June 20, 2011 9:00 am

Lombardi, on Doughty contract talks

Hope everyone had a good weekend. It should be a fun week, as we transition into the draft and, shortly after that, the start of the free-agency period. For now, here’s the start of the Dean Lombardi interview from Saturday. As posted the other day, a variety of topics were discussed, so I’ll break up the interview into segments. That should allow everyone to focus and comment on one issue at a time (as well as prevent massive eye-strain all at once…) So here’s the first part, and the part that probably has generated the most curiosity of late: the status of the Kings’ contract negotiations with Drew Doughty…

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Question: What is the status of the Doughty contract talks?

LOMBARDI: “It’s fair to say that, particularly over the last three weeks, we’re at the stage where you would consider them to be serious discussions. I think the situation is probably unique, or maybe it’s not unique and it’s just the nature of the way the game is now. But traditionally, in the past, a lot of these contracts for restricted free agents often didn’t get done until the end of August. There was an old school of thought, that a lot of GMs would say, `What’s the sense of talking in July and August? Nothing gets done.’ Because traditionally, in any negotiation, whether it’s a player contract, the CBA or a TV contract, it always comes down to the end. But in this case, we’ve tried to accelerate it, not only because he’s certainly a player that you envision being a cornerstone of your franchise.

“There’s two things. One, you’d like to get it done so you know what you can do to improve your team. So you don’t want to go out, with the whole theory of `the grass is always greener,’ and not take care of your own. That doesn’t apply here. You’ve got to take care of your own, particularly if you’ve got a player of this caliber. But, that said, you’d like to say, `OK, it’s done, and let’s go out and improve the team.’ So, given the magnitude of the contract, you’d like to put that in place. Secondly, I also think it’s important because my experience in this area — and I guess I have very good first-hand experience, because arguably it cost me my job in San Jose, where there was a group of young players got together and held out. It’s not only the holdout. What happens with young players is, it really disrupts their focus and their routine in the offseason. So not only did those players hold out, but their learning curve kind of became stymied, because it took away from the critical part of their career when they need to totally focus on getting better. Also, particularly in Drew’s case, we’ve still got some work to do in order to get him to the area where he prepares to compete. Nobody questions that when he puts on a pair of skates, he competes. But part of being a real pro is preparing to compete, and that’s what so many young players have to learn. So I’m expecting him to take a step here in his conditioning.

“It’s somewhat like Kopitar. Remember Kopitar’s first couple years? He was at the bottom of all our conditioning charts. Last year was the first year that he moved up to average, overall, and I expect him to take another step. Drew is kind of similar, but we’re trying to accelerate it here. I think whenever you have a young player with the uncertainty of a contract or whatever, it really disrupts their focus. Then, particularly if they hold out and don’t show up to camp, it’s not about how good he’s going to be this year, it’s about whether he’s going to be here. So those are the two years we really accelerated this, to get this done now, was to prepare to build the rest of our team and to ensure that he is focused on his preparation, in taking another step. So, like I said, this started… I went up there (to Toronto) four weeks ago and opened up the dialogue (with agent Don Meehan). It was very clear, at that time, where it looked like it was headed. We came back and did our planning, looked at our options and what we could offer him, looked at the market, went to the GM meetings and then I flew up to Toronto from those meetings for another meeting (with Meehan). When you have the first meeting, you’re kind of laying the ground rules or whatever. This one was a little more focused. Things become clearer and we say, `OK, if this is going to get done, this is probably where it needs to be.’ Then I think we made a very serious offer to him this past week. I’m hoping to really push this forward at the draft.”

Question: Does the prospect of an offer sheet concern you at all?

LOMBARDI: “It’s something that enters into the equation. Let me just put it this way. Anything can happen. I don’t think it’s likely. And it didn’t have any bearing on us trying to bring this to a close quickly. I gave you the two reasons that we were moving quickly. One, to build the rest of the team and, two, to get Drew focused. Getting serious about this offer, versus letting things drag out throughout the summer, the offer-sheet part was not entering the equation. So, are you concerned about it? It could happen, but it wasn’t a factor in us trying to get this done. It’s more of a byproduct. This is a very significant offer anyway, and if you’re going to make offers based on the threat of someone giving an offer sheet, I think you’re going to have real trouble. it’s hard enough, as it is, putting your payroll in order, the way salaries have gone for young players. Now if you’re going to add an offer-sheet-potential inflator, you’re not going to be able to build your team.”

Question: There are some other RFAs there — Wayne Simmonds most notably — and then you have a make a decision on whether to bring back a guy like Handzus…

LOMBARDI: “That kind of all ties in, right? We certainly want to try to improve our team, but our ability to address some of these other issues, in large part depends on getting Drew’s number solidified, so we know exactly what we can and can’t do. So that ties into the reason number one about why we’re doing this (Doughty contract) now. It’s very difficult to answer those questions now.”

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