Lombardi: The NHL’s Gordon Gekko

Question: Can you give people a general sense of what this month is like, leading up to the deadline? How many GMs will you talk to in an average week?

LOMBARDI: “You know what? You’ll take your list, and it’s almost like a funnel effect. First of all, your due diligence requires you to do your job properly and talk to every team. Generally — you see the pro scouts in here right now, and they’ve been here the last four days — you try to see a match. The one thing that’s different for us now is, before we were clearly sellers and looking for draft picks. Those are easier deals, whether it’s Brad Stuart or Rob Blake or all those guys that we had on the market when we were trying to acquire draft picks. Those calls are, `OK, what are you looking for? And here’s the price.’ So you were able to set up a framework.

“We’re not in that situation now. We’re the youngest team in the league, so I don’t have a lot of those veteran guys. So that part of the trade deadline is very different. To me, that’s one of those things that, when you’re looking for progress, that indicates progress. The bridges are gone, and you’ve got a lot of players that you’re trying to build with, and you don’t have a lot of those guys. That’s progress. It’s one of those intangible things, because you know your reserve list is getting stronger and you’re heading in the right direction.

“So I’m in a very different situation, going back to your original question. I am looking for that help, to help now and in the long term, so you’ll make those calls. You look at a team’s roster. Number one, do they have somebody that’s appealing? Because the other thing you’ve got here is, we’re finally getting some boxes filled. Before, I was looking for anything. Whether it was draft picks or young players, it really didn’t matter where they played or where they fit. My shopping list, now, is not as broad.

“So when I look at the other teams’ lists, it’s, `Yeah, I like this guy, but he doesn’t fit.’ So that eliminates that part of the player-supply market, for lack of a better term. So you’ll look at a team and say, `That’s a guy who would fit.’ Then you might look at it and say, `They’re not going to move him,’ but due diligence requires you to ask. So again, it’s kind of a funnel effect. I’ll make my list of 30 teams and check in with every team. Do they have somebody who fits for me? No. Then you’ll ask, `Is there anything you’re moving that I’m not aware of?’ Then you might stumble onto something. You’ve got to know that, in case you run into a three-way deal.

“I did this with Hackett, and when I got McLaren, and I did this with Todd Harvey. I started doing those three-way deals when they weren’t en vogue and everybody thought I was crazy, but it just makes sense. So it helps to know what somebody else might move, so if you stumble on that team that has something you want, you can maybe make that work. That’s why, even if it’s not a perfect match, you have to know what’s in the marketplace. Then you’ll look at your list, after you make your calls, and you say, `OK, there’s 30 teams…there’s nothing to talk about there, nothing to talk about there,’ and it wittles down. It gets like a funnel.

“Then by the time you get down to the trade deadline, the reality is that you’re probably just talking to three or four teams. You don’t want to be surprised. Something can always come up, but generally you don’t want to be surprised and find out, `Oh, that guy was available’ or `I could have found this three-way matchup if I had been doing my job.’ It’s like the guy said, Gekko in Wall Street. That famous line. He said, `I look at 100 deals a day and I choose one.’ That’s basically what it is.

“You’re going to look and you’re going to get out there. People might look afterward and say, `They didn’t do anything.’ No. There’s a lot of phone calls, because you want to be able to walk away and say, `Hey, we did the best we could but there was nothing there,’ and then you move on. The other thing that process does, it educates you on the market. That’s the other thing. When you do this process correctly, you learn a lot about what players are worth. You get a feel for which direction teams are going, by who they’re putting out there.

“The other thing is, people are all in `deal mode.’ You only get three times a year when people are in deal mode. It’s this deadline, the draft and, generally, maybe a week or so going into training camp, when people look at their team. There are more people willing to talk about what they’re trying to do. You might just file that away. I talked to a guy today and he said, `It doesn’t make sense to me now, but we should talk at the draft.’ So a lot of deals could start here, but they don’t come into fruition until the draft.

“So it’s a long process, and its fruits don’t always bear themselves immediately. Like I said, you might just have to make a deal where it’s Joe Schmoe for a fifth-rounder. But part of that process might be, that was the last option. I want to keep my options open, but if I have to do something, I’ll do this soft one, so to speak. But I don’t want to do that until I have checked out every other avenue. You can’t feel good about doing that until you’ve done all your due diligence.”

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