Here’s the interview I did earlier with Dean Lombardi, regarding his signing of Alexei Ponikarovsky and related issues…
Question: Is Ponikarovsky someone you had your eye on from the beginning, or was this more of a reaction to the way the month has played out?
LOMBARDI: “Well, obviously we all know what happened, spending all those days working on Kovalchuk, so to say that we were looking at him from the beginning, I wouldn’t say that’s very practical.”
Question: But did you think of him as some type of “Plan B,” at least, or did you just start looking at him in recent days?
LOMBARDI: “That’s fair. One of the things that has made this process totally unique is that we spent some much energy, 18 days, on the other guy. Sure, you put down on paper that there were certain other players, but that was one of the frustrating things about that whole process there, not only that it took so long to get done but that we weren’t even close. But certainly it’s safe to say that he was always a viable option all along. It’s just that we couldn’t get to it, even after the contract was done, because then you have the whole nonsense going on with the union there.”
Question: What is it about his game that you like?
LOMBARDI: “Well, I think there’s some similarity to Fro. The size, and he’s a good player. He can kill penalties and he can score. He’s kind of a versatile guy, and I like the fact that we stayed with size in that slot, and size that can play. He’s not just big. We felt that with the Frolov role there, one thing we always liked was the size, and that’s why this guy was a high option. He was a guy we went after hard at the trade deadline. Then when we couldn’t get him, we went to a guy with, I guess, a similar m.o., in Freddy Modin. You can see that the m.o. is the same, but I think that this guy, because he skates so well, was considered Option A at the trade deadline. I’m just glad that we were able to hold on here and start addressing some needs.”
Question: Can you discuss what kind of contact you had with Frolov, and whether there was any mutual interest there?
LOMBARDI: “It was kind of a strange thing. Boy, there are so many things involved there. That’s one of the downsides of putting so much energy into a Kovalchuk-type scenario. It’s not only what time is spent, but it’s neglecting other players. So when we got the go-ahead to look at other things, after Kovalchuk, it’s kind of hard for some players, emotionally. I had talked to Fro, after the dust kind of cleared, but I can understand when a player gets kind of hurt. When you’re talking about a guy with Kovalchuk’s ability, I don’t know how exactly to describe it, but it’s almost like the other player is the stepchild. But in Ponikarovsky, we had a very good option here. He’s an important guy to get, because there weren’t any options out there, quite frankly, who fit that m.o. and have that ability. So it’s a pretty good recovery, in terms of everything we’ve been through.”
Question: Could he potentially fill that spot alongside Handzus and Simmonds, if that ends up being the way you want to play it?
LOMBARDI: “Yeah, that’s probably fair. That’s where Fro was, and I think a lot of the m.o. is the same. Fro is probably a little better with the puck, but Ponikarovsky skates better and is probably more of an adept penalty-killer. They both kind of have some strengths and weaknesses, but I really like the size issue. So like I said, given all that has happened here over the last 25 days, it has certainly been an incredibly grueling, taxing process. So to be able to recover and get a player of this caliber, I think we’re pretty happy.”
Question: Going forward with the Kovalchuk thing, are you still keeping an eye on that? Will you make a trade if it comes along, or are you waiting to see about the resolution on Kovalchuk?
LOMBARDI: “I don’t know how practical that is. That whole circumstance, you see it in a lot of things, not just sports. The issue is a lot bigger, and involves so many other interests. It goes well beyond just the player and his team. I certainly felt, from my end, that we couldn’t wait for that to play out. I think we needed something. We’ve been seriously weighing our options here, and I don’t think the chances of this…well, I shouldn’t comment on it either way.”
Question: Whether it’s that, or something else, do you feel the need to go get another player this summer, maybe that same type of top-six forward, or is that not something you see as an absolute necessity?
LOMBARDI: “I can’t say, but there’s kind of one piece that I’m looking at, that I have in the back of my mind. But in terms of our biggest concern, in terms of our ability to fill that hole, I think this was the main hole that had to be filled, because we don’t have that in the system. So for me, it’s kind of a relief here, to say, `OK, this other thing is over, so let’s move on.’ It still comes back to the continued emergence of our young players. The framework around them has changed. We lost O’Donnell, Jones, Frolov, but I want to make sure that we try to bring back that framework, knowing that we’re not that far away, in terms of some of our kids being ready. When you had the youngest core in the playoffs, by far, by definition it’s going to improve from within. I want to put the framework around them that is similar to last year, and allow them to continue to grow without putting more on their shoulders. I think this was the biggest hole that had to be filled. So like I said, given all we’ve been through, to get a guy like this, I think it’s pretty significant, because we were very exposed.”