Here’s the first part of today’s post-Kovalchuk interview with Dean Lombardi. The second part will touch more on what will happen going forward…
Question: Did you have any idea, before today, that he would be signing in New Jersey, or did you feel like you were in it until the end?
LOMBARDI: “I really didn’t know. Thursday, we made our final offer, and he said he wanted until Monday to think about it, and that was it. So there were no discussions during the weekend, and that was it. So when you ask if we were in it, I don’t know how else to answer that. When you give your final offer and they tell you they’ll consider it, I guess you’re in it. That’s all you can do. You push the envelope in a number of areas, do the best you can do and come up with your best offer, that works on so many fronts. It didn’t work, so we move on.
“I’m very comfortable that we pushed the envelope on everything, from the revenue side to the AAV to the cash side, to other players coming up, the way we structured the contract. There are so many things that go into that. The negotiation, internally, is as grueling as externally, because you’re trying to push this and put this all together and meet his demands. In the end, I’m comfortable that we pushed the envelope as far as was reasonable, and if it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough.”
Question: In talking about all those factors, was there one, in particular, that you decided you just couldn’t budge on any more? Was it the number of years, or the money, or a combination?
LOMBARDI: “It’s a good question. The irony is that, from day one, we were hearing that $100-million number out there. Nobody wanted to believe it, but you never know. So you’re kind of always negotiating against $100 million in the back of your mind. So there was a target out there, and then you try to satisfy staying within your own parameters. There are so many things to cling to. You have a structure, which means how much money is up front. So that’s a cap issue. You’ve got an AAV issue, in terms of spreading it out to make sure you can keep your other guys. You have a cash issue with your players coming up, because even though your AAV is down, most people look and say, `Well, it’s really an eight-year deal and your cash is X.’ So you’re cognizant of that. You’re cognizant of the cash and revenue issue, whether the revenue is going to be able to cover this. Then you have the term, obviously, but you almost had to go to that term-type deal to get any kind of AAV that is workable. So every team is different, in terms of what they have and what they have coming. Atlanta had put out a four- or five-year deal with an average of $7.5 or $8 million. There’s no way we can fold in that AAV, but they can, because it’s only Bogosian and Kane there. So there’s not that issue coming up, backdoor, like we have. We’ve got one issue with a Norris Trophy candidate. In New Jersey’s case, they’ve got an issue with Parise, but it’s not the same volume of young players coming. So the things they’re able to do are different from ours, which are different from Atlanta. So when they’re piecing things together on their end, they’re not facing the same issues all the time. They’re different. So like I said, putting all that together internally and balancing those interests is as grueling as negotiating with the agent, because there’s no margin for error. When you make this type of commitment, you better have looked at everything and around every corner. I’m very comfortable that we put our best effort out there. It’s a choice, and we’re fine with that.”
Question: We hear a lot, in this context, about having room to lock up younger players to contracts. Can you explain that a little more. Is it a direct correlation, an apples-to-apples comparison like, if you pay too much for Kovalchuk, you can’t keep Johnson and Simmonds?
LOMBARDI: “If you’re talking about running hypotheticals, you say, `We get this guy at this number, then you project Doughty and Johnson and Simmonds.’ Yeah, those were all done. Of course. Now, when you ask if there’s a direct correlation, that’s where you don’t know. Some kids will disappoint you and others will surprise you. So in terms of actually running the schematics, you do the best you can on a two- or three-year basis, and that factors into what you end up offering him. Nobody knows for sure. I don’t know that Chicago knows Duncan Keith is going to win the Norris Trophy. So you balance it, and say, `There’s a reasonable assumption that this player is going to command this salary. So if we’re going to get this guy, what does the number have to be to make sure it all works?’ So that was all done, and that’s why, again, the work that goes into structuring things is more work. Those things are done automatically. If you’re going to make an $80-million investment, you better do it. Are they written in stone? No. I don’t think anybody would have projected that Doughty would have been one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy this year. You just try to make reasonable assumptions. That’s all factored into what is offered. What we offered out there certainly wasn’t chicken feed.”