ASK A KING: DEAN LOMBARDI
A few weeks ago, Kings fans emailed in questions for Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi. The following is what fans wanted to know and what Lombardi's responses were in last month's Ask A King.
Have you identified the number one need to improve the Kings roster? --Matt from Brea, CA
On the ice, the most important position is still the goaltender. We need to solidify a goaltender, which would either call for making a change or hoping for the emergence of Mathieu Garon or Jason LaBarbera. It always starts around the goal. Off the ice, we need to get our infrastructure together, which is critical. That just takes time unfortunately; usually two to three years to get a good infrastructure.
What is your drafting philosophy? Do you draft the best player available, or do you draft according to which position the club needs to fill? --Gabby from Sunland, CA
I always draft for the best player available. By the time an 18-year-old draft pick is ready, your needs could change drastically. It's asset value that you're looking at. Taking the best player will either get you the best player in a trade later or like I said, your needs will change. Always draft the best player available.
What is your initial assessment of the team? What do you think went wrong over the final few months of the season? --David from Playa del Rey, CA
I think what went wrong wasn't one thing; it was a series of minor things. It's the old molehill theory where a lot of molehills eventually created a mountain. I don't think you can put your finger on just one thing. Obviously there were some issues between players and issues in terms of injuries and how players responded to injuries. You heard about the coach at times, but it really wasn't any one thing. I just think it was a series of things that probably started to manifest around January and then snowballed into a complete collapse, which is usually the way it is. The molehills were allowed to grow.
Are you focusing on any of the young players such as Brown and Cammalleri to pick the team up to a new level? --Brett from Los Angeles, CA
Absolutely. I think Brown and Cammalleri are crucial to the success of the franchise but they still have to be surrounded by the right veterans in order to maximize their potential. It's not only about focusing on them; part of focusing on them is putting them in a winning environment where they can succeed. If they don't succeed, this franchise is not going to succeed.
The Kings special teams have been horrific ever since Dave Tippett moved on to Dallas. How will you and a new coaching staff turn this around? --Randy from Los Angeles, CA
I think it's a combination of things. Hopefully we can address a physical need. I think we have to evaluate, which we're in the process of doing, whether or not we need a more methodical presence at the point, more presence in front of the net, a big shot from the point to get people out of the box, etc. There are a lot of things to look at physically and then we have to figure out if we have the personnel for it. I think the personnel is pretty good but that's ultimately a question for Marc Crawford. He has told me that he thinks we can improve, even staying with what we have.
We've seen many different types of teams built that seem to have their styles more evident under the new NHL. In what mold do you want to form your team? --David from San Diego, CA
Even though the rules have changed, I think that, as Edmonton shows, competitiveness is still a virtue. I know that the flavor of the month right now is small and skilled players but the game is still about competing. I still believe, if you don't have competitive people, you're not going to reach the end. I think you can get in the playoffs now and maybe even win a round without really having a team known for its competitiveness. In the past, I think it was impossible to win a playoff round without having competitive people; but still, as Edmonton shows, you have to come to play hard every night. It's not just about skill.
Are you planning to hire a "salary cap" guy in your front office, given the complexities of long term financial planning necessary with the new CBA? --Buzzie from Newton, MA
Yes. That will free us up to focus on personnel. It's a complicated job, so you need to have a specialist there to make sure we're in line. If we start doing that ourselves, then we're not focusing on the quality of player we have.
Was it simply bad luck, or was there a fundamental reason behind the Kings league-high injuries of the past few seasons? --Randy from Los Angeles, CA
I think it's partly bad luck. But I also think that knowing the difference between being injured and being hurt is part of the culture and I think that's something we can improve on.
What are your plans for making the franchise attractive to players, coaches, and the fans? --Greg from Burbank, CA
The number one thing you have to do is show that you're committed to winning – that's still the bottom line. No matter how great the weather is, I still believe that most players will want to play on the moon if you can prove to them that they're going to win. They have to want to come here to win first. If you have that environment and you can say it's Los Angeles, you should be able to recruit anybody.
How do you instill an instinct into a hockey team that faces the daily distractions created by the Los Angeles environment? --J from San Diego, CA
Well, you have to start with the right competitive people. Is it Los Angeles that has created that or a lack of competitive people? It's about getting the right people who are here for winning first then they can enjoy the California culture. The Ducks and the Sharks show that can be done.
Why did you choose to come to LA over the other teams that were interested in you? --Randall from Los Angeles, CA
It's appealing to have the chance to do something here that hasn't been done before. If it did happen, this is the second-biggest market in North America, so I believe that the excitement would be beyond anything the league has seen in the past. The Gretzky-era gave us a taste of what it could be like. There is also the issue that it would be good for the league if they ever had LA in the final. It would elevate the league to have an LA-Bruins or an LA-Philadelphia final, for example. I always said that the NBA was built on the back of the Celtics-Lakers with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Those are two huge markets that had great players. If LA can be a part of that in hockey, it elevates everything.
What new approaches have you learned in recent years to make you that much better of a GM? --Joshua from New York
To be honest, I think we're all still learning what the new approach is under the Cap. I don't think that anyone will completely understand the ramifications of the Cap for another two years minimum. In terms of having focused totally on scouting for the past three years, I think it opened my perspective. Sometimes when you're with one team, you tend to get really narrow vision; but when you're out there seeing everyone, it kind of broadens the prospective you have. Working for an organization like Philadelphia that has had so much success, you're learning all the time.
Do you have any opinions about Anze Kopitar for next season? --Matt from Portland, OR
Well, he's obviously a highly regarded prospect and, as it was in San Jose, we're going to be very patient with him. To build up a young player at his age and expect him to put a franchise on his back is totally unrealistic and a sure-fire way to ruin him. We're going to be very patient with him. But that's what's fun is to have young kids in your system and watch them grow. He's probably our best young prospect and, as I said before, we have to get the right veterans around him and we have to be patient.