Question: You talk about the team’s “core” a lot, and many people have picked up on the fact that you usually don’t mention Frolov as part of that core. Is that on purpose? Are you anticipating contract difficulties there?
LOMBARDI: “It depends on what you define as your core. Here’s the thing, and I’ve said this to Fro so I can say it publicly. I think we all see that he’s got a lot of ability. I go back to the fact that if he had grown up in the Detroit environment, where winning was expected, and hadn’t gone six years of his career without a playoff game, would he be further along in terms of being that core player who understands the importance of winning and being a teammate?
“This is one thing I’ve always said, in defense of these kids, like him and Brown. They’ve got to figure it out on their own, versus `pass the torch,’ so to speak. That’s what Detroit is able to do. If Datsyuk had grown up (playing) in Florida, is he the same player? There’s a reason he was not a top pick, and part of it was (willingness to) come to play every night and win. But he goes to Detroit and he is broken in right. If he’s in Florida, who knows?
“So what I’m looking for from Fro, and we’re starting to see it, is that he cares. Not just cares about playing in the league, but winning in the league. This goes back to your other question, about when do points become important. This is a process, and we had to start from scratch here. That’s up to Fro. Does he have the ability? Yeah. But you’re going to have to show that winning is important, not just playing in the league.
“But in his defense, we haven’t exactly put him in an environment, as he was growing up, that he could have learned that by osmosis. He’s never played a playoff game. In the last month or so, I’m starting to see that. You know what? Maybe it’s more than playing in the league that he cares about. That’s a core player. You can’t have a guy in your core who doesn’t understand that. It will break down. So that core is still evolving.
“I tell these kids, the difference between (Alex) Rodriguez and (Derek) Jeter is a huge friggin’ difference. They better understand that I want Jeter, not Rodriguez. That’s a process, and we have to do it from scratch here. I don’t have Yzerman to hand it off to them. We’ll do it, and (Terry Murray) is really underestimated here because he is quiet. You don’t know how much time he spends just talking to them. Murph has been there. He knows what it takes to win. He’s been around and had a lot of experience at turning things around. He’s kind of quiet, but he spends a lot of time with these guys and that’s his message.
“When you’re dealing with young players or Frolov, who isn’t a young player per se, you can’t just tell them things once a month. Sometimes it’s every other day. But I like what I’m starting to see in Fro. When you send him out there with a one-goal lead, he has to understand that getting the puck out of there, and paying the price, is every bit as important as scoring a goal. That’s your goal, to kill a critical penalty or go down and block a shot, like Handzus does. These are signs of a guy who is a core player, not just your numbers.”