LOS ANGELES — The 2008 National Hockey League Entry Draft has now come and gone, and unlike last year, Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi has few detractors in terms of the moves he made on draft weekend.
To be sure, last year at this time, Lombardi was almost universally blasted for his selection of defenseman Thomas Hickey with the fourth overall selection and for many, the anger about that move has not dissipated all that much.
But this year, in what was the most important draft in Kings history, Lombardi and the Kings are being almost uniformly praised for their selections and shrewd dealings. Indeed, after scouring the hockey news web sites that matter, the Kings are being consistently pointed to as one of the big winners in the 2008 draft for their moves to get the players they wanted through picks and trades, and to move picks into the 2009 and 2010 drafts.
Lombardi started the first round by quickly moving to acquire another pick in the top fifteen selections when he traded forward Michael Cammalleri in a rather complicated three-way deal with the Calgary Flames and the Anaheim Ducks.
In the deal, the Kings sent Cammalleri and a second round pick (48th overall, originally acquired from Calgary in a previous trade) to the Flames in exchange for the Flames’ first round pick (17th overall) and a second round selection in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
The Kings then traded that 17th overall pick and their 28th overall pick to the Ducks in exchange for their first round pick (12th overall).
That trade put Lombardi’s grand scheme in motion and would prove to be a huge lynchpin to what would transpire as the first round progressed.
Executing The Plan
The Kings had the second pick in the draft and had several trade offers for it, but Lombardi used it to select defenseman Drew Doughty from the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League, who was ranked first or second among draft eligible skaters by the various publications and scouting services.
Lombardi could have chosen tough, rugged defenseman Zach Bogosian instead, who was ranked right up there with Doughty. But Doughty was their man.
Perhaps the biggest reason the Kings went for Doughty was that he demonstrated a commitment to improving his conditioning.
“They put me through some tests—they wanted me to become as fit as I could to show that I was committed and I did that,” Doughty explained. “They just wanted me to realize that they wanted to become winners and I think I’m a winner and I’m going to help them do that.”
“They really wanted me to know that their pick at number two was very important to them, that they were going to build their franchise around me, so I really had to work as hard as I could,” Doughty elaborated. “I knew how important it was and how much they’re putting on me to become a very good player in their organization.”
The 6-0, 219-pound Doughty reportedly lost twenty-five pounds before the draft.
“I don’t want to be told I’m not committed,” Doughty stressed. “I love the game of hockey and I’ll do anything to become the best player I can be.”
“I’ve worked really hard this summer,” Doughty added. “One setback was my fitness and I’ve worked really hard at that. I’m going to continue to become more and more fit, and work on a lot of things on the ice, I think I can do that. Now that I’ve lost the weight, I feel so much quicker, a lot more mobile. Every aspect of my skating feels a lot faster and better.”
Another reason the Kings chose Doughty was that he wanted to wear the Kings jersey.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said Doughty. “I really was dreaming of this since I was a little kid. Right before, I kind of had the gut feeling I was going to go, but then I saw Calgary’s GM and Lombardi shaking hands and I thought, ‘oh no.’ I didn’t think I was going to go there, so I was a little worried.”
“I would’ve been glad to go anywhere, but just because I loved LA so much when I was a little kid, it’s just unbelievable to be here,” added Doughty. “Wayne Gretzky was my idol growing up. Not only was he my favorite player on the ice, but I thought off-ice, he also dealt with the media very well. So I just loved him growing up. I just loved Wayne Gretzky when I was a kid and that’s what made me follow the Kings.”
After the selecting Doughty, Lombardi also had the 12th overall pick from Anaheim via Calgary…or did he?
Lombardi actually turned around and dealt that pick to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for the 13th overall pick and a third round selection in the 2009 draft—it was now clear that Lombardi had a player targeted and knew that he could still get him by moving down in the draft and picking up another pick next year.
After Buffalo chose defenseman Tyler Myers, Lombardi selected the rugged, tough defenseman with a serious mean streak that he did not get when he chose Doughty over Bogosian by selecting 6-4, 185-pound Colten Teubert from the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
So instead of choosing one defenseman that had some of what Doughty brings to the ice along with some of Bogosian’s characteristics, Lombardi got two defenseman—he got all of what Doughty brings and the tough, physical defenseman the Kings lacked.
“Doughty’s hockey sense was off the charts,” said Lombardi. “I think everybody back there has a pretty good handle of what type of player he is and how special he could become. But the rub was, when people looked at comparisons between [Doughty and Bogosian], was Zach’s toughness and competitiveness. I think we got that in Teubert. If you could put them all together, it would be great. I think that element was really lacking in our group.”
“I still believe strongly in what this type of kid brings, with his leadership, his toughness, his commitment,” said Lombardi. “He has some work to do, there’s no doubt about it. But he has a presence about him. If all goes well, that could be a special group back there. I just think that’s critical if you’re ever going to win something that matters.”
This is where it becomes clear that not only did Lombardi have a clear plan going into this draft, but that he executed it about as well as he could have.
“That’s why, when we did the deal, we had to get up into a certain area,” Lombardi explained. “We weren’t just going to trade Cammalleri unless we were sure we could get this guy. We set a target from eleven to thirteen—this is where we had to be to ensure ourselves that we were getting him. I was dealing with three or four teams. I was offered some good players who could’ve helped us now, but they didn’t fit within what we’re trying to do in terms of the core we’re trying to put together.”
To be sure, Cammalleri’s trade value after his outrageous $6 million/season salary demand last summer has dropped in a big way.
“[Cammalleri] was a good player, but it was clear that he was probably a one-year asset for us going forward,” Lombardi explained. “It was very clear that ownership wants to get a young nucleus together that can stay together and our chances of keeping Cammalleri in that nucleus didn’t look very good on the heels of last year’s salary demands.”
“Our chances of moving him and maximizing value weren’t looking very good,” Lombardi elaborated. “We went through the entire market this week and prior to it and I got a pretty good handle on what the league thought of him in terms of my ability to get a return.”
“I couldn’t get anyone to trade with me outright,” said Lombardi. “What was clear to me was I couldn’t get into where I needed to be—it’s not only that Teubert was the guy we really wanted. There were some pretty good players in that layer. But to give up Cammalleri, we thought we had to be in that layer, hopefully with Teubert being there.”
“It was clear to me that I couldn’t get in there by trading him outright,” added Lombardi. “Those teams thought that was too high. Once it was clear to me that I couldn’t get in there, then I tried to start working on sprucing it up, so to speak, by using [the 28th overall pick] or our [second round picks] in combinations. When that didn’t work, I tried to find another partner, and that was Calgary.”
“I told [Flames general manager] Darryl [Sutter] last night that I was fine on our part that he was going to give me [the 17th overall pick] for Cammalleri. The second [round pick] flopping was OK with me because I want to move some picks into next year anyway. But like I told him, 17 is not enough for me to get what I want.&rdquo
So Lombardi had to find yet another willing trade partner.
“I didn’t feel [Teubert would] be there, I was thinking he’d be gone in that 13-15 range,” Lombardi explained. “I had to go to all those teams picking 11-14 and say ‘OK, would you take 17 and 32.’”
Enter Brian Burke and the Ducks.
“We paid a big price with [the 28th overall pick], but I was prepared to pay it to get a player with these elements,” said Lombardi. “There was a chance that I could’ve traded that pick and moved down two if I wanted to get cute, thinking that Teubert would fall a couple of spots. It was an opportunity to move back maybe two or three spots and take a chance that my guy would be there. But I wasn’t too enamored with doing that, but it was a thought.”
Nevertheless, Lombardi was still able to move down in the draft a little bit and pick up an additional draft pick next year.
“When Buffalo called, I told them I won’t trade with the other team if you tell me who you’re taking, as long as you’re not taking my guy,” said Lombardi. “I don’t have to take the risk, you don’t have to take the risk that somebody else is going to move into that slot. So we go off to the side and I’m going to write down the guy I’m taking and you write down who you’re taking. If we don’t match, then it’s a third round pick in 2009. If we do, nobody’s at a loss for wares.”
Indeed, when the dust finally settled after the first round, Lombardi picked up one of the consensus top-ranked skaters in the draft with the number two pick and parleyed a player he would undoubtedly lose after the 2008-09 season and a couple of draft picks into another highly-ranked, tough, physical defenseman with a mean streak that he so desperately needed.
With that, the picture became crystal-clear…Lombardi’s grand scheme was coming to fruition, probably as close to perfection as he could get.
The Day After
On Saturday, the draft started up again with rounds two through seven and Lombardi continued to make moves to build his reserve list, although a couple might be classified as risky.
One of those possibly risky moves was the selection of 6-0 190-pound defenseman Viatcheslav Voynov with their second round pick (32nd overall).
The same risks go for the Kings fifth round selection (123rd overall), forward Andrei Loktionov, a 5-11, 187-pound out of Voskresensk, Russia.
The selections of Voynov and Loktionov are not being labeled as risky because of their play, physical stature or the other usual things the pundits point to when criticizing a prospect. Rather, it is because they are from Russia, a country the NHL does not have a transfer agreement with.
This means that the Kings are taking quite the risk of wasting a pick on a player who could decide to play in Russia for more money.
But Lombardi said that both players have expressed a strong desire to play in North America, so he does not feel that he is taking a huge gamble on them.
But with all the money being tossed at Russian players by the new league in Russia, that could easily change at any time until a new transfer agreement is in place, so that risk will hang over Lombardi’s head for the foreseeable future.
But aside from that, Lombardi added players who will fill spots on his reserve list and could turn out to be more than just minor league roster fodder.
“I think, obviously, on the front end, it again trended towards defensemen,” Lombardi said of the draft’s second day. “I think we’re pretty happy with the guys we got.”
“Particularly with [defenseman Andrew] Campbell [selected in the third round, 74th overall after a trade with Buffalo] and Voinov, we add two more kids who are good prospects to our system,” Lombardi added. “As I said yesterday, the defense part of our reserve list has become stronger. The key right now is to develop them as men and develop them as players. If we don’t do that, this is not going to be a great day.”
Lombardi also made a deal that could help the big club next season, trading a second round pick (61st overall) to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for 23-year old center Brad Richardson, who spent parts of three seasons with the Avs.
But Lombardi was focused more on the young prospects he just brought into the fold.
“I think we’ve taken a huge jump when you match us up now,” he said. “If you look at Nashville’s back end—so much of what they’re building there with Suter, Hamhuis, Weber, they added Blum last year—there are some similarities where their emphasis is there and the strength of that reserve list.”
“I just think we’ve taken a huge step with those four guys [Jack Johnson, Thomas Hickey and now Doughty and Teubert] and don’t forget that kid [Alec] Martinez,” he added. “This kid’s going to challenge for a job too and we’ve got a couple of other kids in the minors and they’re not going to give up either. We’ve got a lot to look forward to and get some players out of there.”
“I think we finally got something we really liked and we’re pretty happy back here.”
In the end, whether or not the 2008 draft turns out to be the turning point in the success (or lack thereof) of the franchise hinges both on the development of the selected prospects and if Lombardi was right about his choices.
Under The Gun?
Without question, especially after a 2007 draft that many fans perceived as one in which Lombardi’s selection of Hickey was the wrong choice at the number four spot and, far more importantly, with the Kings moving into the third year of what Lombardi said would be a three-year rebuilding program when he took over the reins two years ago, there was more riding on this draft than anything else during his tenure.
Indeed, that means there was much more pressure on Lombardi to perform this time around. One source was ownership—Kings CEO and Governor Tim Leiweke.
“I got pressure put on me by my owner who said, ‘I want the best Kings draft in history,’ Lombardi explained. “So I went back and looked at the history and I think the best draft was Larry Murphy, Bernie Nicholls, Daryl Evans and Jim Fox. That was the pressure put on to try and beat that.”
“Unfortunately, the Kings traded Larry Murphy a year later, so that didn’t work out,” Lombardi elaborated. “So that’s a little internal pressure which is good. It was a challenge to this staff. I guess we won’t know until down the road.”
Whether the source is ownership or the Kings’ small, but fiercely dedicated fan base, there is a great deal of pressure this time around. But don’t try telling that to Lombardi.
“The fact of the matter is, I don’t know what draft isn’t important,” he said. “If you look at any draft, there’s three ways to build a team. The draft, free agency and trades. You can’t make trades unless you draft well. No general manager is stupid. You’ve got to have things to trade. So unless you draft well, you don’t have the cards to play, so to speak, to trade.”
“In the end, it’s all about developing them,” he stressed. “It’s a great step for the organization, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Under the circumstances, that is the understatement of the year for the Kings.
In other news, late last week, the Kings placed embattled goaltender Dan Cloutier on waivers and on Saturday, bought out the remainder of his contract.
As a result, the Kings will take a $1.03 million salary cap hit in each of the next two seasons…a miniscule price to pay to get rid of a goaltender who reminded people more of swiss cheese or a sieve than an NHL goaltender during his disastrous stint with the Kings.
Dan Cloutier…PLEASE…do yourself a big favor. For your own sake, retire from hockey. Your playing days are over. There is more to life than playing hockey and it is well past the time for you to enjoy your family and shift your career aspirations to something else.
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