June 26, 2011 1:00 pm

Lombardi: Smyth trade `probably harder than making the Gretzky deal’

Today’s interview with Dean Lombardi started with this gem: “Making the Ryan Smyth deal was probably harder than making the Gretzky deal.” A joke but, in reality, probably not that far off-base. Here’s what Lombardi said today about (finally) completing the Smyth trade, about the potential of keeping Colin Fraser, about contract talks with Drew Doughty’s agent and about his rough plan for replacing Smyth…

Question: You made the move today with Smyth and Fraser. Did it become clear that the deal you had in place before couldn’t be revived?

LOMBARDI: “Like I said (at the draft), that deal would not work for us if we had to take a guy who is not healthy, particularly if he’s got that type of (salary-cap) number. When it broke apart on the first day of the draft, we were there with the league lawyers until midnight. There was clearly an issue in terms of his health, and we couldn’t find a way to piece it back together. We could not do that. We were willing to assume some risk, but not that amount of money and not have the flexibility that having a healthy player would allow us.”

Question: Was there some type of dispute there? (Edmonton GM) Steve Tambellini was telling reporters at the draft that there was no health issue.

LOMBARDI: “Well, it’s fair to say that we had four league lawyers in there who worked their butts off. I give the league a lot of credit. Those four people stayed there after a long day. It’s not butt-kissing. When they do a good job, I’ll tell them. Four of the league’s lawyers stayed there, well into the post-draft period, trying to find a solution. It was very clear, in discussing with them, that this player would not qualify as being healthy. We tried to find a solution. It was David Zimmerman, Julie Grand, Jessica Berman and Daniel Ages. We said, `We want this deal to happen.’ They said, `Dean, there’s no way.’ Those people tried everything. They looked at the documentation and this was something that could not happen. There was no solution, given the documents and everything that were in front of them. So I’ll leave it at that.”

Question: You talked yesterday about needing flexibility in terms of what you got back for Smyth. Do you intend to keep Fraser?

LOMBARDI: “Obviously the contract is very different (than Brule). It’s a lot less money, so that certainly works. We had this kid in Philly. He’s a hard-working, honest player. He has a chance.”

Question: Any updates on the Drew Doughty contract talks?

LOMBARDI: “We met there on Tuesday, and basically we agreed to meet again. At least now, I think it’s fair to say the first couple meetings — I don’t know if you’d say it was a feeling-out process — it was more broad discussion. It was more about getting a feel for what’s important to each other, to make a deal. I think it’s fair to say, though, that on Tuesday we got closer to establishing the parameters, meaning, `OK, given your interests and our interests, here’s how we see it and here’s how you see it.’ So it’s fair to say that the numbers parameters are kind of in place. That doesn’t mean it can’t go in another direction. Because remember, one of the things that allows for flexibility is the term. One of the things that can happen, that can make negotiations tougher, is if you get locked into a certain term, and then it just becomes a numbers issue. At least, in this case — and given the quality of the player — you have more flexibility as far as term. At this stage, it’s fair to say we’ve exchanged numbers, and that we’ve agreed to meet again. The first two meetings were kind of about establishing parameters, what was important to them, what was important to us.”

Question: How important — or substitute any word there that works better — is it to get that done before July 1?

LOMBARDI: “Well, I said this before and I believe this. The most important thing for me, in terms of it getting done, is that it allows a young player to focus on competing in the offseason, with himself, so that he can compete in training camp, in terms of going to another level. My experience in this is what Nabokov, Marleau and Stuart, when they held out on me in San Jose. What happens is, a young player inevitably loses his focus because he’s uncertain. It’s hard for them, because there’s still that element of uncertainty that doesn’t lend itself to a young player pushing himself in the offseason, to be the best he can be. As it drags on, and as the uncertainty continues, there’s kind of that disincentive to push yourself that extra mile, to make sure you’re going to another level in terms of your conditioning. I think it’s particularly the case with young players. I’ve experienced this in San Jose. I saw what happened with those three kids. It just caused so much uncertainty, for themselves as well as the team.

“So if you ask me why it’s important, that’s what is critical. Now, you’ve got your ancillary issues. Would it be nice to get it done so that you can plan the rest of your team? Absolutely. But I put that second. The most important thing is for this player — given how important he is to this whole model — to be able to rise up like that, that emotional thing. I’d say that’s the most important thing. Secondly, yeah, it would certainly be nice to have it done, to plan the rest of our team. That’s what is funny. Most people talk about July 1, getting it done, offer sheet. No. That’s not what I fear the most.”

Question: Back to Smyth, you talked about needing to find a replacement for him. What type of player, or salary, would you look to take on?

LOMBARDI: “It’s safe to say that there’s a potential for a mid-range move.”

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