OK, as promised, Lombardi called back, and now I have much more detail on the situation with Patrick O’Sullivan. First…I wrote this in a deliberately vague way before, because I wasn’t certain of the facts, but O’Sullivan is NOT “holding out,” or any variation of the term. The Kings have requested that he not attend training camp until a deal is done. Lombardi explains, in the interview, why that’s the case. Second, when asked directly for an update on the contract negotiations, Lombardi said, “We’re not very close. That’s the truth.” Here’s the entire interview…
Question: Just to clarify, whose decision was it to not have Patrick in camp?
LOMBARDI: “Ours. I’m not going to pin that on the kid. I’ve had it both ways (with unsigned players). I think (Brad) Stuart did come in and I think (Patrick) Marleau didn’t. My experience is that we’re better off getting it done and not letting it drag on and be an issue in camp. It becomes…not a distraction, but a peripheral issue with the players. We need to make sure that everybody in there is on board. That’s not to say he doesn’t want to be on board, but until you’re signed, you’re not on the ship.
“I certainly communicated this to the agent today. We’re still talking, and that’s the good thing. This hasn’t stopped us from talking. That’s the good thing. Putting the (contract) numbers aside, it’s good to have a face-to-face meeting with me and the player, to let him know that even though we might differ on the numbers, it’s not that he’s not wanted. That can happen, particularly with young players, where they think, `Oh, they don’t want me,’ and that’s certainly not the case. Unfortunately, Sully is out of town right now, but I’m going to have to work something out so that we can talk here soon.”
Question: You mentioned how situations like this can sometimes turn negative. Is there any risk of this turning into any type of repeat of the Cammalleri situation from last year?
LOMBARDI: “That’s very different, because it was very clear where (Cammalleri) saw himself, through what he was demanding. There was no chance we were going to be able to keep him if he stayed here. That’s not the case here with Sully. To me, it wasn’t the (arbitration) hearing itself. The scar is there from the hearing, but those heal. The issue, to me, is that he immediately became a one-year asset. I don’t like the term `asset’ because it dehumanizes the player, but it was clear that he wasn’t going to be here (long term). So that’s why, if it takes a little time to do it right, you’ve got to do it. If you try to go for the short-term fix, contractually, it’s eventually going to bite you in the ass.”
Question: The two big questions out there are, “How close are you?” and “Are you worried?”
LOMBARDI: “A little honesty…We’re not very close. That’s the truth. What I’m most concerned about is, Sully has made great strides but he has to continue to make strides if he’s going to put up big numbers on a good team. There’s a big difference between being a 50- or 60-point scorer on a team that’s out of the playoffs in January, and doing it on a good team.
“Let’s get real. It was just 14 months ago — 14 months, 16 months, whatever it was — that we had to put him in the minors. To his credit…he sulked at first but then he figured it out, earned his way up and proved himself. But there’s another step you have to take in order to be a good player on a good team. My concern is that this is not the time for him to be sitting on the sideline.”
Question: Are you surprised about how difficult this has been?
LOMBARDI: “When I saw where his (contract) number was two months ago, I said, `Oh boy.’ With (Jarret Stoll), at least we were in the band. When I say `in the band’…you look at comps and you look at cap figures, and there’s a band that you’re willing to work within. At first with Stolly, it wasn’t where we wanted it but you could see the potential of a deal. On this one, when it started two months ago, I went, `Oh boy.’ The good thing is, usually when you’re outside the band, you’re not even talking. At least we’re talking.”