Lombardi, on self-evaluation

This is the answer that I alluded to the other day, in which Lombardi was asked to evaluate himself and gave a long and winding answer. It might be a bit difficult to follow at times, but I thought people would be interested in the response, since I believe it’s the first time Lombardi has ever talked publicly about things he would have done differently…


LOMBARDI: This is something we actually do internally. When you’re a general manager, there’s five sectors that you’re responsible for, if you’re building an infrastructure. Ideally, when you’ve really got it going — and this is where organizations stay together with the same people who grow together, and it’s a team on the ice and off the ice — an infrastructure consists of five areas. It’s your scouting, it’s your development, it’s your minor-league team, it’s your NHL team and then it’s your business side. Now, I wish I had known… I’d never been through a change where I had to hire 30 new people.

When I took over in San Jose, the infrastructure was kind of in place. They were building part of it and we were able to hit the ground running. So I was able to add to the foundation that was in place. Immediately, we took our development program to the level I thought baseball was at. I only had to add a pro scout here and there. I knew where our holes were. I think back to when I first took this job, and what I’d do different is move a lot slower and do things the Dean Lombardi way. That is, do things right, think them through and if you don’t do it right, don’t do it at all. It’s very hard to hire 30 people. The other mistake I made was, I knew where I was with San Jose and the infrastructure, and I wanted to get right back there, so I could go by. I forgot that there was a foundation there, with all those people, and that you couldn’t get it `here’ without getting it `here.’ I don’t know how to explain it, other than that my wife can vouch for it, with the 13 hours a day that goes into that. We have made great strides.

I’ll tell you the first stride I saw. In development camp, we had 25 of our staff out here playing street hockey. When you see your development guys, your NHL coaches and your AHL guys all coming together like that, you are making progress. But I think if I had to do it again, I would have went a lot slower in terms of pushing people, in terms of maybe going a little slower in the hiring process and just not driving myself crazy, and realize that this has to be here before I can go catch where I was before. So in terms of management, again it’s funny how life is. I would have done that a lot different and a lot better. But here we are. I think now, we like where we are with the infrastructure, but I think I would have got there a lot different.

The biggest problem we have, on the negative side, is the NHL team. No question about it. Here’s what happened in my mindset. Looking back at those critical moments, sitting there all alone, I had nobody. The whole organization was cleaned out. No Solly, no Hexy, no nothing. And you think about turning around a franchise, and I look back and I think, `What are you thinking, thinking you’re going to turn this around right away?’ Now I see it, but I remember sitting there thinking, `OK, Anaheim just won the Cup.’

And I got into the Pronger thing. That’s one guy… I see a player like that, and you know how I feel about defensemen. I’m looking at it and I think, `I don’t like the way this looks,’ going back to having no young defensemen and no young goalies. We’re going to have to go back to square one, no matter what, even if Pronger is there. And I love this guy, so let me dabble in this. I remember sitting there… We made an offer but we weren’t even in the ballpark. We didn’t have enough assets, and one of the guys they wanted was Kopitar, and I can’t do that. I remember sitting there saying, as a hockey person, `They’re gone. Anaheim’s gone.’ There’s no way I’m going to be able to satisfy those people who think we’re going to be Anaheim and catch them. They were way too far ahead of us on that back end. Quite frankly, we had nothing coming on the back end or in goal. We weren’t going to catch them anytime soon.

But I got a little wrapped up in it. Part of it was the fans’ `40 years’ stuff. Then you think, `OK, let’s try it. Let’s grab that free agent and that guy and that guy.’ I remember saying to Mr. Anschutz at the time, I said, `This is not the way to go.’ It’s one of the things I said when I decided to come here. I don’t care about the payroll. I wanted to know if they were going to invest in scouting and development, and did they want to win a Cup? And when I was sitting there I said, `You know, I think we should strip this thing down. Get your payroll down and get some cheap free agents and use those as bridges. Save your money.’ But we all got caught up in catching Anaheim and everything else, so now let’s get really aggressive out there. We backed off on the guys, thank God, that got big-time, long-term contracts, who were big names. Thank God we didn’t do that.

We were a little too over-aggressive on some of the bridge players. If I had to do that again, I’d probably say, `Just back off on this. The price of that bridge is way too high for the benefit and it lends itself to big-time chemistry problems.’ That goes back to the whole chemistry thing. And the bottom line is, I don’t care if we spend a billion dollars or not. We’re not going to win a Cup until we go back and do those other things right, in scouting and development. In terms of managing the big club, that wouldn’t have been the way to go. Thankfully, and this is where I take the most pride, we’ve never traded a top young player yet. We saved those first-round picks, and the thing we were able to do with those bridges is load up on the draft picks.

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