LOMBARDI ON FROLOV: Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi talks about Alexander Frolov, his enigmatic forward, whose contract expires at the end of this season. Part 3 of a series. Look for part 4 later this week.
LOS ANGELES — Since the 2002-03 season, winger Alexander Frolov has been a top six forward for the Los Angeles Kings. A highly-skilled player, Frolov has a definite scoring touch, good hands, and he can pass the puck as well as anyone. The 27-year-old native of Moscow, Russia is also strong along the boards and in the corners and has an uncanny ability to protect the puck once he gets it.
The 6-3, 208-pound winger, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (twentieth overall) in the 2000 National Hockey League Entry Draft, had his best seasons in 2006-07 (35 goals, 36 assists for 71 points) and 2008-09 (32 goals, 27 assists for 59 points). In his six seasons in the NHL prior to the 2009-10 season, Frolov has scored twenty or more goals in each season, except for the 2002-03 season (fourteen goals), his rookie year.
Frolov has displayed flashes of brilliance, but has been an enigma throughout his career because it is evident that he is capable of reaching another level, but does not seem to have the mental makeup to play at that level, night in and night out.
But is Frolov really that good? Is he skilled enough to be a forty-goal scorer?
At this point in his career, Frolov’s aggravating knack to be the best player on the ice in several games only to completely disappear for another stretch of games indicates that the answer to that question is a fairly resounding “no.”
Indeed, expectations for Frolov were probably too high to begin with.
“I think the first premise, that he should be a forty-goal scorer—he had those thirty-goal years, but don’t forget, there’s a big difference between being a thirty-goal scorer on a contender and a thirty-goal scorer on a bad team,” Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi said during a recent interview. “That’s the first thing you want to be careful of.”
“When you’re building, you ask [yourself], where does he fit on a good team? When he’s young, yeah, he could be a forty-goal scorer,” Lombardi added. “But those thirty-goal years, I’m not sure they translate into forty [on a contender]. Actually, the guy who’s a 25-goal scorer on a contender, often times, is a better player than a thirty or 35-goal scorer on a bad team.”
Aside from the current season, during Frolov’s entire NHL career, the Kings have been just that…a bad team. It was in this context that most people developed their belief that Frolov was destined for bigger and better things.
“Did the bar get raised a little too high for all of us? And you’re not the only one, either,” said Lombardi. “A lot of scouts would’ve been with you on that three years ago.”
“He’s still a good player,” added Lombardi. “But is he ever going to get to where you’re talking about? Maybe it was unrealistic to think that’s where he was in the first place. So that’s where you have to be careful when you’re in personnel. If you raise the bar too high and the guy can never reach that standard, all of a sudden, you dislike him and you forget all the good things he’s doing because he still does some good things.”
Lombardi acknowledged that he too believes Frolov is capable of more.
“Where he frustrates you, and you just said it, he could do more and nothing in any walk of life frustrates any employer or your relatives—he could be so much more,” Lombardi lamented. “But if you’ve reached your potential and that’s to drive the garbage truck, that’s good. But if a guy’s driving [a garbage truck] and should be a Harvard MBA or something, that’s not good.”
In 47 games this season, Frolov has scored eleven goals and has contributed nineteen assists for thirty points through games played on January 18, 2010—he is nowhere close to a forty-goal pace, or even thirty goals, for that matter.
Will Frolov, who is earning $4 million this season and is in the final year of his contract, seek a significant pay raise, even though his statistics do not support it?
If he does, that would create a huge dilemma for Lombardi. Should he sign Frolov anyway? Trade him? Let him walk and sign with another team or with Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League?
Lombardi, who did not comment on the status of negotiations with Frolov, or about what his specific salary demands may be, said that he expects difficulties in signing him.
“Our problem under this new system [with the salary cap], is OK, I can’t pay you as a forty-goal scorer,” Lombardi explained. “I’m not sure I can pay you as a thirty-goal scorer. I like you, even if you stay the same, I think I can win a [Stanley] Cup for you in this role. But if a player has to get X amount of dollars, he has to fill [the] role [that fits that dollar amount].”
“That’s the quandary as a manager—there was an article today about all the guys making $9 million,” Lombardi elaborated. “If you’re making $9 million you have to be the leader, you have to carry the ball, score—you have to be everything.”
“Do I like the guy? Yeah, but I don’t like him at $9 million because I’m not getting all those things. Using that philosophy as we move down the line, do I like him at $5 million? Well, I’ve got to have this and this. Do I like him at $3 million? Yeah, because I only need this.”
Given that Frolov has established over his six-plus NHL seasons that he is unlikely to take his game to the next level, Lombardi is not likely to be interested in giving Frolov a significant pay raise. He might not even be interested in giving him any pay raise at all.
“That’s the bigger problem for us,” he said. “I’m not so sure you can go to the bank and say he’s still going [to score forty goals], so let’s pay him like a [forty-goal scorer]. I’m not prepared to do that. But I still think he does a lot of good things.”
“We might just have to accept that Frolov is Frolov,” he added. “Here’s the good things he does. He could be better, but let’s accept him for what he is. Here’s where that fits and here’s what it pays.”
Lombardi warned that overpaying for Frolov would get in the way of other moves he will need to make to improve the team.
“If [the salary structure] gets out of whack, it puts you in a tough position because [Frolov is] still a good player,” Lombardi stressed. “If it gets out of whack, it keeps me out of making that next move unless he would decide to do what I think—I don’t know if we can go to that.”
“Again, do you like him? Yeah,” Lombardi added. “[Let’s say] he should score forty [goals]. Do you want to pay him as a forty [goal scorer]? I don’t think we’re going to see [that]. So now what do you want to pay him as? As a 25-goal scorer? Twenty? Thirty? 35? What do you want to pay him? I’m just giving you what the dilemma is.”
Much of the debate about what to do with Frolov goes back to expectations.
“I think you have to block the [higher expectations] out because you’re not going to like him at all and that’s not fair,” said Lombardi. “You say he should be doing more, but you always have to be careful when you see a player who’s capable of doing more because you’re going to get mad at him.”
“[Compare that to] a fourth-line player who gives you everything he has and you love him, but him giving you everything he has is not even as good as half of [what Frolov gives you],” added Lombardi.
“So you have to be careful of being too down on Frolov because ‘he should be,’ but let’s accept him for what he is, and that’s still pretty good. Now put a price on that.”
Indeed, price will be the question and the answer will determine if Frolov is still with the Kings next season and beyond, or, perhaps as soon as the March 3 trade deadline.
Los Angeles Kings: Alexander Frolov Destined For KHL?
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