June 25, 2010 1:16 pm

Lombardi talks draft table

Here’s the long-form interview with Dean Lombardi, expanding on the topics covered in the feature story I wrote and posted earlier. One note of clarification, in order to avoid confusion… In the interview, Lombardi tells the story of drafting Andrew Campbell. After some consultation with Mike Futa, I determined that Lombardi is indeed talking about Campbell, but just got his rounds a little confused, because Campbell was a third-round pick, not a fourth-round pick. Anyway, here’s the interview…

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Question: When we see the draft on TV, we see a table full of people sitting around, talking to each other, talking on the phone, thumbing through a bunch of papers. Is there a way to give people an insight into what might be happening at the table at any given moment?

LOMBARDI: “Let’s say you’re in the middle rounds. Say you’re in the fifth round. Because you’re drafting 18-year-olds, there’s a point when the list shotguns, and you never know who is going to go. Generally, certainly near the top, there’s an understanding of which guys are going to go, even if we’re not certain of the order. It’s that way for probably the first third of the first round. Then there’s another group of players, a group of 20 guys, and again, you’re not sure which order they’re going to go, but chances are they’re going to go in that area, say picks 15 to 40. As you go through each block of picks, it gets less and less predictable. That’s what I mean by shotgunning. It’s all over the map.

“So let’s say there’s a guy you want, and your next pick is in the fifth round and they’re in the fourth round. Let’s say the guy we want is (Andrew) Campbell. If we had the next pick in the fourth round, we’d take Campbell. There’s a chance we could get him in the fifth round. So a big part of this is trying to get a feel, trying to predict where you can get the guy. There’s a lot involved in making that assumption, and that’s all it can be, at best, is an assumption. Part guess, part assumption. So we’re sitting there, and Campbell is our next guy. My next pick is at (number) 135. If I was at 130, I’d take Campbell. If I was at 125, I’d take Campbell. He’s our next guy. He’s a guy that we targeted. So what you’re trying to gauge, when you’re sitting there in the fifth round, is, `Oh boy, this is a guy we really like.’ And this is the thing your scouts have to know — and our guys have done a pretty good job with it — because in the end it’s a gut feel that you have to learn. The first thing we have to determine is, `What are the chances he’s going to be there at 135?’ They might say, `Hold right here,’ or they might say, `Get nervous.’ I think it was Campbell, and I think it was Ottawa we were nervous about, because we were nervous about whether he was going to be there so we said, `Let’s see if we can move up.’

“So then that’s when I start working the phones, looking at teams and trying to move up. I’ll usually start doing it three picks behind whoever is picking. It’s, `OK, I’m 15 spots behind you. Would you trade that pick for my pick and my seventh,’ or something like that. The tighter that gap is, the less you have to give up, obviously. So if they tell me I have to move up, I’ll start working the phones from about three picks back, and just keep going until somebody will make that deal or until Campbell goes. So that’s the way that works. I’ve got 135, and on the board right now is 115. So if there’s a team three spots ahead of us that I’m worried about, I’ll start trying to get ahead of them right away. I’ll call the team at 118. `Do you want to do this?’ They say no. Then it’s 119, 120, and keep on working, until Campbell goes or you luck out and it’s there.

“Sometimes it’s the other way, and this happened last year. I think we were in the fourth round, and guys were going who we had on our list. Boom, boom, boom. Now we’re looking at it going, `Uh oh.’ The next guy on my list, Jordan Nolan, I can get in the fifth or sixth round. This happened last year. I think the guy we were going to take went about eight spots ahead, and we had to make a quick decision at the table. And I was pissed that we missed him. This is about experience, and we should have known earlier that we needed to move up from that spot. I was scrambling like hell, and I made the deal with Florida to get out of that spot. There’s nothing worse than being in a spot when you’ve got to get out of it. About three picks before, I made the deal with Florida and got out of that spot and picked up other picks.

“So this type of machinery only works with experience. Last year, I thought we were pretty good. We still made a mistake, but this is part of the experience that goes with the draft, and the coordination with the GM and making the call early on what I’ve got to do. The first round, it’s pretty easy to predict what people are going to do. That second day is a lot of work. You’ve got to try to maximize your list. Because you’re dealing with 18-year-olds, it’s shotgunned, it’s unpredictable. There are still some guys who are slotted in the fourth, fifth, sixth rounds, but that’s why you see, all the time, that the guy who gets picked in the fourth round might have been there in the fifth round. So are you going to take a chance or are you going to say, `You know, I know we can get this guy in the sixth round, so let’s get out of the fifth round and pick up an extra pick’? The danger is, if you get out of that spot and then he goes, you’re like, `Oh, man.’

“That has happened to me plenty of times. You’ve got the guy you want, you’re trying to move up and your pick is coming up. You’re five picks away. You’re four away, three away and then, boom, the guy gets away. That’s the worst feeling.”

Question: The one I remember is in 2008. You were on the phone talking to us [reporters] about Doughty and Teubert, and all of a sudden…

LOMBARDI: “It was (Viktor) Tikhonov.”

Question: Right, Tikhonov. I think you were about three or four picks away from him…

LOMBARDI: “Phoenix traded ahead of us and grabbed him. That’s a different one, where somebody leaps ahead of you. That’s frustrating, but that’s good work by Phoenix. They probably knew we were interested in him. They moved up because they had the extra picks. They paid a steep price to move up. I was pissed, but the only thing you can say as a GM is, `OK, would I have made that deal to move up?’ In the end, the only thing I’m glad about is that they paid a pretty steep price to move up. The thing that really makes you mad is, afterward, thinking, `I could have done this and paid that price.’

“But stuff where you make mistakes, and the inexperience shows up, you only know if you’re sitting at the draft table. The fans would never know. We would have discussions afterward and say, `Hey boys, this can’t happen again.’ Unless you’re at that table, and understanding what we’re trying to do, an outsider would have no clue. There was a point when I knew we weren’t sharp, and I said, `We’re not sharp. We’ve got to be quicker. You’ve got to have this in order.’ Things can happen. This staff, no question they work hard. They’ve got a good mind. We have made mistakes, but you can only improve those with more experience of working together. Last year, I thought we were pretty clean, but there were still things I needed to stay on them about.

“After the draft, we’ll have meetings and go through it. For a couple days everyone will relax, and then during the development camp, we’ll sit down and review every potential situation we had, the moves we made and the ones we didn’t make, and we’ll say, `OK, where did we screw up? What did we do well? What didn’t we do well?’ Then it’s, `What did we learn from it?’ We had one gaffe last year, and I don’t think it will happen again.

“All you can do, in advance, is practice. You can’t go through every scenario, but it’s about practicing their minds. `What would you do here?’ It’s no different than training yourself physically, because you have to think quickly on your feet. So we’ll run these hypotheticals. Before the draft, you’re in the office until 11 at night practicing.”

Question: You spend all this time making your player lists. When you’re sitting at the table, and it’s time to pick, do you ever change your mind, ever vary from the list? Can somebody talk you out of a pick?

LOMBARDI: “It happened the first year, and I’m not a big fan of it. The list shouldn’t change. Your strategy can change, in terms of how it falls. But if that comes up, it’s, `No. You needed to fight for this guy before. Don’t be fighting now, at the last minute.’ We’ve had a few of those. So you might change your strategy, but you shouldn’t be changing your list.”

Question: What would be an example of a change in strategy?

LOMBARDI: “Well, it might totally fall the way you didn’t expect. Like I said, part of your strategy is gauging where you need to be in order to get a guy. Two things can happen. It either completely falls in your favor or it doesn’t. The guy, for instance, is (Oscar) Moller. With Moller, we were shocked that he was there. We thought we had no chance at him. The thing was, we wanted (Wayne) Simmonds. Then we went, `Oh boy,’ because we were worried about losing Simmonds, but there’s Moller. So the strategy changed, and it was risky. I remember Jack (Ferreira) was really upset that we might pass on Simmonds if we got greedy. [The Kings had picks 52 and 61.] We weren’t going to get Moller much later. He was a much higher-profile guy. So your list might not change, but you might bump a guy because you know he’s got a low profile.

“So, for instance, Simmonds was very high on our list, and Moller was fairly high, but because Simmonds had gone through two drafts, we knew there was a chance he was going to drop, and Moller wasn’t. So when Moller was falling, we made a change. That’s a change based on how it falls.”

Question: So you had Simmonds ranked higher than Moller…

LOMBARDI: “Right, but we switched them because we knew Moller would be gone (at pick 61). When we took Simmonds, (a draft publication) said Simmonds was the worst pick of the draft. The worst pick. Not that we made a bad pick or had a bad draft. The worst pick in the draft was Wayne Simmonds. That’s how credible those reports are. I’ll never forget it. The worst pick of the draft. `He’s been through two drafts. How can these idiots take him in the second round.’ So sometimes with a guy like that, you know he can fall, but you don’t want to wait too long. Moller is not going to fall, so you take him even though Simmonds is higher on the list. So that’s a change of strategy, but that’s different from a guy being number 200 on our list and a scout says, `We’ve got to take this guy now.’ Well, wait a minute, there’s 30 guys ahead of him on our list. Why in the hell are you moving him now? No. You fight for him before we get to the table. You’re not going to get any more information at the table. It’s too late. If it’s a change of strategy, like the Moller thing, that’s different.”

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