Here are the highlights of Dean Lombardi’s conference-call session. Most revealing? Lombardi’s comments about Ryan Smyth, in which he reveals — something Smyth himself declined to reveal — that Smyth had asked for a move closer to home, and that the Kings are close to accommodating him. Most surprising? No references to the Yankees, and even a Red Sox mention!
Question: Can you just talk about how all this came together? It seems like it happened pretty quickly. What were the last 24 hours or so like?
LOMBARDI: “Well, it’s been a pretty hectic four weeks, actually, between everything. I would say the issue of possibly acquiring him was broached about four weeks ago. Things just kind of evolved and then moved to a pressure point, to so speak, which is usually the draft and July 1. So in terms of the possibility of acquiring him, I was aware of that about four weeks ago, but I wasn’t sure how sincere they were, or what it was going to cost, those type of things, but certainly the last 48 hours have been pretty grueling. That’s usually the way these deals work.”
Question: Just looking at what you’ve done here, you’ve obviously strengthened yourself down the middle. Are you still concerned about the wings, and do you have another move in mind? Does this preclude a major free-agent move on the order of a Brad Richards?
LOMBARDI: “Well, just because I made a trade today doesn’t mean I’m free to tamper with whoever I want, so I certainly can’t comment on that.”
Question: A major free-agent signing, without a name, how about that?
LOMBARDI: “[laughs] Well, let’s just leave that open. What was the first part of the question, the wings and the centers? Yeah, I think you pretty much know my philosophy in terms of building from the back and then strength down the middle. I think it’s very clear, not only historically — you can go back and look at Forsberg-Sakic, Nieuwendyk-Modano — I’m a very strong believer in strength in the back and then get that strength down the middle. It’s the old thing Bobby Clarke once told me. In the end, you’d rather have Clark-McLeish than Clarke-Barber. Not taking anything away from the players, but it’s the strength down the middle. I think this is something that clearly I had my eye on at the trade deadline. I thought this was the one position that would make us the biggest leap. It certainly wasn’t there, but again, you guys have asked me hundreds of times about, `Who are you getting?’ `What are you going to do?’ `Do you have to do something?’ But it has to be two things. The timing has to be right and it has to be the right player. I think it’s fair to say that when I found out this player was available, there was no doubt in my mind — given what I know about his character and his competitiveness — and the thought of having him and Kopitar down the middle, that allows us, I think, essentially, to match up to any team in the Western Conference. I think that was a big hole. So I think we’ve cleaned that up today.”
Question: He’s a pretty hefty long-term expense here. Do you have money to play with in the free-agent market or has anybody above you said, `That’s it’?
LOMBARDI: “I think I’d like to let the dust settle here. You can ask me that again maybe in a couple days.”
Question: Probably the most interesting thing was the addition of Brayden Schenn in this deal. What changed, in terms of you making him available when you didn’t at the trade deadline?
LOMBARDI: “The player that was available. At the trade deadline, there was nobody comparable to Mike Richards available.’ … You’re right. Brayden Schenn is a very good player and a very good prospect, but as I said then — when everybody was asking about him — why would I give this guy up for a guy with one year left on his contract, or a free agent? it made no sense. You just never say never, but we’re also talking about a player here (in Richards) who arguably isn’t even in his prime yet, and the fact that he’s signed to a very favorable AAV [salary-cap figure]. At 5.7 (million) in today’s day and age, with trying to keep our core together and seeing how some of these AAVs are going, this deal made a lot of sense for us. So, I guess what I’m saying is, you never say never. I mean, Gretzky got traded. But clearly a player of this caliber was not available at the trade deadline. Again, that’s taking nothing away from Brayden. The Flyers got a very good player, who is going to play next year, but we felt that given Mike’s age and our need to move to the next level, this is our Adrian Gonzalez, I guess.”
Question: There’s a lot of speculation surrounding Ryan Smyth. Are you getting a lot of calls on him, and is he a guy that you’re open to moving at this point?
LOMBARDI: “I think it’s pretty well-documented, in terms of what I’m doing here. This has kind of evolved over the last two months, actually. When Ryan asked to be moved, at first I was really troubled. Ryan, in our first 40 games last year I thought he was one of our better players. He kind of tailed off a little and then, in the playoffs, was one of our best players. And certainly, left wing, it’s not one of our strongest positions. So first off, my reaction was, `No way,’ and I couldn’t figure out why, because I think Ryan had adapted well. So I talked to him a couple times, and he was very clear that it had nothing to do with hockey, that it was strictly for his family, that he wanted to go home. I thought about it (for) a week or so and talked to his agent and said, `If it’s a hockey issue, I would not approve of this, because if it’s coaching, the power play, his ice time, who he’s playing with, these are things that we will work through.’ But if it’s a personal thing, a family issue, it’s hard to argue with that and have a player that’s not going to be happy. So I resigned myself. He asked to go back closer to home, and I’ve primarily dealt with three teams, and particularly two right now. This kind of hit the front burner last week, in terms of coming out publicly, because of the predicament I was in. I was talking to other teams about getting a left winger if Ryan goes, and teams say, `Why is he going?’ and I had to explain it to them. I tried to move this along because I have to replace him. I’m not in a great position here. We’re just going to have to adapt. I’ve talked to one team a number of times, and they’ve been very forthright in trying to piece it together. I hope to have that wrapped up here in a day or two. Maybe he changes his mind now that Mike Richards is in our lineup, I don’t know, but it’s an awkward situation. I’ve never had this before. It’s nothing I’ve certainly ever planned on. I think his contract is very favorable, in terms of the cash and (it being) the last year, but we’ve got to adjust to it. So that’s kind of the soap opera that’s been going on for a month and a half. It just kind of broke last week.”
Question: I’m sure you talked, before trading for Mike Richards, with Terry Murray and John Stevens. What kind of things did they say about the player you’re getting?
LOMBARDI: “To be honest with you, I don’t think you have to (talk with them). I’ve known Mike Richards, and obviously Ron Hextall and those guys know him from Philly. We all know what this guy stands for. You’ve just got to watch him play. This goes back to his juniors. Everywhere this guy has gone, he has won. Whether it’s junior hockey, whether it’s World Junior tournaments, right into the American League. It’s not one of those where you have to caucus and think whether or not you want this player. It was just a matter of trying to make it happen. I think there’s obviously a little bit of an advantage. The kid was emotional about being traded, but it’s my experience that if you’ve got a guy that’s excited about being traded, generally that’s not the guy you want. You want the guy that wears the jersey on his sleeve, his heard on his sleeve. I know this had to be hard on him. Very few players today will ever commit to a contract like he did, for that term, showing his loyalty. If we can get that here in L.A., that’s exactly what we need. You’ve heard me talk about culture. This guy fits in that (Kyle) Clifford mode, that culture-changer. It wasn’t a lot of discussion internally. It was just a question of what we would have to give up, and making pieces fit.”
Question: Getting Richards, and having him in tandem with Anze Kopitar, does that maybe give Kopitar a little more freedom offensively, to not have to worry so much about defensive responsibilities?
LOMBARDI: “Absolutely. It’s like I was saying earlier, again referring historically. I don’t know if it’s an analogy with baseball and the 3-4 hitters, the idea of having a guy hit behind you. Looking at last season, going into the playoffs or how we lost in the playoffs, that was clearly the hole to me, that was our biggest hole. It’s just what you said. You go into Vancouver and it’s Sedin and Kesler. You go into Detroit, it’s Zetterberg and Datsyuk. You go to San Jose, it’s Thornton, Pavelski, Couture. Those models of strength down the middle — Boston is another example — that still holds. The game is changing, and I think we’re seeing some things that are certainly evolving, but there are fundamental principles that are holding. Last year they said, `You don’t need a goalie.’ Well, I think goalie is pretty important on our team. I’ve seen some shift in thinking. I’m still a firm believer in strength down the middle. Frankly our conference is like that. You hit the nail on the head. It allows your coach to get the matchups he wants. It allows you to focus on a third line. It can maybe focus on checking instead of spreading your scoring. I think the centers, as I’ve always said, make other players better. It allows you to build your wingers a little easier, when your middle has hockey sense and makes plays. There’s a whole host of reasons, but his isn’t some revelation. You’ve been around long enough to know that most hockey people agree with that.”