Lombardi: Now the games matter

Question: You’re on pace for 85 points, which would be a 14-point improvement over last season. In the past, you defined “success” largely by how well you could build the reserve list and develop young players. At what point do you start measuring success based primarily on wins and losses?

LOMBARDI: “I think we’re starting with that. If you look at Saturday’s game — and (Ron Hextall) said this and he has been in enough of them — that was the first game in which the two points were critical. When, in the last three years, have we had a game when we needed those two points? Now, this year we’ve had what you might call critical games, in terms of how we responded.

“Like the Calgary game. We get blown out and go into Edmonton. But it wasn’t so much the two points there, it was getting a feel for the character of your team. How good are you? What’s the makeup and character of your team? They responded in Edmonton. After Montreal…we started that road trip and we got screwed. And we’re at the beginning of the road trip. It’s an awful schedule, because we have to fly in the day before and play in the afternoon. We should have got two points out of that. Then we’ve got to go to Ottawa, and we’ve got to find a way. We weren’t that great in Ottawa, but it was pretty good and we got the points and got out of there.

“But there have been a lot of games here where…I talk about building a soul and a culture. I look for little signs of that, as this is coming together. What I see in the room after the Islanders game…that was the first game we had where we expected to win. That’s the other thing that happens. Which games have we had where we went into a building and said, `We know we’re the better team, now go out there and win the game’? Every game this year, it’s been…we don’t know how good we are. That’s one of the things about a young team.

There’s some truth to saying that you have to learn to compete. You lose those games at the end, and you have to figure out a way to tie them and then you have to figure out a way to win them. So this has come along a lot faster than San Jose. This is way ahead of San Jose, in terms of that part. It’s younger and faster, and I think I’m seeing this group come together faster. I like the fact that the back end could be pretty special.

“But I think, to answer your question, Saturday might have been the first game. Think about it. When have we had a game, in three years, where we said, `We’ve got to get these two points’? I thought, overall, in that first period, that was a hard game. That was a playoff type game. It was physical, there was fighting and we get down two goals. It was a battle to get them back. We’re going to have a lot of those now.

But the other thing too is, like I say, when you’re building, those are the stages where you’re starting to get some respect in the league. Some of those wins you were getting before, it was like, `Oh, it’s the Kings,’ and they take you for granted. We play hard most nights and we catch some people. The next step is, people are ready for you. People start to respect you. We go out east there, and there were a lot of positive things about the way we’re going, but now we’re not going to sneak up on anybody. I’m not saying that people are looking at us like we’re the Detroit Red Wings, but you’re not looked at the same way any more. Teams are saying, `You know what, we better be ready here, these guys aren’t that bad.’ That’s, again, part of the process of dealing with expectations.

“It’s like Dustin Brown said the other day. When has Dustin Brown played a meaningful game? You’ve got guys…not only has it been the last three years, you’ve got guys who, in their entire career, have never played a big game. Frolov. Brownie. Brownie said the other day, `This might be the biggest game I’ve ever played.’ How can that happen, in five years? You talk about measuring things, and again, that goes back to the culture and the soul. Again, the way they responded after that first period in Edmonton… You know what? That was pretty friggin’ good.

“Now, keep it going. That was the first big one, where you say, `We need these two points.’ There are going to be a whole bunch of these now, down the stretch. Again, we’ve come along pretty quick in some areas. What I saw, after that Islander game, was the right type of emotion. They were happy, but it wasn’t like it was overboard. It was the feeling of a team, and we’ve got to keep that going.”

Question: So is the next logical step, from there, to say, “Hey, you can’t just be satisfied with this. We’re going to be disappointed if we don’t make the playoffs this year”? Is that the message now?

LOMBARDI: “(Terry Murray) sets the tone in the locker room, and I think that’s been his message from day one. He has believed in them. Going back to November, it was pretty interesting. Again, we were going through that process of finding out how good we are. We’re trying to evaluate, and the players aren’t sure and goals aren’t really set. I remember Murph saying, `Hey, this is a pretty good team. This team isn’t as bad as everybody is making it out to be. We can make the playoffs here.’ He has never wavered from that. Once he got a look at them in October, he said, `We can make the playoffs here.”’

Question: Did you believe that?

LOMBARDI: “I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m supposed to answer those. I’ve answered that question. Somebody asked me, `Did you expect this?’ When you’ve got the youngest team in the league, how in the hell do you expect anything? Every day, you’re evaluating. It’s kind of the one fun part of the job. Every day, you’re learning something, from what they do on the ice and what they do when you call them up here (to the office) off the ice.

“To say you know, you don’t know. Who would have known Drew Doughty was going to do this at this age? You don’t know that. Simmonds. Who would have said Simmonds would have made this team? Or Moller would still be here? If I would have said that to you in August, you would have said I was crazy. Stoll and Greene. Stoll took a little time to fit in, right? Now you’re starting to see the real Stoll in the last month, the one we traded for. Handzus, after last year. This is the Handzus we signed and that’s the Handzus that was in Philly. That’s the guy who everybody is calling for right now, going into the playoffs. So, those guys are doing what I expected of them and, in some cases, more.”

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  • Chruceg

    Wow, everybody is calling for Handzus right now! I know the guy is good (I watch almost every game) but I had no idea that so many people wanted him. Is he an integral part of the core? What can you get for him? Should it even be considered because the Kings are still in the playoff hunt?

    I am loving this interview!

  • eleventy

    “Handzus… That’s the guy who everybody is calling for right now, going into the playoffs.”

    Well, at least we know how valuable Handzus is to other teams. I’m glad he had the kinda year we were expecting when he signed his contract.

  • DJjazzyjeff

    heres an interesting take for the panel….
    How would the Kings 2003 draft turned out had Dean been GM? Keep in mind the Kings need to address
    -a new center-smolinski was done producing,
    -new defense-miller was hurt, and boucher gone,
    -no production depth at wing-aside from ziggy, fro, and deadmarsh-
    -no proven goalie to back potvin.
    …..your theories…….

  • Marc Nathan

    and at 4M a year, I don’t think Handzus is as valuable to the Kings as the 3rd line checking center as he might be to a team that’s ready to win this year. If you can get a player and a first round pick for him, I’d do it 100 times out of 100… and I know that 99 out of 100 Kings loyalists would disagree with me. I LOVE the fact that Lombardi tipped his hand here and admitted that he has a player with REAL value. This Kings team IS better than ANYONE expected, and while there may be no clear player to take up Zeus’ minutes and value as a checker and a faceoff guy, he’s truly overpriced for what he brings to the table, and I would really like to believe that by receiving a gifted offensive player (either at the deadline or in the off-season,) Stoll could drop down to being that third line center, and he’s solid on the draw as well. It’s a pipe dream, and I’m pretty sure DL won’t be so quick on the trigger, but I’d milk it for all it’s worth, and certainly would be happy with a bounty for a this guy.

  • TeamHasHoles

    I just hope Dean doesn’t move him unless someone over pays.

  • Anonymous

    RICH… you left the ‘b’ out of Lombardi’s name on your title…He’s italian you know…that could be a violation of Family name….YiKES!!!

  • fyzzix

    Don’t get too excited; Zeus has a NTC, I believe.

  • SuperSonic420

    This is all outstanding stuff Rich! Thank you as always!! I think you and Dean should have your own weekly TV show. Kinda like college coaches have, only all Kings, all the time!!

  • Ryan

    He has a NMC, which is different.

    You can’t waive him, demote him, or trade him without his permission which is more protection than a NTC.

    Link to players with NMC and NTC clauses:

    http://www.nhlscap.com/no_trade.htm

  • brianguy

    exactly, TeamHasHoles. if Boyle’s ready to fill that role great, trade him. but MAKE THEM PAY!!

    I mean, we gave up a 2nd for Richardson wtf? did we not have a 4th-5th round pick available at the time?

    a fourth liner, and barely eked into the lineup at that, so it’s not like he was filling a huge need. we should get way more than that for Zeus. make teams overpay just like we did.. surely you can understand this.

    (btw I’ve never once heard him defend or even explain this trade – I would love to hear the reasoning as it would provide a huge amount of insight)

  • Ersberg

    I highly doubt Zus would deny waiving his NMC if the team were a playoff contender. I’m talking about a team that’s pretty much “set” to be in the playoffs, of course. As much as I like Zus, Dean would have seriously consider taking a teams 1st and more for him. Then again, it would probably be a fairly low 1st.

  • Bring Back the Shield Jersey

    If Zeus is moved, it’ll tell you that it’s definately DL’s team and not TM’s, cuz no way does TM want Zeus going anywhere. Which, I guess, is the way it should be, nor do I blame TM for wanting to keep Zeus.

  • Quisp

    Well, Boyle isn’t going to be stepping into Handzus’s “shoes” any time soon. Trading Handzus (which I said I thought was possible on a previous thread) would be devastating to the team’s defensive chemistry (or whatever you want to call it). You would still have Kopitar and Stoll down the middle, but the other two centers would have to be Armstrong and someone else… There are plenty of natural centers in the system (Moller, Lewis, Purcell, Boyle, Azevedo, Loktionov) but none of them who play the game Handzus does. Moller, who in my opinion is a future top-six, is the best of them, but ain’t going to shut down the other team’s top guns this year, or next…and by the time he’s mature enough to do it, he’s going to be our #1 or #2. Lewis is the best defensively of the bunch, but he’s not ready to be Handzus. Purcell is a top-six, not a shut-down guy. Boyle, well, he sucks defensively, that’s his whole problem. Azevedo would be a totally different kind of third or fourth center, a kind I happen to like (you know, the Millen/Donnelly kind of third line), but it would just be a different team than the one we have now. Handzus is one thread on the KIngs sweater that, if you pull it, the whole thing might unravel.

    Which is why I thought he might get dealt as part of a blockbuster deal bringing a top line forward our way. It doesn’t make sense to cough him up just for picks. But trading him as part of a deal that brings us (the usual suspects) Heatley (etc.), I can see that. Although if we’re going to deal someone older and still valuable, I prefer Stoll or Calder. Obviously.

  • Moondoggie

    Marc Nathan…Kinda surprising but most of us are in agreement with you on this. Zeus has been great, both Zeus and Brownie (and on occasion Calder) are the only players that know how to set screens and deflect shots up front. Zeus will bring an excellent dimension of agressive play to a high round bound playoff team. But at 4mil per year and being a 3rd line center, plus with the youth the Kings have coming up, if the Kings can get some value either in the form of a high round draft pick and/or some prospects, why not make that move?

    I have to agree with you, that’s a trade I’d make any day depending on what LA would get in return. However, it’s got to be high value or no deal. Zeus is as valuable to the Kings as he will be to the Wings, Philly, the Sharks, etc. If DL can’t get some good assets for him, I’d keep him for sure. What he does out on the ice, the intangibles are far more valuable to the Kings than any 3rd rounder or less would bring. The idea of packaging him for a bonified sniper intrigues me….

  • Ersberg

    Who’s to say Dean doesn’t swap a pick or pull a 3-way deal(as he mentions) to get another center?

    You guys are speaking one dimensionally in terms of trading/keeping Zus. I highly doubt he just loosely lets Zus go. There will be an alternate/back-up plan in place.

    The only person that mentions something in the degree of being close, is Quisp, except that I don’t see Ottawa taking Zus. 1st rounders coming back to us could be used to bolster a blockbuster deal, in that we could use them in place of our own.

    I’d rather keep Stoll, just for the faceoffs/one-timers, and he’s 5 years younger than Zus.

  • Quisp

    Ersberg re OTT/HAndzus:

    I agree. Plus, if they need to dump salary, they don’t want the salary coming back.

  • Anonymous

    If the games REALLY mean anything…tell me WHY Gauthier is still in the lineup???

  • typicaljs

    you guys are silly.

  • historyguy

    So what if Zeus is overpaid…it’s not like we’re up against the cap or anything! Yes, Zeus does seem like he’s a big part of the glue holding this team together. Do you think that Simmonds would be 1/2 the player he is now without Zeus?

    Which is why what some of you are saying is right…he’s only going to be traded in a package for a difference-maker, not just to get rid of him for picks.

  • Anonymous

    So AEG can cut $8.5m in salary for Handzus and bring up Boyle/Lewis/Moulson for pennies on the dollar?

    Nice knowing you, Mike. You might want to put your house on the market today.

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