Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Recap: Lombardi on NHL Live

Today on NHL Live...LA Kings President and General Manager Dean Lombardi stopped by.  Below is a quick recap of the conversation where they talked about the draft, Jack Johnson, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Ron Hextall and several other things - including how to improve the team this summer.  Of course, the segment was full of great quotes by Dean...as usual.

Take a look...

* What are you looking for at the draft?  It's the ol' cliche, I'm looking for the best available player.  You don't want to fall into the trap of drafting by position when dealing with 18 year olds.  The only time you want to draft by position is when you're trying to decide between two players and you value them the same.  You use the term "asset value" - and the market place traditionally values defenseman more.

* The Kings have two good ones in Doughy and Johnson (not really a question).  That's what I told the owner when I first came in, we didn't have a young defenseman in the system. 

I said we have to fix this.  I know the game has changed, but as you can see I still think if you don't have those top guys on the back, it's really hard to be a contender.  That goes back to Zubov in Dallas, or Bourque, or Lidstrom...It's the old adage "a defenseman like that makes five other guys one the rink better" and they can play 30 minutes.  Doughty took a step this season, but he's not even done yet.  He's still a baby and he's not even in shape yet.  The biggest step this year was by Jack Johnson after the Olympics.  He took a huge jump.  He's figured some things out to simplify the game.  He doesn't have to always go for the highlight film.  The highlight films are there for him.  Great players make it look easy.  He's starting to figure that out.  To have those kids in our system...to have like a Lidstrom and a Rafalski in our system...and hopefully we can keep them for a long time, that's a nice building block.

* You guys were up 2-1 in the Vancouver series.  Sometimes you have to win from losing.  What did the franchise learn from letting that lead slip away?  I think there was one point in game four where we had 'em.  They were the favorite team.  Structurally they are very sound.  They were over +30 five-on-five.  I know some things in the game have changed but when you're solid in the five-on-five play, chances are you're a solid playoff team.  Going into that series they really out performed us in the regular season.  So, we knew we were up against it.  However, we did have the underdog mantra thing going for us.  There was a time in game four where I think psychologically we could have crossed that line and really put a lot of pressure on them.  We just came up short in game four when we had that lead.  We had a chance to put them away and we let them off the hook.  In the end, they're just a better team right now.  The kids grew immeasurably.  I think one playoff game is like 20 regular season games.  I think they learned a lot.  What I really like...there was actually some anger leaving.  These guys felt they had 'em and were mad they got away.  So, they also grew mentally.  The pressure is going to be on them next year.  The thing I liked about this year is there is a heck of a lot of difference between playing with expectations and playing without expectations.  We're not going to sneak up on anybody next year. 

What we did do though is we were the flavor of the month in December when we were in first place.  So, we approached the playoffs from the top down, rather than the bottom up.  When you come from the bottom up you're playing with the houses money.  So they had to deal with pressure in the second half of the year after leading the conference in December.  It got a little dicey at the end.  We didn't play well after the Olympic break and ended up in sixth place.  We're going to have to be tough on them when they come back in September.  The truly great teams - I don't care if you're talking about the Yankees or the Red Wings  - you're not truly great until you have expectations and you meet them.  That's a big difference from a Cinderella team.  Those aren't the true champions.

* You still have a young team.  Including Kopitar up front (again, not a question).  We had the youngest core in the league by three years - by far.  To look at average age can be misleading.  When you look at Brown, Kopitar, Simmonds - they all played huge minutes for us and were being relied on already.  Kopitar took a huge step.  This is the first year he came to camp in average shape.  These kids have to learn how to be pros and get to that level like Yzerman and Gary Roberts - where you have to be at the top.  The kids are starting to take responsibility though.  When they first get to the NHL the kids are usually just happy to be there.  They really don't want to win and they're not focused on taking responsibility for winning. 

What I really kike about Kopitar is...you can tell - it's real, not phony...he was starting to take winning to heart and wanted the puck in critical minutes.  Same with Johnson and Doughty.  You usually don't see that until they're 25 or 26.  Unlike a Canadian kid who has had pressure on them from the time they enter Junior hockey...and has played in the World Jr Tournament, which Kopitar never did...he's never been on that stage...for him to adapt already - without any of that in his background - is really impressive.

* The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to hire Steve Yzerman this afternoon as their new GM.  Is it inevitable Ron Hextall is going to get any opportunity somewhere? Absolutely.  The two things I love about Hexy...everybody knows the type of player he was and what he stood for...he approaches his job the same way.  With his profile he could have had a job for life in Philadelphia.  Instead, this is a guy who got in his car and would drive four hours to scout a game and then drive back to be in the office the next day.  He was out on the shop floor with the amateur and pro scouts learning his job.  When I came here I had no idea...he was willing to move all the away across the country and join another team to learn and grow.  He was willing to learn the job the right way.  He's learned to manage now.  He manages the minor league system entirely.  That team was the youngest in the AHL by far and they just went to the Conference Finals.  He runs the pro scouting staff.  He puts in ten hours a day.  He's not living off his name.  I think the world of him.  He's every bit the teammate - the way he interacts and the way he brings people together, there's no doubt in my mind he's a star in the making.  I just love the way that despite his popularity, he rolls up his sleeve and he knows everything that goes on on the ground floor.  He's a very special human being.

* When you look at the numbers on the business side, it looks like you have most guys under contract...it doesn't look like you need to add a whole lot to take the next step - just need to figure out how to win (another non-question).  If any GM tells you he has this part down, he's not telling you the truth.  We're still in uncharted water where we kinda built the team the traditional way, through the draft.  Now the challenge is to keep them.  The HUGE difference between what I had in San Jose - where I built the team with a similar model - when Marleau, Nabakov, Stuart came off of their first contract we were arguing about $1.5 - 2 million.  Now these kids coming off their entry level contracts are looking to go to $6 million.  It's a huge problem!  This part of the system is broken.  Now you're in another crap shoot, like at the draft.  When Sakic got his money, he had proven he was a winner - he had been around for 10 years.  This is really hard now.  So, yes - I'd like to address some of our holes...we don't score enough five-on-five scoring, I think we could still improve our transitions on the back, etc.  But, not at the expense of possibly losing Doughty, Johnson, Quick or Bernier down the road.  This is where we have to be careful.  You might want to go out there and fill a hole right away.  But to do so before Doughty is under contract, you might be cutting your leg off.  I bang my head against the wall becuase I was trained under the old Bill Torey "build through the draft" model, but we're kind of in a different era right now - so, I might have to bite my tongue and make sure I keep what I have.

To watch the segment on Kings Vision by clicking here.


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