Back to one of everyone’s favorite subjects, here’s what Jeff Solomon and Dean Lombardi had to say about the Patrick O’Sullivan contract negotiations. Funny thing is, they actually begged for a question for Solomon, since apparently none where asked of him at a similar event last summer. He had to figure this one was coming… In this answer, Solomon goes into some specifics about how negotiations like these can get complicated, and Lombardi gives another impassioned “warning” to rival GMs who might try to poach the Kings’ restricted free agents in the future. After Lombardi finished, Bob Miller, always ready with the straight line, said, “Thank you, Clint.” You’ll understand when you read the end of Lombardi’s answer…
SOLOMON: I guess the short answer, in regard to Sully, is that discussions are ongoing. So, why is it taking so long? There’s a number of factors that come into play when you’re talking about how long it takes to negotiate a contract. In today’s climate, the biggest factor for us, as a group is… The agent’s job is, he’s negotiating one contract. As we’re negotiating Sully’s contract, we’re doing 20 contracts at the same time, and 20 more that are going to follow next year. The important thing for us is to make sure we do the right deal now, so that it not only fits this year’s cap — in which we have more flexibility than the past — but also in the future.
You’ve got to understand too that when we’re looking at this, we’re looking at how Sully fits in, from a payroll standpoint, to our structure, long term. I’ve been an agent. I was an agent for 20 years before I got here. The notion of thinking about how a player’s contract fits in with the rest of the team, that does not exist. There’s a competing interest there. The agent is worried about one contract; we’re worried about the entire organization, this year and moving forward. That, in and of itself, is the first hurdle, and that’s the one that probably takes the most time. But contrary to what most people think, we’re not here thinking about ways that we can drag this out and make this difficult on Sully. I’d love to be in shorts and flip-flops with you guys, going to the beach with my family too, but instead we’re still having discussions and we’re trying to find a way to get through this. That’s the first hurdle.
The second one is, what we’re talking about here, and what we think is most beneficial for the team, is a long-term contract. We want to have Sully fit in this year, and we want to have him fit in for several years after this. If we were talking about a one-year deal right now, we’d probably have this done. If you look at the flexibility, where our payroll is versus the cap, it would be pretty easy to finish this up on a one-year deal. But for the long-term benefit of this club, it’s important for us to make sure that we get the right deal done on a longer team. We have had, over the last couple months, discussions with Patrick’s representative, on terms of anywhere from two years to five years. The farther you go out, trying to find that balance between what the player is willing to give up and what the club is willing to give up, those involve long, detailed discussions.
That’s the second part. But I will say this. Any time that we put in now, it will be instrumentally beneficial to us down the road. As you mentioned, next year when Kopitar’s contract expires, when Jack Johnson’s contract expires, when Purcell’s and Boyle’s — who hopefully will have good seasons for us — when their contracts expire, it’s going to become critical, as we move forward with these players, that we get O’Sullivan in right now. What we will do is, we will get it right and we’ll get it right on a term deal that we can both feel comfortable with, and move forward comfortably and make sure that he fits in with everyone else. Now the second part of your question, as it relates to Kopitar and Johnson, the timing for that is perfect because we have actually started discussions with their agent and we would hope to continue those discussions shortly and try to get ahead of the curve on that, the same way that we did with Brown.
I think it’s really important to have our young players under contract. We’ve even done it with some of our older players, like Raitis Ivanans, who we signed during the season as well. We’d love to be able to do it on a more comfortable time frame, rather than try to somehow force it at the end, But you know, sometimes at the end of the day, part of an agent’s strategy — and having been there before — is to wait until the last minute, thinking that that presents the best negotiating leverage point for them. We want to try to meet everybody halfway. We want to try to get these things done. But the important thing is, when we do these contracts, we’ve got to have a fit, not just for the player, not just for this year but for the organization moving forward in the future.
LOMBARDI: It’s like a lot of things that hockey people have to do. The amount of time and effort that goes into this… It’s like he says. I’m not doing one contract; I’m doing 20. It’s tremendous. You have no idea how much time he puts into it. The other thing that he kind of hinted on, in terms of Kopitar and Johnson… In terms of the planning, as we’ve seen out there in the marketplace with offer sheets… I’ve said this before. If we’re going to go through this process, we’re going to build this like an Oakland A’s (or Minnesota) Twins. You’re going to do the little things right. You’re going to draft and develop, and then we’re going to keep it together like the Yankees. Because there’s no sense in going through this (otherwise).
I already told some general managers that we’re going to do these contracts and we’re going to do them right. Kopitar and Johnson will eventually be paid fairly. But if you’re thinking about an offer sheet, go ahead and make my day. Because if you’re going to come after us, we’re going to have the space to go right back after you. And that’s the one threat that might work. You’ve got to be careful with offer sheets anyway, in this environment. It’s not to stand up and threaten them publicly. It’s about having the missile to go right back at them. So when you see this cap space there — Solly has a pretty good name for it: `blank-you’ space, he calls it — if you want to hit us, we’re coming right back.
You saw a taste of that with St. Louis, when they got that offer sheet. So when you see that space there, nothing will steer them more. If you’re thinking of breathing down Kopitar, we’re not only matching, we’re coming right back at you. We will get you. It may not be immediately, but you will pay for that. So if you feel lucky, punk, go ahead and make my day.