and at a good price. These are all little things that allow you to get better. And I know we’re going to be even better next year. So I just can’t come up with the classic sound byte that I know you’d like on that one, but that’s the way it is.
Q: You did a lot this summer, and made a lot of moves to improve the team. Is there one thing that you look back on and say, “We were this close to getting this done, but it didn’t happen.” Is there anything in particular that still kind of sticks with you?
A: First off, the idea of making a lot of moves… Quite honestly, if you’re a good team, you have to make fewer moves. That means you’ve got your core together and you don’t have to go out and fill eight holes. That goes back to free agency and why I went after ’78- and ’79-borns. You fill those spots, and next year we’re not sitting here going, “We need eight guys.” When we get to the point that I don’t have to make headlines, then we’re probably a better team. That’s the irony.
That’s a good question. Every year you ask what you could have done better. So I believe in asking that question and being your own worst critic. In some cases, I don’t know if it’s what you would have done different. Obviously we were involved in the Drury sweepstakes, but that’s free agency, and if you give your best shot and you find out that the guy really wanted to go to New York, what are you going to do? That won’t make you look at yourself and think, “Damn, I screwed that up.” There’s some that you say, “Yeah, I screwed that up,” and some that you say, “Yeah, I wish that had happened but it didn’t.”
Q: Right. I didn’t so much mean your own shortcomings, just maybe a guy like Drury who slipped through the cracks.
A: But then again, to be honest, if you had to do the seven (million for Drury), then you couldn’t spread the money out and fill the other holes. I’ve debated that myself. I’m certainly not sure I wanted to go to 7.3 (million), even if it wasn’t that he wanted to go to the Rangers. So you try to be objective about it, and I think I kind of like the idea of filling a number of holes. Maybe a year or two from now, when more holes are filled, it makes more sense to say, “OK, let’s give all the money to one guy.” I’m not sure if this doesn’t end up making us better, but I can’t deny that we were involved in it.
The other things? I don’t know. There are a ton of things you do during the year, in terms of scouting and stuff, that you need to improve. But again, that’s a function of people working together and getting to know each other. Trades that were there? I don’t know. Moving Norstrom wasn’t a lot of fun, but we did get a first-rounder. You always sit back after the trade deadline and say, “Did I get as much as I could have?” I beat myself up after the deadline, thinking I could have gotten more for Sopel. We really weren’t in the position to make a lot of hockey trades. The Avery deal… we got this Cliche kid and it looks like we’re going to be all right there. I don’t know, I really don’t know how to answer that. I’m not saying I’m a perfect guy or anything like that.
Q: What would your ideal salary cap number be? Do you want to leave yourself a little room there?
A: Yeah. I think we’re fine where we’re at, and we’ll let it play out. We’ve got some flexibility, and the more you can go into the season and not use it, the more flexibility you have. I don’t see us adding to the cap number right now.
Q: Leaving yourself a couple million would be OK?
A: Yeah. You still have to guard against the injury stuff, so we built in a $1.5 million minimum for that. A lot of our flexibility is in years two and three (2008-09 and 2009-10). Where we’re at, I’m comfortable with that. Will we be adding to that? You never say never, because you never know when somebody is going to call you and propose something, but right now it’s not like we’re actively looking to add to it. We just have to see what we’ve got. You don’t want to keep shuffling the deck, unless it’s a clear upgrade, an impact player. Then again, as soon as I say that, I’ll get a phone call from somebody proposing something.
Q: On a personal level, who are you most looking forward to seeing, either in training camp or the rookie camp? Is there anyone in particular who, you’re just real eager to see what they’ll bring?
A: Well, I don’t know if there’s a general manager out there who would ever pick out one or two guys, to be honest with you, because you’re always looking at your whole team. I’m looking at every guy with a certain level of expectation. Kyle Calder and Nagy are no different than Johnson or Cliche or Bernier. Every one of them has a level that you’re looking for. So when you ask if I’m looking at one guy… no. With every guy here, I’m looking for something. Some are going to meet it early, some are going to fall behind, some are going to flop during the year.But if I had to pick one thing — and I have to be careful how I answer this — I can’t stress enough that when you’re a GM or a coach or a scout, you have an expectation for every player. That’s kind of what makes training camp go by so fast, because you’re constantly evaluating every guy you’re looking at. You’re wondering if the arrow is going to go up, sideways or down.
But if I had to pick one thing, and it has a big impact on the franchise going forward, I want to see where those kids from last year are. They all have to get better. We’ve got some depth, in terms of youth, in the system, and a lot of those kids are going to have to go to Manchester. But as the team gets younger, those guys — Brown, Cammalleri, now Kopitar with a year’s experience, Frolov — these guys all have to go to another level. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, these kids had pretty good years last year,” but we were the third-worst team in the league. At some point, those kids have to take responsibility for winning.
I’m going to be curious to see those guys and where they are, in terms of taking it to the next level, not only as a player but as a guy who is responsible for winning. It’s one thing to play in the league. It’s another thing to win in the league. That’s not to negate the free agents who came in, or the young players and the draft picks that will be here. But if you made me pick one, I’d be curious to see if those guys are going to take it up a notch. It’s not only how they play. It’s about bringing a presence. You know when a guy is on a mission to win, and those guys should be there now. They’ve proven they can play in the league and they’ve proven they can be pretty good players. Let’s see if you can prove you can win.