Lombardi: Building, boxes and bridges

Question: Since you started here, you’ve been all about the “boxes” and trying to fill roster spots. Are you getting closer to filling them completely, and has that board changed significantly in the last year?

LOMBARDI: “No question, just because of the back end. In 24 months, it has completely changed. You’ve got four guys who are (age) 25 or under and who can hold down those boxes for a long time. That’s a radical change from Sopel, Norstrom and Blake, that crew. Aaron Miller. Do you know how agonizing that is? `OK, we have to have a bridge here.’ `This kid isn’t ready.’

“The one surprise, like I said, was Doughty coming in already. The other thing is, there’s the issue of filling a box, versus being on the way to it being filled. You look at Kopitar. If you’ve got to win a cup tomorrow, he’s a No. 2 (center), right? So there’s the issue of, that’s his box now, but he has the upside to move up. You can say the same thing about Drew and Jack. This is where they are now, but there’s clearly upside to get higher.

“So part of this building is, it’s not only about filling the box, it’s about allowing those who have the ability to get the experience to move into that box, the higher box. It’s the same with Dustin Brown. Last year, maybe you say that on a good team, he’s a three. Well, he has clearly moved himself into a two, and he’s still trending, maybe, towards a one. He’s trying to move into an Iginla box. So it’s not only about filling a box.

“And that goes into the issue of when you make your move. Don’t forget…that cap space is there. You look at it and say, `That box isn’t quite filled yet, but that guy will be there in six months.’ You’ve got to be real careful about your timing and when you strike.

“It’s not only about boxes. It’s about allowing your top young players to fill those boxes. I think Kopitar is a good example. Does everyone see the potential for him to be a `one’ in this league? Absolutely. But is he a `one’ right now? No. Right now, he would be a good `two.’ If you have him behind Datsyuk, you win a Cup. But every day, he’s getting better. It’s the same with all those young guys, arguably. Simmonds. He’s in the `nine’ spot now, but I could see him getting to a `seven.”’

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