GM breakfast recap

Here’s the recap of today’s GM breakfast with Dean Lombardi, Ron Hextall and Jeff Solomon. I’m just going to recap and summarize it, because to record and transcribe everything would probably be too much for everyone. Plus, these meetings are intended as a benefit for season-ticket holders, so they should get the benefit of the entire experience. This, though, should give you a good idea of what was said…

— First question referenced Chicago’s “big splash” signing of Marian Hossa last summer and asked if the Kings would do something similar this season, with a reference — it took all of about 20 seconds for the name to come up — to Ilya Kovalchuk. Lombardi turned the question around and asked fans “How much money?” and “How many years?” to try to illustrate the complexity of signing a big-name player in the salary-cap era. Lombardi didn’t back away from the idea of a big signing/trade but said, “If you’re going to give that type of money to one player, he’s got to be the whole package.” Lombardi also discussed the need to have a signing fit within the salary structure, in terms of re-signing young players whose contracts will soon be up.

— Next question was a passionate statement taking the Kings to task for not having a pregame ceremony honoring their Olympians last night. Lombardi and Hextall both said the idea had been discussed internally, and both said they were mindful of having the Olympians’ focus be solely on the Kings going forward. Hextall said, “To go back to the Olympic thing might have been a little bit of a step back for the players.” Both men noted that a video tribute was done for the players during the game.

— Next question was about the possibility of moving the trade deadline to February. Lombardi said the issue had been discussed at GM meetings, and said he understands the theory of wanting to reduce the number of “rental” players but said, “The more you move it [the deadline] up, the less action you’re going to have,” because teams will still consider themselves in the playoff race and won’t be willing to designate themselves as “sellers.”

— Next question was whether Patrick O’Sullivan was available the trade deadline. Lombardi said, “I can’t talk about specific names. It’s not fair to the players.”

— Next question was about the status of injured prospects Trevor Lewis and Thomas Hickey. Hextall said Lewis returned from his shoulder injury last night for Manchester and that Hickey and Andrei Loktionov are recovering from their shoulder injuries and could be back on the ice within the next 10 days. A late-March return would put both players in line with the original estimates.

— Next question was about whether the Kings might call up Jonathan Bernier this season. Lombardi explained how after last season, when Bernier sulked during the first half of the season, Bernier’s play and attitude have been very strong this season. Lombardi said, “In a perfect world, quite frankly, Jon spends the entire year in Manchester,” and explained the plan at the start was for Bernier to play a full season there and hopefully make a playoff run. Lombardi and Solomon explained that, after the trade deadline, a team can only make four call-ups — other than for emergency purposes — and the Kings have already used one (Scott Parse) so they’re unlikely to make a call-up simply to “get a look” at a player.

— Next question was about which current prospects are faring well. Lombardi and Hextall went through a long list of junior and AHL players. Names mentioned were Brayden Schenn, Brandon Kozun, Kyle Clifford, Linden Vey, Loktionov, Alec Martinez, Viatcheslav Voynov, Andrew Campbell, Hickey, Oscar Moller, Lewis, Corey WElkins, Dwight King, Marc-Andre Cliche and Kevin Westgarth. Hextall, in particular, pointed out Westgarth as a player who has made strides in his all-around game.

— Next question was about why the Kings didn’t require a “reliable” backup goalie before the deadline and whether they thought enough of Erik Ersberg to keep him as the No. 2 guy. Lombardi said he looked at the possibility of adding a goalie but didn’t see a clear upgrade on the market. Lombardi pointed out that Ersberg has been put in tough situations — “Sit for two months, then go play against Heatley, Marleau and Thornton — but left open the possibility that Bernier would see time if Quick should get injured, for instance.

— Next question was about Lombardi’s famous “boxes” and “charts” and essentially asked how close he was to having them filled. Lombardi gave a long, winding answer that essentially boiled down to, “We do everything well, but every segment of our team has to be better … for us to be elite.” Essentially, Lombardi was saying that the boxes are currently filled, but he’s always looking for ways to improve or tweak what he has. Lombardi used Rich Clune as a example, saying that four months ago, he wouldn’t have been a part of the plan, but now he is. Lombardi said his plan is to “do this and sustain it,” and said he rejected the idea that the salary-cap era has created a situation in which teams only have a narrow window to win.

— Next question was about the possibility of signing Drew Doughty long term. Solomon said the Kings can’t talk to Doughty about an extension until July 1 but talked about the mutual affection between Doughty and the Kings and said he doesn’t “see anything in the future that is going to stand between that relationship.”

— Next question was about Terry Murray’s tendency to frequently change line combinations. Hextall, while saying he didn’t want to speak for Murray, pointed out that Justin Williams’ injury had put the lines in flux and said that line combinations are “a day-to-day evaluation” for a coach. Hextall added that even during the Kings’ nine-game winning streak, there were games that they didn’t play particularly well, and that a coach is always mindful of searching for the right combinations.

— Next question was about why the Kings didn’t acquire a puck-moving defenseman at the deadline. Lombardi agreed that it’s an area that “needs to improve,” but said the biggest improvement can come from the continued improvement of Doughty and Jack Johnson. In terms of the deadline, Lombardi rhetorically asked, “Who’s available?” and said that puck-moving defensemen are typically drafted, not traded for. “It’s like free agency,” Lombardi said. “People say, `Go get somebody.’ Well, put the names down. Who is out there?”’

— Next question was about Jonathan Quick, the poor puck-handling skills he showed in the past couple games, and “how to get back to his original game.” Hextall said, “You’ve got to be real careful when you dissect his game. … From the start of the year, he’s done an absolutely outstading job.” Hextall said he was sure that Quick would own up to his recent errors but that Quick is “probably the least of our worries right now.” Hextall referred to Quick’s recent play as part of the “normal ups and downs” of a season.

— Next question was about Lombardi’s “rift” with Jack Johnson — regarding the comments Lombardi made about the University of Michigan — and whether it would negatively impact the relationship. Lombardi said, “Trust me, we’re fine.” Lombardi said that he had made a mistake in not “laying down ground rules” and designating his comments as off the record, but reiterated that he had been attempting to illustrate how far Johnson has come. “He knows I’m his biggest fan,” Lombardi said.

— Next question was about “what to do with Justin Williams,” who the questioner said “has not been consistent, just consistently hurt.” Lombardi brought up Mike Ricci, whom Lombardi said had a history of injuries before San Jose acquired him but stayed healthy with the Sharks. Lombardi drew a distinction between being injured and being hurt, and said he had no doubt that Williams is willing to play hurt. “A lot of guys don’t get hurt,” Lombardi said, “but they also don’t say `boo’ to someone if they’re 10 feet away.”

— Next question was about the players acquired at the trade deadline and why they were brought in. Lombardi said Jeff Halpern and Fredrik Modin brought size, experience and penalty-kill ability. “These were things we thought we could address without getting into our top prospects,” Lombardi said. He added that he felt Moller and Cliche were better off playing big minutes in Manchester right now.

— Next question was about why the Kings don’t use their ECHL affiliate in Ontario the way that the Ducks do. Lombardi pointed out that the Ducks don’t have their own AHL affiliate and that San Jose uses its ECHL affiliate to more easily move players around while they try to stay under the salary cap. Lombardi said he would consider using Ontario more in the future. The same questioner asked about Lombardi signing a contract extension. Lombardi turned to a team employee and joked, “Can we get that for the website?”

— Next question was about Lombardi’s experience with the U.S. Olympic team and what it meant to him. Lombardi spoke passionately about his love for his country and said, “To be able to put my heart and soul into this country, even in a small way, was an honor.” Lombardi called his work for the team a “small token” and joked that, “As Brian Burke said, my two-page scouting reports on a player probably went a little overboard.”

— Next question was about how much say Lombardi, as GM, has on the day-to-day decisions. Lombardi talked about it being a “fine line” and said, “You certainly talk to your coach, but in the end, he has to make the call and you have to support him.” Lombardi added, “I’ll make recommendations to Murph and, to his credit, he will listen. Some coaches will go the other way, just to prove they’re in charge.” Lombardi stressed the importance of a coach and GM being “on the same page.”

— Next question was a “thank you” to Lombardi for bringing the NHL Draft to L.A. this June. Lombardi said the thanks should go to Luc Robitaille and joked that, “We could have had Kovalchuk, but Luc wouldn’t let me trade the first-rounder.” It was a joke. Really.

From there, I went inside to watch practice, but the session didn’t last much longer. I know Lombardi’s “closer” was one of his charts, so next time you’ll have to go the GM breakfast to experience that!

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