Pour yourself a cup of coffee and settle in for this one. Actually, you want want to make that a pot of coffee. Here’s Dean Lombardi’s conference call from tonight, regarding the Jeff Carter trade. It’s quite an event. Make sure you read down to the bottom, to get Lombardi’s thoughts on TMZ…
Question: How long were you talking to Columbus about Carter?
LOMBARDI: “That’s really hard to say, because you’re talking all the time. I don’t think it’s a question of talking about him. It’s more of an issue of degree. When did it really heat up? Probably, I’d say about a week ago.”
Question: Usually trades, this time of year, are draft picks, rental players. You giving up Jack Johnson, a part of your core, what does that say about where the team is now?
LOMBARDI: “It’s probably fair to say, like you saw us in the summer looking for a top forward, Brad Richards, that we’ve always kind of been in that market. Now, who you can get and how much you have to get up (varies), but I think the only way we can make this deal is because we have some young defensemen coming through the system. Otherwise, with how I feel about the back end, we’re still one of the best teams in the league defensively. We see some things within the system that kind of allowed us to reach out to a player of this caliber, who is still a young player barely in his prime. This isn’t a rental. To me, this isn’t your classic trade-deadline deal, where you’re giving up young players for a rental type situation. This is a good young player for a good young (player). This is a hockey deal.”
Question: The fact that the team has dried up offensively, how much did that have to do with this trade? Making a big move, was it because you didn’t think the offense was just going to discover itself?
LOMBARDI: “That’s a good question. Even in the summer, I always felt we were still a top forward away. … Not having a guy like Parse all year, losing Simon Gagne and essentially not getting much out of Dustin Penner. So our secondary scoring kind of broke down, and our top-end scoring wasn’t able to carry it. Even in our plan in July, in terms of being that contender-type team, we felt we were still a top player, ideally a winger, away. So that’s always there. You’d like to make this deal from where you projected you were. You thought you were short in this area, but you didn’t think you were 30th in the league. I think that’s the frustrating part for all of us, how this has snowballed to, whoa… If we’re 15th or 20th in the league, where I kind of projected offensively, I’m still looking for this deal. But I don’t like the fact that the projection is off, in where we should be starting this deal from. Part of that, again, I think is the way our secondary scoring dried up, which would take the heat off our top guys. That needs to be better. That’s the only troubling thing.
“I certainly see this as part of the plan, as I said, if you look at the things I tried to do in July and what I’ve been trying to do all year. It’s within that framework, but it’s not under the foundation I was expecting. Now, the other thing I’m gauging is that this kind of snowballed on us. I’ve talked to so many hockey people about this. It’s almost psychological now. How much of this is quality of play, speed, skill? It’s been beating us up mentally, and I think that’s part of it, and they’re going to have to fight their way through. It’s not easy for them. As I’ve said, when you’re in the building process, depending on the day we’re one of the top three youngest teams in the league. And they’ve got high expectations, and that’s part of it. So this is something you wanted to add, but you wanted to have a better base here. So, Jeff Carter is not going to come in and be the calvary. We’ve got guys who still have to perform at a higher level, grow into becoming winners, and get some other players back to their identity of doing what they do well. So, I don’t see that as something that was never projected. What wasn’t projected was making this move (as) the 30th scoring team in the league, instead of maybe 15 to 20.”
Question: How much did Richards and Carter actually play together in Philly?
LOMBARDI: “You’ve got all these computer guys who can tell you how much they played together. Trust me, we looked at all that.”
Question: I’m assuming you think Carter can get back to being a 46-goal scorer…
LOMBARDI: “[laughs] Right now, I’d take 20. The one thing about it, it’s not easy to go out on the marketplace and find a guy who has the potential to score 40 goals, who is 27 years old and has a cap number that is very favorable, in terms of me keeping this nucleus together. So, sure there’s been some questions on Jeff in the last year or two, but knowing him well from where we were, having John Stevens, who coached him, and guys who played with him, putting it all together I think this is a good move for us. But again, I wish we were not making it from 30th in the league. I don’t think anyone here thinks — in the room, the coaches — that we should be in that position, and have to make this deal look like desperation, versus adding a piece that we were trying to add before anyway.”
Question: When do you expect Jeff to be here? I assume you expect him to be in the lineup at 5 o’clock on Saturday…
LOMBARDI: “Well, we have to do a lot of physicals here, given the magnitude of this deal. We’re hoping to have it done, but we have to check out everything physically, and Columbus has to do the same. So we’re hoping to (have him play), but we’re not going to cut any corners here, as far as making sure he goes through the x-ray machines.”
Question: Can you talk about Carter’s contract? He’s got 10 (more) years, and how does that fit into your long-term planning?
LOMBARDI: “If any of you guys can figure out the length of contracts that are ideal for players, it’s tough. But like I said, Jeff has proven he is a winner, with the way he has come up, and seeing what he has done with the (AHL) Phantoms, and breaking in with Philly and the World Juniors, so it’s in him. You just always hope, with young people, that they never lose that, despite the fact that everything is secure. That said, it’s just one of the quirks in the system. If that player plays like he’s capable of, and you’ve got an AAV of 5.2 (million) for that caliber of player, that’s very advantageous. So that’s your trade-off. You’ve got a huge risk here, that this player is going to be committed to being the best he can be, despite financial security. That’s the risk, but the pay-off is, you get a heck of a player and you’ve got a 5.2 cap (hit). Like I said, it’s by far the youngest core in the league, and it’s expensive, as you see with Doughty and Kopitar and some of these guys. These type of things allow you the flexibility to keep pieces within the mix, if in fact it all comes together. So that’s the trade-off, trusting the player’s character, that he’s going to earn this thing and not feel secure. In return, you’ve got a very good cap number.”
Question: You’ve got three-and-a-half days left (until the trade deadline). Are you still looking? Are you still in the market?
LOMBARDI: “I don’t think you ever stop doing your job, as far as being in the market. But in terms of looking at everything we have looked at, I think we’re pretty much… Right now, I have absolutely nothing. But you never know. But your definition of `active,’ yes, you’ll still be doing your job. But I have absolutely nothing, but we’ll see.”
Question: Did you talk to the Flyers out Carter last summer, before you talked about Richards?
LOMBARDI: “No, I was totally focused on Mike, because I wanted the strength in the middle (at center).”
Question: Talking about identity, and some of the things the younger guys are going through, does this remind you of any of your experiences in San Jose?
LOMBARDI: “Yes, and Darryl and I have talked about that. This morning, we were here at 6:30 and I said, `OK, it’s very similar to San Jose. Six years, and we improved every year, but everybody forgot that we got younger every year.’ We hit the wall as the young players started taking over. The transition off-track, and it snowballed on them. There were some similarities there, because we had holdouts there as we had a holdout here this year, with young players. So, experience is the best teacher. We were sitting here this morning and we said, `OK, there are some similarities here. It’s an incredibly young team with high expectations, exactly what happened in San Jose.’ The younger it got, the further it was expected to go. That’s exactly what has happened here. That’s good, but these young kids have to learn to deal with expectations. As I’ve always said, when you’re in a building plan, you get old to get young. So you’re old at the beginning, and you slowly whittle it down.
“When (Sutter) looked at it, he said, `I didn’t realize we were this young.’ I said, `Yeah, it kind of went a little faster than we thought.’ But, that said, let’s learn from this and get it back on track. Now we’ve added a guy that’s young, but this isn’t a young, unproven player. It’s funny you bring that up, because that was the first thing Darryl and I talked about. I said, `You didn’t have to go through the holdout here, like we did in San Jose, but…’ What did we learn from it, and how are we going to stop it? That said, it’s one of those intangible, and you never know for sure, but I have a lot more confidence that we’re going to get through this and get the ship back on track. Because they’re good kids and, I’ll tell you what, they care. That’s the one thing Darryl has said consistently here. This is a really good group. They really care. They’re really struggling with finding their own identity and dealing with what it takes to be a winner. That’s why he is here, to guide them through the process.”
Question: I know you have people who know Carter well, with Richards and Stevens. Can you take us through the character issues and why this is a risk worth taking?
LOMBARDI: “I think I’ve got to do what you guys [reporters] do on this one. Don’t you guys always have to protect sources? So I think I’ve probably got to back off there. I think it’s obvious that Johnny Stevens, who coached Jeff, obviously is very familiar with him. So that’s first-hand, behind-the-bench knowledge of a player, which we were fortunate enough to have here. It’s probably safe to say, given that so many people here are tied to Philly, we’re fortunate that we could do some research here, but I don’t think it’s right that I reveal exactly how we go about that.”
Question: Taking out the “how,” can you explain your thinking? Why are you not worried about what was said about him in Philadelphia and Columbus, and that he’s a risk worth taking?
LOMBARDI: “Well, I don’t want to be cryptic here, but it was probably because of the information that we were able to gather. Part of it is my own personal experience, from when I was in Philly, driving to the rink with him when he was with the Phantoms. I’m sorry I can’t go into more (detail). I’ve had a lot of personal contact with him, on a lot of levels, and we’re fortunate to have access to it. Again, some of it is my own first-hand (experience), having been there when he broke in as a pro. Here’s the other thing too, that we’re banking on. When we did the deal in the summer (for Richards), I think I said this to a couple writers at the time. I think a lot of this stuff really got blown out of proportion. Like I told one guy, if somebody had taken pictures of me in college — and I would suggest that, given that most of the people on this call are journalists who went to college — I’d like to know, if they had cameras when you guys went out on Friday or Saturday night, how many of those pictures would have shown up on things? It’s something you do as a 21-year-old. Having even done the research, before we got Mike Richards, I’m going, `Oh well.’
“How many of us are in a position to throw stones? We just never were celebrities enough, to where people wanted to take pictures of us. I do think that, given our culture with TMZ and things, I think stuff can get a little exaggerated. That said, I do think that athletes and professionals all go through a phase like we did in college. You’ve got to grow up and learn from it. They’re no different from anybody else at a young age. Just because they’re great athletes doesn’t mean that, all of a sudden, they’re not human beings. I think we have to recognize that, particularly in today’s day and age, when we give them so much so early, that there’s a growth process here that doesn’t start as soon as you give a kid $50 million. It actually hurts that process. You’re just hoping that these are good people that were brought up the right way and that, just like all of us, when we were at that stage of our lives, we weren’t exactly all choir boys. So I think some of it as exaggerated. Knowing these kids as people, deep down I think they are your classic Canadian boys who will dream of winning the Stanley Cup. That will never leave them. Get some stuff out of your system and get back on track. You’re banking on what’s deeply inside of them, and they can get sidetracked like any young person. That’s my speech on human nature, but I firmly believe it.”
Question: It was reported, with Rick Nash, that you had interest in him. What was your understanding of his level of interest in coming here?
LOMBARDI: “I don’t know. All I know is what you guys printed, quite honestly. Scottie (Howson) never told me whether I was on a list, off a list or whatever. He just approached it like, I guess, any other player. So I don’t know. As far as what Rick Nash wanted, all I knew is from what you guys were writing. I never got that from Scottie.”
Question: Was that ever a realistic possibility, of getting him?
LOMBARDI: “I don’t know. I don’t know. But we’re more than satisfied with Jeff. That’s probably more of a question for Scottie, quite honestly, than me. Once we saw that Jeff was available, for a very (big) price, don’t get me wrong, we were more than comfortable going this route, for a number of reasons.”
Question: Maybe you don’t know the answer to this, but did you sense that you were bidding against another team on Jeff Carter?
LOMBARDI: “I’m thinking that there was probably one or two (teams). I don’t know. I don’t know. Don’t forget, does it really matter? Because this is a player they don’t have to move. So whether or not somebody else is bidding on him is not an issue, if in fact that team does not have to move him, because this is their price. it was very clear to me — I think it’s fair to say that people know Jeff wasn’t thrilled (in Columbus), but it could be like the Cincinnati Bengals guy [Carson Palmer] or whatever — `Hey, we’re not moving you unless we get a fair price.’ And that, I perfectly get. I don’t think, in any way, Columbus could have done a garage sale for this player, if we wanted him now. It’s one thing to be bidding on a player who, it’s not like a free agent, where he has to go somewhere and it’s a bidding war. It’s not like a rental at the trade deadline, where he’s out there and he’s going to go, so you want to get him for the lowest price. This is a player who doesn’t have to go anywhere. So, Columbus sets the price, and if somebody meets it, you get him. If you don’t, you don’t. I know that’s not exactly what Columbus wanted to do, maybe, holding onto him, but they could easily — looking at their situation — have moved him in the summer. So I don’t think I was really concerned about a bidding war, so to speak. I was like, `I get it.’ If I’m (Howson), I’m not moving this guy unless I can get what I think is a fair price, or I’ll try again in the summer. That’s kind of the way I was approaching it.”
Question: Was there a final stumbling block in the deal? It seemed like it took a while to wrap up today…
LOMBARDI: “We have to do a very detailed physical here, and there was a little complication with doctors. Given the gravity of this deal, we have to make sure the physical things are in order.”
Question: Will Voynov come up?
LOMBARDI: “Yes. He played very well for us. The only reason he was in the minors, when we sent him down, it was pure roster size. We wanted to change our mix up front, and bring those two kids up, King and Nolan. So we had to create a roster spot. That was the only reason he went down. He will be coming up here, immediately. He played very well for us, and he’s a great fit for Willie Mitchell, lefty-righty. He’s got a lot to learn, but this is a very good young defenseman. I’m not so sure that, if he hadn’t performed the way he did, despite the fact of how much we would be interested in getting Jeff Carter, I’m not sure I would be this aggressive.”
Question: Will one of your rookie wingers go down?
LOMBARDI: “Yeah, we’ll be making a roster move shortly. He’s coming up and we’ll have to make an adjustment here. I want to see what Darryl wants to do with one guy in particular, but one of the forwards will have to go down, yes.”