Lombardi: Keep fighting in the game

Question: You’re going to the GM meetings in a couple weeks, and fighting will be a topic of discussion. When it comes up, what will you say?

LOMBARDI: “I’m absolutely, positively against taking fighting out of the game.”

Question: Are you in favor of any of these reforms, or anything?

LOMBARDI: “I’m OK with the idea that the helmet stays on.”

Question: What about the idea that you need to get rid of the “staged” fights?

LOMBARDI: “What’s a staged fight? I don’t know what that means. Is that when somebody starts talking tough to one of our skill guys and our guy says, `You want to talk to me?’ and they fight? Is that staged? I think it’s answering the bell, and saying, `Quit screwing around with our guys.’ What’s staged? So (Evgeni Artyukhin) runs Doughty and we go after Artyukhin, is that staged?

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Lombardi: Cammalleri regrets? Not really

Question: Going back to Michael Cammalleri. He’s on pace to be a 40-goal scorer with Calgary. When you look back at how that played out, is there any part of you that wishes it could have played out differently, or was it just inevitable?

LOMBARDI: “It doesn’t surprise me that he’s scoring up there. We had to make a conscious decision, based on the type of culture we wanted here, the type of player I wanted to use to set the identity of this franchise and, thirdly, signability. We answered those questions. Am I surprised that he’s on a 40-goal pace, up there in his contract year with Iginla? We all know the kid can score goals.

“I wasn’t trading a 20-goal scorer. I was a little surprised I didn’t get a little more action on him, but I think the reason was that he’s a one-year asset, to any team we were talking to. They didn’t want to inherit the same problem I was having. Now Calgary’s got that issue right now. It’s like a double-edged sword. I don’t think it’s any secret where he really wants to go, so what do I want that problem for?”

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Lombardi: Boyle, and missed opportunities

Question: Coming into training camp, there were a handful of guys who you pretty much said had earned a spot on the team…

LOMBARDI: “That they had a job to lose. That was the point. They had paid their dues enough, and it was, `We’ve got a box open for you. You’re not boxed in by the fact that there’s a veteran there, and that you can play your (butt) off and not get a job.’ Generally, that happens a lot with young players. I thought those three guys had paid their dues and did a good job in the minors and did what they were asked in the summer. `There’s the box. Grab it, but we’re not giving it to you. You’ve got to grab it. Moulson did early.”

Question: Are we talking about three guys or four? Boyle, Purcell and Moulson, and I thought Harrold was on that list too…

LOMBARDI: “OK, we had Harrold in there too. Moulson was the guy who looked really good at the beginning. Harry was the guy I knew — well, I shouldn’t say I knew — but Harry’s competitiveness is off the charts. Harry, like, forces you to find a spot for him. When I talked about three guys, I was thinking of the forwards, because Harry didn’t really surprise me. Harry always gave you the sense that once it was there for the taking, he would take it. That’s just the way he plays. So then, of the four, he’s the only one who really grabbed it, in my mind.”

Question: What does that say for the other three?

LOMBARDI: “Well, they got beat out by two 19-year-olds, frankly. Moller and Simmonds. What was told to them, when they were up here, is, `You’re not hard enough.’ In the battle areas, they weren’t good enough. One of the things that happens — and this is the hard part — is they can still get their points in the minors.
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Lombardi: Johnson’s contract, and economics

Question: Jack Johnson, another restricted free agent situation…

LOMBARDI: “We’re working on that now.”

Question: Is it going be a Kopitar situation or an O’Sullivan situation, in terms of how difficult negotiations will be?

LOMBARDI: “Well, number one, we don’t have to worry about losing him. We’re not worried about that. His issue, to me, is finding the right number. Here’s the problem, which is what we’re all struggling with now. There’s the economy, and the issue of the cap coming down. I think it’s fairly safe to say that it’s going to come down a bit this year, but what we’re hearing is that the true impact of what’s happening out there, in terms of the sponsorship dollars, is not going to be felt until the year after.

“So that’s the real rub, and it’s hard. That drives me crazy, because this situation probably penalizes a team like us, that is building this way, more than others, because we have to make projections. We have to make projections, and I don’t know what the budget is going to be. That’s based on the cap, so it’s pretty friggin’ hard. That, to me, is going to be as big an issue as the contract. We’ll figure it out, but it’s frustrating.
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Lombardi: Which goalie is mentally tough?

Question: Jonathan Quick is here and doing well. If you would have asked for predictions, as to which young goalie would be here having success, they probably would have said Bernier…

LOMBARDI: “Not here. You didn’t hear that from me. I told you, Quick is underestimated. You didn’t hear that from the hockey people. The point was, let it play out. People forget, too, that Quick is a little older, because he did two years of college. It’s real hard (to make the jump from junior). Mason has done it, but that’s an aberration, in the way young goaltenders come along.

“Nabokov, Kiprusoff and Toskala. I’ve said it before. Warren Strelow (former Sharks goalie coach) had those goalies. (He said,) `Don’t evaluate them. Make them better every day.’ Don’t go around saying, `Bernier is going to be our No. 1,’ because we don’t know. I remember (Strelow) standing up…he had all that experience and we were sitting around in our goaltending meeting talking. He said, `It doesn’t matter. Don’t be making predictions. We don’t know. We don’t know how mentally tough they are. It’s our job to make them better every day.’ And we hit on all three of those guys.
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Lombardi: Is Frolov a `core’ player?

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?
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Lombardi: A roll of the dice

Question: You’ve built up quite a stable of young talent, particularly on the back end, and a lot of draft picks. You know you’re not going to be able to keep all of these guys forever. What’s the process like of determining who your “must-keep” players are? Is most of it scouting? Is some of it just guess-work?

LOMBARDI: “It’s a lot more fun than being where I was 24 months ago, I can tell you that. It’s a nice process to have. What’s that process like? Again, you never know. You do the first part, and determine which boxes you need to fill and what you need. You’re always evaluating. You have guys you talk about, who you know you won’t trade.

“What good teams do when they make deals, and this is why you don’t see a lot of deals right now, it’s hard to fill a hole and not create a hole. That’s why you don’t see a lot of trades, because there are a lot of issues with the cap and cash. It still comes down to making a good deal, but not a lot of teams can do that.
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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.’
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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.
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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.
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