Picking up the Dean Lombardi interview again, here are some thoughts on how Lombardi intends to improve the Kings this summer. Of course, all of this could be altered depending on the status of Ryan Smyth, but the basics of this remain the same…
Question: When you’ve talked in the past about improving the team, first and foremost it’s been about the improvement of the young players. You don’t have your “boxes” on the whiteboard anymore, but at this point, I’d have to think those boxes are pretty much filled. So now, when you look at upgrading some of those boxes, making the team stronger, how much do you look for outside help — trades, free agency — and how much do you put the emphasis on internal improvement?
LOMBARDI: “That’s your first and foremost. Kopitar, all those guys. We talked about Drew and how he went a little backward, but I thoroughly expect him to bounce back. That’s one of the advantages. We were the youngest team in the playoffs. In some cases that’s a disadvantage, because experience is valuable. On the other hand, we’ve clearly got upside. As far as the boxes, without saying a lot here (about specific players), the situation is not a lot different than it was at the trade deadline. I’m also finding, based on my discussions (with GMs) is that, like the trade deadline, there’s not a lot of options. There are some things we’re looking at, but it’s not a lot different than the trade deadline. I think it’s been well-documented. The numbers on defense speak for themselves, between the goaltending the defense. There’s a nice mix and it has already proven to be one of the top crews in the league, statistically as well as subjectively. Now, our goals for, at even strength, that needs to improve. That 145 or 146 [actually 148], we have to raise that. That is usually a real strong indicator of whether you’re solid.
“Those numbers work out, when you see that the top teams in 5-on-5 scoring were Boston and Vancouver. When you have that type of strength, to be able to play 5-on-5, that’s a big part of the playoffs if you’re going to go through the wars. So when you look at our team, I believe we were at 145. That’s got to improve. Secondly, I think it’s fair to say that the power play from the first half (of the season) was good, and then it really dropped off. We have to improve that, to where it was in the first half of the season, all the time. So when you look at our team, on the macro level, clearly the defense is a nice mix. The numbers bear that out. Where are you lacking? It’s not only what you’re watching, but the numbers bear out that offensively we have to improve. Did we know this going into last year? Yeah. We obviously looked at some things. The trade deadline was very similar to what we’re looking at now. Like I’ve always said, you can’t just snap your fingers and get the right player. I’ve also said that, in terms of the ability to be active, your options are more limited because, as you said, there aren’t many boxes to fill. In my first year sitting here, we signed five free agents and I remember telling you at the time, `This is not good.’ Because we were filling a lot of boxes. That’s what it is saying. So it’s nice to look busy, but trust me, we’re very busy in terms of trying to fill this. It just doesn’t always look that way, because it’s harder. It’s a more limited market, in terms of what we’re looking for and what’s abatable. But you keep plugging away. The one good thing, as we plug away at it, is that two of our best prospects have some of the dimensions we’re lacking, in Schenn and Loktionov. But it’s fair to say they’re going to need some time to figure it out.”
Question: But in saying that, that the potential is there internally, you’re still looking for outside help, right?
LOMBARDI: “I still think we need to improve that. We gave up some young talent to get Dustin Penner. Not only does Dustin need to take strides here, but regardless, I’d still be looking to improve facets of our offense. As I said, there is some hope there from within. There’s a very strong chance they will be there in the future. The problem is, as we all know, is that to put a kid in a top-six role early, traditionally it isn’t good odds. So all I’m saying is that if we can’t get the right guy, at least there is hope there on the horizon. That being said, we’re in a position now — as we already showed at the trade deadline — that we will now get aggressive for the right guy. We took one step at the deadline, but even despite that step, and even if that had worked the way we would have anticipated — we still think we’re going to be able to get to where Dustin belongs — but even with that happening, we’re still looking to add to this group, in terms of this offense.”