Lombardi, Part 3

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.

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  • PuckHead27

    Great interview Rich!

  • Scott Pearson

    I love the last answer. Great job, Rich. And thanks to DL for taking the time for you (and us).

  • http://www.jscohenlaw.com Jeff Cohen

    Thanks again Rich!

    I am liking Dean Lombardi more and more every time he gives his insight into his process of rebuilding and re-tooling this team, and of its future. It’s clear that he has a plan, a real vision, and in my opinion he is going to great lengths to make it a reality.

    I further feel there is much more going on behind the scenes than we (the public fans) know, and that Dean Lombardi has worked much harder and with more diligence than we probably imagine. I never intended to merely stand blindly behind our new GM, but his thought processes (brought to you exclusively by Rich Hammond, not Gannon), combined with his actions, make me feel much more comfortable with the direction of this team right now.

    I’m truly looking forward to a great season (or at least a much-improved one).

    Go get ‘em Dean, and of course, thanks to Rich!

  • BallPointHammer

    Thank you Dean and Rich! Very interesting and insightful stuff. IMO the Kings are on the way to being the best Kings’ teams ever, including Gretzky and the Stanley Cup Finals. It will be a few more years but this team will be a legitimate contender. Dean, you and everyone else in the organization are doing an outstanding job. Thank you very much!!!

  • HockeyOnly

    Sure beats the hell out of the old “Jack Adams days” in Detroit. Rich, what a great, great interview and what a guy DL is to take the time and effort to give you straight answers knowing that you are asking for the Kings fans. How could a King player not go through the wall for a GM like that. I can hardly wait for training camp, or rather “getting to know you” camp starts. It sure isn’t like the old days when a player might be late because he had to help with the harvest. Thanks a million Rich.

  • Fletch

    “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.”

    Damn….that’s a great quote. Thanks again for all that you do for us, Rich!

  • Gary

    Thank you Rich… I’ve got to tell you, as a fan who believes he has been very uninformed about Kings decisions for a very long time, I am truly thankful that you are getting/providing this information for fans.

    As for your article… my favorite quote is this “Kyle Calder and Nagy are no different than Johnson or Cliche or Bernier” because for the first time Cliche is being substituted for O’Sullivan… I have a feeling that Lombardi has HUGE plans for Cliche in the future. I have heard comparisons of Cliche to Drury when it comes to leadership skills and passion for the game/competition. Future Kings leader? Looking forward to finding out.

  • LA Kings 2010-2011 Stanley Cup Champions!!!

    Wow, Thanks for the great interview Rich, and thanks DL for your time and candor.
    Ever since January when Bob Miller and Jim Fox would talk more about the organization (from within) during broadcast, i knew DL was the right man for the re-birth of this team. But now to hear straight from the horses mouth and actually get to see all of the thought process that goes through his mind, WOW,
    he spares no details. For instance, when he talks about putting guys in the organization that make sure flights are on time, i mean talk about meticulous (and very, very, necessary). It’s things like that that start from within that lead ultimately to winning the most coveted prize in all of sports. It always for the players to not have to worry so much, and concentrate more on their game.
    Thanks once again Rich for all your hard and much appreciated work. I feel very privileged to be able to read all of this great information into running an NHL team from within. I have never heard any other GM’s insight as to the direction he is trying to take his team, and i might be out of line and down right wrong, but in my personal opinion DL is the best GM in the NHL, and i hope he stays with us for a very long time.

  • LA Kings 2010-2011 Stanley Cup Champions!!!

    Wow, Thanks for the great interview Rich, and thanks DL for your time and candor.
    Ever since January when Bob Miller and Jim Fox would talk more about the organization (from within) during broadcast, i knew DL was the right man for the re-birth of this team. But now to hear straight from the horses mouth and actually get to see all of the thought process that goes through his mind, WOW,
    he spares no details. For instance, when he talks about putting guys in the organization that make sure flights are on time, i mean talk about meticulous (and very, very, necessary). It’s things like that that start from within that lead ultimately to winning the most coveted prize in all of sports. It always for the players to not have to worry so much, and concentrate more on their game.
    Thanks once again Rich for all your hard and much appreciated work. I feel very privileged to be able to read all of this great information into running an NHL team from within. I have never heard any other GM’s insight as to the direction he is trying to take his team, and i might be out of line and down right wrong, but in my personal opinion DL is the best GM in the NHL, and i hope he stays with us for a very long time.

  • Ed

    Rich,

    Thanks for your hardwork. Much Appreciated.

    A little off topic. My question is about NHL Officials.

    Specifically I am talking about Jay Sharrers. I know he started out as a linesman, but there was one season he was a referee. He made several bad calls at Staples that cost Kings games. Including a couple of phantom goals.

    Last couple years he was back to being a linesmen. Was it his poor performance as a referee?

    Just curious.

    Thanks, Ed

  • fourtunato

    I am a kings fan first but I buy season tickets and a GRC pass to wine and dine clients. The Kings need to win for me. I spend perhaps 12,000 per year (yeah, I know for most thats not a lot but for me it is) to go to these games and, however sad it is, when the kings win, I look good. That translates into business for me. Reading this makes me confident that this year, my addiction to Hockey might acutally make me some money. Go Dean, Go.

  • Kyle B.

    Mr. Lombardi,

    Thank you for giving Mr. Hammond the oppurtunity to speak with you to understand where this team is going. I have been a Kings fan for many years, and I was very displeased with the organization under Mr. Taylor. I felt that we were a “fire drill” team with no direction at all. When you came to this organization, I was unsure of exactly where we were going. Now, with the insight that we have gotten through your interviews, and the discussions on this board, I have come to a better understanding of your master plan.

    I appreciate your openness with your goals for the team, and I support your vision more now than I did before. I was shocked at some of the moves that were made since you came here, but now I understand why they were made. Mr. Lombardi, thank you for your time and patience with this organization. You are truly a great find for the team and the fans. I look forward to this year in hockey mostly because of the great knowledge that I have with the “insides” of the organization.

    Please keep supporting Mr. Hammond and his blog so that we, as Kings fans, will finally have a great source of reliable Kings news. This will enable us to be even more involved in the games and the season as it progresses. With our interest into what goes on behind the doors, we will be able to keep our focus on the team for a longer stretch than usual. I know for me, especially last year, that about a third into the season, I had a hard time keeping interest in the team. Eventually, with the stability of a goaltender, I returned my interest to the team.

    Now, as we are on the brink of a wonderful decade of success and clout, I would like to extend my thanks to you and wish you and the Kings the best of luck.

    Thank you,
    Kyle B.

  • 24diving

    “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.”
    That’s strange, I thought that Nelson Emerson was a former Kings players AND was on the coaching staff. I guess I must be dreaming.

    Thanks again, Rich.

  • kingofdodgers

    Thanks DL and Rich for all the hard work. This coming season will definitely be something special for the old and new kings fans thanks to both of you!

  • Crash Davis

    Thanks, Rich. This blog is like a drug addiction, a good high on a regular basis for Kings fans.

    DL alluded to little things like getting flights on time and at a good price. Last year as most everyone knows he cleaned house, top to bottom. That included John Wolf, asst to the GM for more than 3 decades. That business aspect of it – flights, tickets, hotel, etc – was part of John’s job. Looks like the staff wasn’t keeping up with the current trends. Time for fresh blood. Tough to let people go, but DL wanted (needed) to put a stamp on the Kings HIS way.

    Keep up the great blog, Rich. This is a like a direct line to the GM and worth the read every day.

  • Francis

    Kyle B.: Great letter! I agree and couldn’t have said it better.

    I have been a Kings fan since 1968 and have never felt better about the Kings organization. Thanks, DL.
    And thanks, Rich.

  • Anonymous

    Good stuff!

  • Gene U

    3 year transplant from Chicago. life long Hawks fan – picked up the Kings as my number two team. Been reading you in THN for several years- or it seems like- great interview, read your blog every day, nothing close to it for Hawks fans. Great Job Rich. Gene

  • Dave K.

    Terrific interview, Rich. Your blog is a godsend. Regarding DL’s expectation that Brown, Cammy, Fro and Kopitar will take it to the next level this season, have DL and Crawford thought about making one of them, perhaps Brown or Cammy, an alternate captain? Essentially to “force” them into a leadership position right away? Seems this might be one way for the team to develop some young leaders assuming a veteran like Blake winds up with the “C”.

  • Anonymous

    Nelson Emerson is still a coach according to the Kings web site. Both Dave Lewis and Emerson are listed as assistant coaches.

  • ryan oliver

    Great overall interview Rich.

  • jc_9

    Great interview Rich.

    Note to Rich’s boss:
    Please keep Rich on the Kings. For the first time in a while we have someone reporting on the Kings that knows what they are talking about.

    The Lakers’ fans don’t need a blog, the majority of them can’t read anyway.

  • Darren

    Can’t find insight like this anywhere else. Refreshing to have a GM be so candid and accessible. #1 and #2 reasons why this blog is the best, well and the hardest working guy in the business.

    Good stuff once again Rich.

  • geeblenob

    As usual, a fantastic and insightful interview Rich.

    Kyle B.’s letter earlier hit upon a couple of great points that hopefully you can pass on to Dean Lombardi the next time you talk to him (in case he doesn’t read this blog). His candid interviews give Kings fans the opportunity to understand the rationale behind the decisions he makes as well as understand the direction he is taking the team. There is a lot of well-founded optimism among Kings fans right now (myself included!) for the upcoming season(s) which certainly was not present a few months ago after we finished 28th in the league. There is no question that this optimism has been fueled by what we have read in this blog in understanding where the team is headed.

    In other words, I hope Dean and the Kings organization understands that this blog and the interviews they give you are beneficial for EVERYONE. Kings fans get to throughly understand the moves the team makes that might at first seem rather questionable. Dean and the Kings organization benefit by building fan support and optimism for their long-term plan now that we better understand it – truly an amazing accomplishment after the season we just had.

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