Here’s the transcript of my phone interview today with Dean Lombardi, in which Lombardi talks about the absence of Drew Doughty from training camp. [ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun astutely points out that Doughty is technically an unsigned RFA, so please accept the term “holdout” in a colloquial sense…] In the interview, Lombardi talks about taking Doughty’s “holdout” into account in terms of further contract negotiations. Meaning (and this is my math, not Lombardi’s) if you use $6.8 million per year as a baseline starting point, theoretically that offer would be reduced by $24,727 (and 27 cents) today.
Question: You’re now basically in a holdout situation with Doughty. What kind of update can you give about his status and the negotiations?
LOMBARDI: “Obviously we’re very disappointed that he’s not here. I don’t think it’s any secret, what we think of this player and his abilities and what his potential is. So that’s certainly not an issue, as far as the quality of the player or the quality of the person. We hold both to high regard. That said, a couple things. I don’t want to get into the intricacies what we offered, in terms of the minute details. It’s safe to say that, as far as the big picture within the league, we certainly made him an offer that puts him amongst the top defensemen in the league. Then you look at your team. It’s no secret that he would be at the top of our team. Then, thirdly, even thought I think you know how I feel philosophically about paying for potential, it’s part of the system unfortunately. But the third thing that’s critical to us is the allocation. Where we’re at now, we certainly stretched the limit in terms of paying him amongst the top players in the league, paying him appropriately within the team’s salary structure and, most importantly, being able to keep this group together.
“So we are a cap team. This is not an issue of spending money. But what people sometimes don’t realize is, it’s easy to say, `Well, just pay a little more.’ Under this system, that can really hurt you, as far as keeping other key components of your team. So even though the number is still, I think, fair in terms of the league and the team, where we’re at now is the most we can and feel comfortable that we can keep all the pieces necessary to be a contender, year in and year out.
“The other thing that I think has happened here is, we were very aggressive in trying to sign Drew before July 1. There were three reasons for that. Number one, we wanted to get our payroll in order, to have some finality in terms of what we would have to pursue free agents. Number two, obviously, we were potentially concerned about an offer sheet. Three, I felt that my experience in this, when young players are not signed, and have this period of uncertainty, they don’t always focus on training properly. So we really got aggressive there, prior to July 1, and realized that we were going to have to pay him at the top of our team. So we did it then.
“Traditionally, it always goes down to the deadline, whether it’s the deficit ceiling or collective-bargaining agreement, but our deadline was prior to July 1. Now it is what it is. That said, it’s unfortunate. It’s uncharted waters for Drew, when you see a young player like this, and I think our offer reflects that. What we have (offered) is no doubt an expression of how we feel about him as a player and a person.”
Question: All that said, at the risk of asking a simple question, what’s next?
LOMBARDI: “The problem we have, and we’re going to have to see how this evolves, is that generally with a player, you establish his market value and he signs up for 275 days of work. That was the one thing that changed during the CBA, that players were paid during training camp. So, quite frankly, it’s the way we have to approach this. Let alone missing a day or work, as well as getting behind your teammates in terms of preparation. It probably makes this a little more difficult, but you have to factor that in now. You’re not getting a full year’s work as of today.”
Question: Meaning the offer gets reduced by however many days he’s not here?
LOMBARDI: “Well, as we talked about before, there has to be some finality, in terms of when the players are supposed to report. It’s no different, I think, than what the other teams have done. It’s, `OK, now we have to regroup here and see what evolves,’ and then I have to go back to ownership. It’s no different than anything else. You do this based on 275 days of work, and now it’s down to 274.”
Question: Is it accurate to say that there is not an offer on the table at this point?
LOMBARDI: “Yeah. Well, it’s not that one [previous offer]. It doesn’t mean, certainly, that there isn’t going to be dialogue. The point is that missing days of work has to now factor into this negotiation. There’s no doubt in my mind that this kid is going to play here and play here a long time. But now, like I said, missing a day of work has to be factored into this. It’s no different than any other player. The lines of communication are certainly open. There was a cordial discussion last night, and that’s it.”
Question: Were you able to talk to Drew directly?
LOMBARDI: “I just talked to him briefly last week. It certainly didn’t get into the contract, per se.”
Question: Is there any kind of light at the end of the tunnel here, in terms of different contract structure that you might be able to try in order to get this done?
LOMBARDI: “You’ve got to remember, we’ve been around this since June, with three trips to Toronto (to Don Meehan’s office). All these things you’re talking about have been discussed. It’s like a funnel effect. I can’t think of discussing something that hasn’t already been discussed. I honestly can’t. In June, we took an enormous amount of time, and then it picked up again in August. We’re probably just tapped out, even from talking, but it doesn’t mean we won’t. Don’t forget, with the CBA, this isn’t like the old days where you could do options and escalators and things like that. It’s very finite, the things you can do.”
Question: This doesn’t sound encouraging.
LOMBARDI: “Well, I don’t know. Like I said, there’s no doubt this kid loves the game and loves this team. It’s disappointing. It’s not that I’m not encouraged that he’s going to be here. Obviously there’s a great feel around camp. The players are excited. But let’s face it, Drew is a key part of this process. But right now, we have to focus on the team. The players, they understand what’s going on and they’re pretty focused today, as is everybody else. That’s the way you have to be. We have to focus on doing what we’re doing right now. Like I said, these things can change in a short time. It’s not that it’s not encouraging. It’s a little disappointing, but we’re also excited as to what I’m seeing and feeling downstairs. We see this kind of thing happen, and eventually it will be resolved. We can’t let this, in any way, derail us from the focus we need here every day.”
Question: The other day, you kind of rejected the idea of a short-term contract, just to get something done. Is that still the feeling?
LOMBARDI: “That was something that was talked about back in June, and neither side was really interested in it. That just goes back to what you asked me. We’ve looked at this every way. Even before we made our trade (for Mike Richards) and went through free agency, this was our number-one priority. This is a home-grown boy and a key part of this franchise.”