GM breakfast, part 1

I’ll do my best to post a recap of each question/answer from this morning. The participants were general manager Dean Lombardi, assistant GM Ron Hextall, director of hockey operations and legal affairs Jeff Solomon and chief marketing officer Chris McGowan. I think recaps are a better way to handle it than a transcript, because a transcript would be ridiculously long and the Kings, who allow me to attend, like for those folks who attend to get the full flavor. Understandable.

Here’s the first part of it…

— First question was about ownership, and the perception that ownership doesn’t care about winning because Anschutz doesn’t speak publicly. Lombardi addressed this and turned it back on the questioner, asking him what he wanted to see from ownership. The gentleman said he would like to hear a public statement of support, or for Anschutz to show up to an event such as that one. Lombardi said Anschutz is “in the building a lot more than you know. You’ve probably been standing next to him when you’re buying a hot dog.” Lombardi said it’s “kind of neat” that Anschutz acts like a “normal guy” and said that Anschutz shows his support in areas that are more important, such as spending money on the scouting, development and improvements at the training facility. Lombardi said he would much prefer to work for Anschutz than owners such as Mark Cuban, who are perceived to be putting themselves ahead of the team.

— Next question was about improving the strength and conditioning program. Hextall addressed this and said the Kings are “very comfortable” with the new hire (Tim Adams) and that feedback from players has been very positive so far. Hextall said that in recent years the Kings have been “average at best in this area, not necessarily in work ethic but in the methodology.” Hextall talked a bit about the difference between being hurt and injured, and said the Kings are looking for players who are willing to play through minor pain, as long as it doesn’t mean putting themselves in long-term risk. Hextall said, “The Matt Greenes of the world are going to play a lot more games than certain players, even if they have the same types of injuries.”

— The next question started off with the unquestioned line of the day, from a guy who told Lombardi that he would be happy to say hi to Anschutz in the hot-dog line “if he put his picture in the media guide so I would know what he looks like.” Fantastic line. Take credit for it, if you’re a blog reader… The actual question was about whether the Kings would consider hiring Dave Tippett as an assistant coach. Lombardi joked that Terry Murray “doesn’t show up for one of these, and we’re already gassing him?” Lombardi said the Kings had to be careful about having too many coaches, and said that Murray “likes a tight staff and people to know their roles.” Lombardi also had extensive praise for Tippett, as both a player and a coach.

— Next question was about why the Kings have so much trouble signing free agents. Michael Cammalleri, Patrick O’Sullivan, Jack Johnson and Alexander Frolov were used as examples. Solomon took this one, and started off by saying that all of the trade rumors involving Johnson are “completely false.” Solomon said there were three levels involved, and tread some familiar water with his answer to a question that is now become a GM breakfast tradition. Solomon said the three parts are 1) Determining what the player is worth, and Solomon noted that talks with Johnson resumed, after his agent change, in March, 2) How a player fits within the team salary structure and 3) How the contract will fit, in terms of the team’s salary structure and the league salary cap, two or three years down the road. Solomon said that the cap could drop to $48-50 million in the summer of 2010.

Solomon dipped back to O’Sullivan and said that the Kings never used the word “holdout” and that there “absolutely has never been any animosity” with O’Sullivan. As far as Cammalleri, he said the Kings are “going to be better off utilizing that asset the way we did.” Lombardi called reports of Jack Johnson looking into signing in the KHL “nonsense” and said, as he did on the blog several weeks ago, that reports of Johnson seeking $5.5 million per season were inaccurate. Lombardi also dismissed criticism that he holds grudges against players by saying that “a GM is only as good as his players.” He talked about how holding grudges might have been possible in the old days, when GMs had more job security and players were tethered to their teams, but “if you think you can get away with that now, you’re crazy.”

It was also pointed about that the Kings can’t even begin negotiating an extension with Frolov until July 1.

— Next question was about Lombardi’s “top priority” for the summer. Lombardi started by taking it in a different direction and saying that the most important thing was for the current players to improve. As he did at the end of the season, Lombardi spoke of the need for Anze Kopitar to be in top shape. Lombardi said, “I don’t mean that as a criticism; they all go through it.” Lombardi said Kopitar needs to “show up like a real pro and be our top-conditioned guy.” On a positive note, Lombardi said that Kopitar would, for the first time, be spending a good chunk of his summer in Los Angeles and will be among the group of guys training in El Segundo throughout July.

Lombardi then went into his top priority. He said, “We don’t score enough goals. We’re not creative enough. We’re not big enough. We don’t score enough gritty goals or enough nice goals.” He talked about how he “flipped” the group of defensemen from being one of the NHL’s oldest groups to one of the youngest, and said that in an “ideal world,” he would sign a strong veteran defenseman to help the young guys improve. He said he didn’t know if he would be able to accomplish that this summer. Lombardi said this development illustrates the progress the Kings are making, because three years ago “we needed everything. Now we need a forward.”

— Next question was from a young man asking about Dany Heatley. Hextall addressed it and spoke in general terms about Heatley, not particularly about whether the Kings wanted him. Hextall pointed about that Heatley asked to be traded from Atlanta (under circumstances that Hextall acknowledged were not ideal) then signed a big contract in Ottawa and asked to be traded shortly thereafter, with a list of teams that he would accept a deal to. Hextall said that such behavior “raises red flags.”

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