The last post referenced this weekend’s NHL Draft, and the quick transition from celebration to drafting. It doesn’t stop after that, of course, because just eight days after the draft ends, the free-agency period begins. Three regular contributors to this season’s team, Colin Fraser, Dustin Penner and Jarret Stoll, are due to be unrestricted free agents on July 1, and the Kings are open to the idea of bringing back all three under the proper circumstances. In terms of odds, Fraser and Stoll are more likely to return than Penner — I’d probably even put their status as “probable” — but there’s also a chance Penner could return on a short-term contract.
In any event, it doesn’t figure to be a high-intensity summer for the Kings, certainly not on the level of the Summer of Kovalchuk and last year’s high-profile swing at Brad Richards. That, perhaps, is reinforced by the fact that, of the 23 players who appeared for the Kings in the playoffs, 12 were drafted, eight were traded for and only three were signed as free agents. Today, Dean Lombardi talked about the construction of this season’s team and whether he intends to try to keep it together…
Question: When you look at the makeup of this year’s team, there were only three guys you acquired as free agents. Does that surprise you at all? Obviously you made the moves, but in terms of the makeup of a team, is that how it should be? Does it surprise you that it turned out that way?
LOMBARDI: “No, it doesn’t. The big dog, in free agency, is tough. Usually when you want to use free agency, it’s for getting good players who fit. And that’s clearly what those guys represent, good players who fit with what we had within the system, like a Mitchell with Voynov and Scuderi with Doughty. I remember saying that when we were using free agency just to get bodies in here six years ago. That’s not my cup of tea. There’s nothing wrong with going after a big dog, but in most cases, the best free agents are the ones that fit., and those guys certainly fit that.
“We obviously strive for big names. Certainly last year we went really hard. Quite frankly though, the problem is that there’s not a lot of big names every year. Some guys get bigger (profiles) just because the supply in the market isn’t that great, so they start taking on a larger aura. But generally that’s not the case. You look at this year’s class. Once you get through the top guys, who excites you? So generally, you’re looking for guys — I’m not saying they’re not good players, don’t get me wrong — but generally, when you’re looking at that list, it’s more of a fit issue.”
Question: You’re now in a unique situation — I haven’t looked at the whole history, but I assume it’s pretty unique — in that you have a chance to return a championship team intact. Do you want to keep it together? There’s a school of thought that would say some change is good…
LOMBARDI: “When we were doing this, we said that one of the benefits of maybe going slow, so to speak, was just that, that we wanted to be in a position not only to win but to keep it together. So, generally, if you go along those lines, with the draft and not over-doing the free agency, you’re able to do that. Given our age, of this team, even though we had to pay those big contracts, that’s what I was always saying with Doughty. We don’t want to go through this and just have a one-year run and blow it up. So we’re in that position now. Secondly, what you’re asking, I’ve got to do some research. This is a new experience for me. Darryl has been through it three times, although this is the first time he has won it. I find some of the dialogue I’m having to be interesting. I’m talking to a number of people in different sports, and that is one of the issues. One guy told me that one of the hard parts was, he made a mistake in terms of training camp. Because (the previous season) was so long, guys were banged up. They weren’t hard on them in camp, like they usually were, and the team didn’t come back until December. So there’s a small thing to be conscious of.
“Then, as you said, there is a school of thought that says you’ve got to make changes and not get stale. I’m not sure about that. On one hand I could say maybe, but we’re a young team. It’s not like there’s old guys that need to go, who had a last hurrah. Secondly, it’s a very tight group. You can say, `Well, chemistry changes when you’ve had success,’ and that’s true. I don’t think these are things we could sit down and analyze and come up with a definitive answer. You’re right. These are things that have to be discussed. I don’t have those answers now, but I’ve already done some surveying and I intend to do a lot more. Clearly I’ve been around a little while now, and I’m getting old, but I’m learning things I never thought of before.”