Moving ahead, here’s the second part of the interview with Dean Lombardi, this time talking about the Kings’ goalie situation, both this season and going into next season. In this part, Lombardi talks about the way Terry Murray handled Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg this season, his possible shortcomings in handling the goalie situation and gives a lengthy analysis of Bernier. Here you go!
Question: You played Jonathan Quick 72 games this season, and he set franchise records but at the end of the season, Terry acknowledged that he might have played Quick too much. Looking back on it now, is that criticism fair, and if so, what could have been done to avoid that situation?
LOMBARDI: “I think it’s certainly fair. It’s like anything else, and this is what you do at the end of the year. Everybody here makes a list of the five things you could have done better this year, whether you’re the GM or an area scout. If you expect your players to get better, you have to expect everyone on the staff to get better. So the first thing is to recognize where you might have made a mistake, and not just look to rationalize everything. I think that’s something we looked at, as a group. It’s a viable criticism, that maybe we overplayed him. Now you look at the circumstances of it, where every game was critical, it seemed. I don’t know exactly what the analogy is. It’s almost like a pitcher who needs rest, but you keep throwing him because every game is critical. So you could make the argument and say, `Look, if I didn’t overplay him, we wouldn’t have got into the playoffs in the first place.’ Now part of that gets into, `OK, why didn’t we have a better backup goalie?’
“Well, that’s where Murph has to look at, did he handle Erik right, in terms of getting him playing time and showing him enough confidence to get the job done. So when you sit back and look at it, it’s two-pronged. Overplaying him, and/or did we handle Ersberg properly, to maximize his ability? That starts right at the beginning of training camp, too. Did we give him enough exhibition games? Should we have set up a schedule, where he was playing every fifth game no matter what? So I think it’s a two-pronged thing. Then you look at management. Should we have gotten a veteran guy? That type of guy who is a veteran guy, maybe like a LaBarbera was in Phoenix, that type of thing. So you look at it from a management standpoint and say, `If I wanted to protect Bernier, I should have just got a sure thing as a backup.’ So all of these are viable criticisms. Overplaying him, not handling Ersberg properly and/or maybe having a different m.o. with that backup goalie. One of the things though, with Erik, is that he’s a really competitive guy and he’s a good goalie. Part of our thought process, when we signed him a couple years ago, was that we had no idea who was going to be our No. 1. So we went with the young guy, thinking he could be a No. 1. And who knows, the jury is still out. He won some tough games for us here. He always got the tough ones, too. Going into San Jose twice. Going into Philly, when we get in at 5 in the morning there two years ago. He did a hell of a job.
“So he has shown, at a minimum, that he can be a good backup, but part of our reasoning in signing him was, `Let’s take a shot,’ because we didn’t know about Quick or Bernier or anybody. So let’s take a shot. Instead of getting a proven No. 2, we have to find a No. 1 here, so let’s take a shot at a guy who is unproven, with upside. So that was the other reason we put Erik in the hopper. So all those issues come in, but the bottom line is, we have to look very closely and see if we handled that right. In the end, you never know for sure, because you could make the argument that we wouldn’t have got in without playing him 70 games. But there’s no question that it’s a viable debate. If somebody wanted to look at it from the other perspective, they might be every bit as correct.”
Question: Now you’ve got Quick, just starting his three-year contract extension. You’ve got Ersberg under contract for one more season. Obviously you’ve got Bernier. Terry indicated that Quick is his No. 1 guy. How does this all shake out going into next season?
LOMBARDI: “With what Quicker has done for us, this guy has earned the right to come into camp as the No. 1 goalie. You’ve got to show the player respect for what he has accomplished. Now that doesn’t mean you come in 20 pounds overweight or anything, obviously, but I think it’s the right thing to say, `You’ve earned the right to be No. 1.’ So I don’t know if the term is, `It’s your job to lose,’ so to speak. He gets the benefit of the doubt, and then you let it go from there. Obviously we’re not looking to play him 75 games. I think that’s safe to say, but I think he deserves to be considered the No. 1 going in. Quite frankly, I would love to have the problem of two No. 1s, considering what I had four years ago.”
Question: You kept Bernier in Manchester for almost the entire season because you said you wanted him to grow and get that experience. Are you now past the point where you feel you need to protect him?
LOMBARDI: “Yeah. I think he has done everything for us, with his performance this year and his attitude. There was tremendous growth. They usually go hand in hand, play and attitude. As I’ve said, this falls into one of the top-five dumbest things I’ve done since I’ve been here, the idea of even thinking of playing him when I did, as a 19-year-old. Just the thought itself. It’s like I’m guilty for even thinking of it, let alone doing it. It was absolute stupidity. And I think it set him back a little. He had to go back to junior, and then when he went back (to Manchester) last year, he pouted. Part of it was because we had almost given him something and then taken it away, and he didn’t understand why. He pouted for half the year, and he ended up being the backup. But it was more than his attitude. The whole body language was bad. Then all of a sudden, in February, the lightbulb went on and he started practicing harder. He almost got us in the playoffs down there, single-handedly. But what was great was the way he came in last (September), and when we sent him down we didn’t have to go through this stuff. Hexy and I used to have to sit him down and tell him how Hexy had to do time in the minors and how this is good training and how he is going to thank us. We had to go through all that. This time he came in and said, `I know what I’ve got to do. I’m going to go down there and do it, and I’m going to lead that team.’ And we’re going, `Whoa.’ Then when he went down and saw (Manchester coach) Mark Morris, we asked Mark how his attitude was, and he said, `It’s unbelievable.’ He said, `I didn’t have to say a thing to him.’ He [Bernier] said, `You don’t have to worry about me.’
“And he took it from there, and he was outstanding the whole year. Then when he got called up (to the Kings) and won, and it was time to go back down, you’re thinking, `Well, maybe there’s going to be a problem.’ It was, `No, I get it. I’ll be ready if you call me again.’ The maturity factor was off the charts. So with everything, you can say that he has become a man. You’ve heard me talk about that so much. We forget that they’re 18 years old. Most of us spent the next four years in frat houses and stuff. We expect these guys to grow up right away. So I’m so impressed with his mental growth, as much as I am with his play. So when you talk about needing to protect him, I look at it like he has finished his basic training.”