Dean Lombardi: Jack Johnson Is Learning His Craft…Belatedly

LOMBARDI ON JOHNSON: In part 4 of a series, Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi talked about young defenseman Jack Johnson and the challenges he faces in his development. Look for part 5 later in the week.

LOS ANGELES — This season, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson has wowed fans with end-to-end rushes, nifty shootout goals and better offensive play. But on defense, even though he has improved since his rookie season, he has blown coverages in the defensive zone and has gotten caught up ice on several occasions, giving up outnumbered attacks.

In other words, the 23-year-old native of Indianapolis, Indiana has been both breathtaking and aggravating to watch, all at the same time.

Now in his third full season in the National Hockey League, Johnson has shown the offensive skill and athletic ability that made him a first round pick (third overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. But his decisions in the defensive zone often leave people shaking their heads after he makes a bad read or blows a coverage.

During a recent interview, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi explained that Johnson is learning his craft…belatedly.

“This guy has never had any coaching [at the University of Michigan],” Lombardi said. “Jack just did what he wanted.”

“Michigan is the worst.” Lombardi added. “For hockey people, if you’ve got a choice between a kid—all things being equal—one’s going to Michigan and one’s going to Boston University, you all want your player [going to Boston University]. Michigan’s players—[head coach] Red [Berenson] doesn’t coach. It’s ‘do what you want.’ He gets the best players in the country.”

During his two seasons at the University of Michigan, Johnson played as a rover, rather than as a defenseman, even though that was his official position.

“Jack was a thoroughbred out there,” Lombardi explained. “But he was all over the place. He was awful as a hockey player. As an athlete, you’re going, wow! Look at the way he skates, shoots, he can pass. But he had no idea where he was going.”

“At times, he was playing forward at Michigan,” Lombardi elaborated. “You had no idea what position he was playing. But he had always been the star and he always got his numbers. Then he turns pro and for the first time, we’re telling him ‘whoa, just make the first pass and learn to play in your own end.’ How about making a read in your own end about the right guy to pick up? He was awful.”

Indeed, the miscues and blown coverages, especially in the defensive zone, were glaring—Johnson was a defensive liability.

“It was a big risk for us to trade for him,” said Lombardi. “There was all that hype and stuff because he’s just like a thoroughbred. It’s like looking at a horse and saying wow! But then he gets on the track and he has no clue how to run the race. He might even run in the wrong direction. That was Jack. [He was] really raw.”

Like many young players loaded with talent and skill, Johnson could not believe it when criticism came his way.

“Here again, you’ve got a kid who’s got to change his game and he can change a game, going end-to-end, getting you out of your own end,” Lombardi noted. “It was like, ‘you’re not good enough at that not to do these other things that you’ve never done.’ Now try and convince him of that after [he has] been told how great [he is throughout his] life, [he has] played in the US Development Program, [he was] at Michigan, everything [was] great, great, great. Now [he is] in the pros and it’s ‘what do you mean? I’m Jack Johnson.’”

“He struggled with it,” Lombardi added. “‘What do you mean, you’re criticizing me?’ Yeah, [I am]. When these kids come up now, this might seem totally abnormal to you, because anyone else growing up probably got slapped around [figuratively speaking] as you were learning your career or anything you’re learning. But these kids are all told how great they are.”

“He didn’t start believing that [he] might have to start doing this until the middle of last season. [Kings head coach Terry Murray, also known as Murph] is a great teacher. Thank God for Murph. He was really a smart player, nowhere near as talented. [He told Jack to] slow down and take it a step at a time. Slowly, he’s gotten better. He’s certainly had his ups and downs. But that’s why he made the Olympic team, because this guy is hard to play against.”

Indeed, Johnson has improved enough that other NHL general managers on USA Hockey’s selection committee named Johnson to Team USA for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia in February.

“What’s good about it was that [Johnson] was eleventh on the depth chart at the beginning of the year,” said Lombardi. “By November, he had risen to the top eight, and in Jack’s case, he went from ten to eight, to seven.”

“Two weeks ago, at the [NHL] Board of Governors meeting, [we met] and I couldn’t promote my own guy, so the other guys would come in—it was out of my hands,” added Lombardi. “[Johnson] was in the top six on everybody’s ballot. I was really proud of him.”

That is certainly indicative of how far Johnson has come in a relatively short time.

“Jack Johnson, three years ago, was all highlight film stuff,” said Lombardi. “But the trouble is, the highlight film stuff was only once every three games. In between, it was all fire drills. [He just had to] simplify [his game]. No highlights. The highlights will come back once you start to simplify.”

“For him to transition from highlight film to doing all this other stuff, you’re not getting that high-end stuff right now while he’s learning,” added Lombardi. “But you’re hoping the [solid defensive play] becomes second nature. He still has to think about it. But when that becomes second nature, now recognize when you can put on your show.”

This season, Johnson continues to make the wrong read and blow defensive coverages. But he is improving slowly—he still has a long way to go before anyone can say he is a solid NHL defenseman.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Lombardi admitted. “I’ve had a lot of young defensemen. They’re always hard to break in anyway. He’s been unique because, like I said, he was a thoroughbred who just ran.”

“I think his learning curve is going to continue to go up,” added Lombardi. “It hasn’t spiked. I think every area of his game has improved, but it has to continue.”

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103 thoughts on “Dean Lombardi: Jack Johnson Is Learning His Craft…Belatedly

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  1. Really interesting interview Gann. I always thought University of Michigan was a premier college hockey program. Based on DL’s comments, it sounds like the school just gets good kids solely because of reputation. Kind of odd choice of words regarding the coaching for that school.

  2. Jack Johnson will be fine once the defensive reads become automatic. It seems that he’s a step behind at times because he has to think about the right play to make. As frustrating as it can be to watch him play, I’m not worried about him long-term. It’s easier to teach a guy to play defense than it is to find players with the high-end skills that he possesses. His progression probably seems slow because the expectations were so high, and because Doughty came in with such a mature defensive game. I think he’s developing pretty much the same way that most NHL defensemen do – slowly. I think it speaks more to the depth issues at D that he’s playing so many minutes. He should probably be playing closer to 17-18 minutes a night instead of 23(!) .

  3. Also, Lombardi speaks like a true Massachusetts native. Of course he’d pick BU over UM! I wonder if the Kings had something to do with prospect Robbie Czarnik leaving UM for the OHL earlier this year.

  4. Man, those are dynamite quotes from Lombardi. Very few GM’s in pro sports will speak that plainly. I agree with everything that he said, though, especially about Jack’s stint at Michigan hurting his development.

    Jack’s got world-class tools. I hope he and the Kings stick with it long enough for him to blossom in LA (rather than elsewhere).

  5. Lombardi speaks out of both sides of his mouth. When he acquired Johnson, he said that he WANTED Johnson to stay another year at Michigan; that “it’ll be good for him to spend another year there.” Look it up.

  6. Couldn’t it be that he’s learned more about Berenson’s program at the University of Michigan since he allegedly made that comment?

    I’m not saying Lombardi didn’t say that…I’m not doubting you. However, I don’t have time to confirm that he did right now. Just saying that even if he did, isn’t the above scenario a possibility?

  7. To Long Memory Guy: Here’s the full quote from Lombardi when Johnson was acquired.

    Michigan’s Johnson Sees Draft Rights Traded

    “I talked to him after the trade,” Lombardi said, “and I just asked him: is that his wish, to stay in school? He said yes, and I have no problem with that, and I actually think that we were prepared to be patient when we made this deal. I think, in the long run, it will be good for him to spend another year there, and then, certainly, evaluate it in March when his season’s over. Ron Hextall called [Michigan head coach] Red Berenson right away, and told him that if that’s what [Jack] wants to do, we’re behind him. Don’t worry, he’s not going anywhere, and we’ll review it in March.”

    I agree with Gann, though, after seeing where Jack was in his development coming out of Michigan, I don’t blame Lombardi for not being thrilled with Michigan and Red’s program, in terms of developing players for the pro game. Live and learn.

  8. I’m really surprised to hear Lombardi criticize Berenson like that. Not to say it’s unfair of him but Red is quite respected in the NCAA.

    I’m glad that Lombardi sees Jack improving. I’d just like to see that happen now. He’s still blowing his coverage and his minus-17 is, what, second worst in the league?

  9. I imagine that the comment about staying at Michigan almost certainly had to do with acquiescing to Johnson’s desire to remain at Ann Arbor until he was ready and willing, and not necessarily speaking about Lombardi’s opinion on the quality of coaching he would receive there.

    If you recall it was Jim Rutheford’s (GM of Carolina) repeated attempts to get him out of school early that soured the relationship between the player and organization so taking a different — more passive and accommodating — approach was going to be necessary.

  10. It’s true Lombardi told Johnson to stay at UofM. But he did it at least in part because that’s what Jack was going to do anyway. Carolina had been putting tons of pressure on Jack to go pro; Jack was resisting; Dean was smart enough to give him the space to make it his (JJ’s) call. Sure enough, within a year, JJ decided for himself he was ready.

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  12. ryan … but wow , that is exactly what dean said …. that red dosent coach and michigan is a terrible program …. he said it so i have to feel those are lombardis true feelings ………. now, if lombardi could only explain the ivannis situation that honestly, then i could grow to like him alot more ……. and now slightly off topic …… third game in a row murray seems feed up with our current no skill forwards ….. after shark blowout he offered this up …….. “they are just a better team than us plain and simple” ………….. murray really seems to be losing patience with this group of forwards lack of skill ….. yes the defense is bad right now as well with jones in there and odonnel seemingly finished ….. but once greene and drewiske get back we should be fine on defense ………. regarding odonnel, remember last year , we were all like look how good odonnel is with the lil passes and his calm in clearing the zone etc…. well i have seen none of that with him here lately …… it really seems like he has hit a wall career wise

  13. People think highly of Berenson’s program at UM and yet a lot of players leave it early. It may do a good job of recruiting, but whether it is because the good players aren’t going to stay or because Red drives them out, it is not all that great from development terms to have the best players turning over from year to year.

  14. Lombardi pulled no punches on Berenson, and he’s pretty much spot on. There has also been growing tension between Berenson and the LA Kings going as far back as when Cammellari played at UM.

  15. This guy is making an irresponsible attack on Red. Red hasn’t been the coach at UM for 26 years for no reason, he’s been an NHL and NCAA coach of the year. He’s led them to the NCAA Tourny 19 years in a row, two national titles, and ten frozen fours. Yes they do get alot of great talent every year but in my opinion he does a great job of coaching them up, they have the most players in the nhl right now. Red was a great offensive player in his day and I think he likes to give his playmakers the freedom to work their magic. I don’t think it’s his fault Jack Johnson hasn’t lived up to his billing. He’s been with the kings for three years and is still a liability on D, maybe he should look at his own coach. They expect him to have consistency on D that he has never shown to have in the past. Don’t blame the coach blame the player.

  16. I have no first-hand knowledge of the quality of coaching that Johnson received at the University of Michigan. However, it is quite evident that he had virtually no idea how to play in his own end when he got to the NHL. That’s obviously not the fault of anyone with the Kings.

  17. Gann, you say that his three years with the Kings have nothing to do with his ability or development. Then how, exactly, do two years at Michigan equal out to his defensive lapses? Perhaps, instead, we should be looking at Jack as someone that is not a responsible or particularly adept defensive player.

    Lombardi’s shot at Red shows exactly the kind of GM he is and will continue to be. Taking a shot at Hossa’s “character” is about right on track as well.

  18. Lombardi is classless. Jack Johnson wasn’t going to listen to coaching, even if it was Jack Parker teaching him, or Herb Brooks for that matter. He stayed at Michigan to maximize his value and left on his own accord. His development issues shouldn’t be pinned on Berenson, and I for one was glad to see him go because he thought he was above any system, any coaching, any team. He simply wasn’t ready for the NHL, especially as a defenseman. His ego kept on cashing checks his abilities couldn’t quite match in a real man’s league.

    Maybe these NHL GM’s should figure out that two years in a highly touted program isn’t enough to bring kids to the level they should be. Yet, they keep poaching the NCAA- and now they have stooped to poaching kids and routing them to the CHL before they even step into college.
    Guys like Lombardi are no different than a pimp and have no regard to the future of the player if they don’t cut it in the CHL/AHL/NHL.

  19. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I think the issue Mr. Lombardi has is related more to the lousy relationship between his club and Michigan when it comes to draft picks. Red is a “stay all 4 years just in case things don’t work out as planned” guy while Lombardi is a “Let’s throw a bunch of money and promises at a kid and then leave him to rot in Major Juniors” kind of guy (see Trevor Lewis).

    I agree with Brian from mgoblog on this one regarding Johnson’s “lack of development”. Year one to year two at Michigan, Johnson scored more, cut his penalty minutes in half, improved the accuracy of his slapshot, and led the team in plus minus. He no longer took stupid retaliatory penalties and seemed to genuinely be having fun playing hockey. Red taught him discipline which was something he was sorely lacking. What has happened to that discipline since is hardly the fault of his college coach since he’s now being coached by Lombardi’s guys.

    How about turning that finger around regarding “hampering development” and pointing it where it belongs. There are Michigan players EVERYWHERE in the NHL and they’re all successful on and off the ice, especially those that stayed 4 years. John Madden, Brendan Morrison, Marty Turco, T.J. Hensick, Andrew Cogliano, Andrew Ebbet, Mike Van Ryn, Mike Komisarek, Mike Cammlleri, Mike Knuble… those are just a few of the guys that made the NHL. Michigan puts far and away more talent into the NHL than any other school, leaps and bounds ahead of the second place team.

    Red’s credibility in the hockey world is proven and unquestionable. NHL player, NHL coach of the year, NCAA coach of the year, 2 National Titles, 10 Frozen Fours, and 19 straight tourney appearances. Lombardi on the other hand is seemingly creating new positions with the “rover” comment and showing his ignorance of his own player’s actual development while at Michigan. Johnson played defense on an offensive minded team meaning *gasp* the defensemen come up and attack in the offensive zone. Defensemen at Michigan are expected to try and score. That’s been Michigan’s playing style since before I can remember.

    To take a pot shot at one of the most revered coaches in college hockey just because that coach would rather see a kid earn a degree from one of the best academic institutions in the country while developing physically to a point where they could be more successful as opposed to taking the Kings’ money and running is pretty slimy and should say something about the organization he runs and the quality of his own character.

  20. Given that Johnson’s first five games of his NHL career and the entire next season were under Marc Crawford, who is a lousy coach for young players and does not stress defense at all, it’s not a surprise given Johnson’s glaring lack of knowledge about how to play in his own zone when he started his NHL career. It was glaringly evident that he was clueless in his own end. Again, that he began his NHL career like that is not the Kings’ fault. What they are responsible for is that he had not started REALLY learning how to do that until last season under Terry Murray.

  21. Regarding taking a shot at Marian Hossa, Lombardi did no such thing. In fact, he tried to sign him as a UFA this past summer, but Hossa wanted to play for a contender and signed a 12-year deal with Chicago. It was the rest of the top UFA’s (Gaborik and others) that Lombardi was referring to.



    Sorry, no names match your request

    Just look at Berenson’s coaching record in the early 90’s… he went six consecutive years losing less than ten games over a full season. LOL. That’s not players running around un-coached.

    The first game I ever went to, I saw Red Berenson play back in 1964, and I’ve followed his career ever since. I think he’s probably got more hockey knowledge located on the hairs on his butt than Lombardi has sprouting from his brain area.

    That being said, he’s just letting the ardent fan know that JMinusFortyJ could be a MF for any number of other teams over the next year or so. Patience will wear thin.

  23. Just wanted to come in and say EXCELLENT WORK Gann! That was a great article and help me change my perspective on JJ a bit. Nice to hear of the gains he made this season and it FULLY explains the contract he got for 2 years.

    I also had no idea about Red and the Michigan program. Pretty heavy stuff to call out the program like that, but DL usually calls em as he sees em.

    I wonder now if Mike Cammalleri had the same problems when he first played for us.

  24. Gann,

    If that is true, that he was in fact making those comments about other players, this line in your article about Lombardi from January 12th is about as misleading as they come:

    “Going back to this past summer, Lombardi chose to remain on the sidelines after unrestricted free agent forward Marian Hossa signed a lucrative twelve-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks—none of the available unrestricted free agents were a good fit.

    “That’s why I stayed away from guys who were questionable—and I’m not saying they were bad—but there were questions about their character in terms of their commitment and caring about the team,” said Lombardi.”

  25. Gann asks: “Couldn’t it be that he’s learned more about Berenson’s program at the University of Michigan since he allegedly made that comment?”

    I think that is a tremendous stretch, Gann. Lombardi has been in hockey for over two decades. When he was the Sharks GM, he drafted UM’s Jeff Jillson in the first round. If there was a “lesson” to be learned about defenseman development under Red, you would think he would have learned it there. But just last year he drafted UM’s Robbie Czarnik. He also has had several other UM players on his teams including Cammalleri and Knuble.

    No, I think that this is just Lombardi trying to tweak Red back for some of the comments Red made when Trevor Lewis decided to go pro rather than to UM. As it turns out, looks like Red might have been right. Those were just really petty comments by Lombardi.

  26. Regarding B’s comment above, that paragraph should have read:

    “Going back to this past summer, Lombardi chose to remain on the sidelines after unrestricted free agent forward Marian Hossa signed a lucrative twelve-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks—none of the remaining available unrestricted free agents were a good fit.”

    I regret the error.

  27. Interesting article. I guess Lombardi likes more structured play than they have in place at U of M. As a Kings fan, I couldn’t care less about college hockey. I doubt Lombardi mentioned this stuff as a slam on JJ, but more as a way of indicating just how far JJ has come. None of us Kings fans have missed the fact that his first few years with the team involved flashes of brilliance on the rush and glaring blunders in his own zone. Some of us were even calling for the coach to give up the charade and just try him at forward. His play recently has been night and day over what we saw in previous years, which I’m guessing was Lombardi’s point. I think its actually a complement to Johnson as a player that he’s been able to change from “JMFJ” to a team player that can play within a system and be responsible in his own zone.

  28. Let me say this to Mr. Lombardi: How many shots did Bobby Orr Block? Brad Park and even Paul Coffey. Did they all rome the ice? have poor Plus minus.? Well shall we all remember that defense is a team concept. Maybe he should remind Murph to teach the forwards how to play defense in their own zone? Bobby Orr was paired up with Don Awery and Gary Doak, both stay at home defencemen, Don Cheery told Orr just go! maybe Murpg should think the same thing? Orr, Park, Coffey changed the role of defensemn men for ever. Jack can skate, shoot, pass and has hands of a forward. A true goal scorer. Maybe move him up? Or better yet , put Jack out against the other teams number 2 or 3 lines. You call him a thoroughbred, don’t pull the raines in, that would break a horses spirit, just like an athlete, let him run ! If you don’t think he can learn? trade him, I am sure Detroit would be ready as well as about 30 other NHL teams.

  29. Seems that Lombardi wants to prove how clueless he is. Great post by Jon Sobel above. I watched Jack play at Michigan. His first year, he was all over the place, incredible talent but made many mistakes. Second year, he was like a new player, still rushed the puck but was much more responsible and integrated into the team. His improvement from his first year at Michigan to his second was remarkable and he was a dominating player at the collegiate level as a sophomore. But I suppose that Red had nothing to do with that huh. Look at the facts people, Red has been the NHL coach of the year and has his team in the NCAAs for 19 years. You do not achieve that level of performance by not knowing how to coach. This just shows either how out of touch Lombardi is or that he has an axe to grind with Red.

    I suppose that Red is supposed to develop Jack more in two years as a student athlete than Lombardi and the Kings can develop him in 3 years as a pro hockey player.

    Nice to see that Johnson reacted and basically called out his own GM. That takes some guts on his part but when Lombardi makes such idiotic statements, it’s good to see him challenged.

  30. YES! Johnson seals his fate… Well.. actually, when the Kings are golfing in April having dropped out of the playoff race and fallen into “the black hole,” that Dave Taylor always seemed to have the team in, maybe Lombo will be out the door before he can jettison Mr. Minus off to Columbus or Edmonton or someplace equally warm and fuzzy.

    I’m a big fan of Johnson’s play with the puck inside the offensive zone, and a big detractor of the other 80-90% of his on-ice activities, but I never thought to let Red shoulder the blame. I just felt it was good enough to think that Tim Gleason would have been a key part of the playoff puzzle given the qualities he exhibited behind the red line during his tenure with the Kings.

    I’m now an even bigger fan of Johnson’s for calling it like it should be called. Even if it does cost him his relationship with that brilliance of a GM who has cleverly put together a very exciting young team that has teased the myopic in Los Angeles, but doesn’t fool the majority of people who actually follow the sport as a whole.

    Anyone for tee?

  31. I was wondering if there would be any fallout from Dean’s comments. Will there be more?

    I have no idea if what he said about Red Berenson is true. I do know that he’s struggled mightily with his defense since coming into the league. And as much as he’s improved he’s got a long way to go. He’s also extremely talented, which has probably allowed him to get by up until this level. I just thought this was the normal gap between what’s needed in college/minors and what’s needed in the pros.

  32. What I want to know is… how this interview started? Did DL bring this? If it was Gann, why would you start a conversation with DL about JJ when the team has much worst things to talk about? I can think about 10 players and 2 coaches that I can start conversations with DL about before I think of JJ.

  33. Lombardi is dead on. Johnson was all over the place at UM. I want to say more, but I’ll keep my yapper closed.

  34. Gann, based on the coverage you got for this and the number of comments, this article seems to have generated tremendous response. You hit on a gold mine here so I want to congratulate you on that. On Hammond’s blog you said DL already apologized. Have you heard that directly from DL himself or is this second hand from a Kings spokesperson ? Interesting to see if more comes out of this.

  35. Quoting:**Lombardi is a “Let’s throw a bunch of money and promises at a kid and then leave him to rot in Major Juniors” kind of guy (see Trevor Lewis).**

    Lewis spent part of one season in juniors after being drafted by the Kings. Nice try. Go back to your Michigan board.

  36. Killer interview Gann! Way to start up a “S” storm. And what a storm it is. I hope you post some insight as to the apology DL gave to JJ…

    Marc Nathan: just to understand where you are coming from clearly, are you rooting for DL and the Kings to fail this season? It certainly seems so.

    Jon Sobel: If Lombardi is a “Let’s throw a bunch of money and promises at a kid and then leave him to rot in Major Juniors” kind of guy, why did he trade for JJ knowing he would stay in college… and encourage it? As as far as Lewis, you might recall he started the season on the Kings. Kinda hard to rot in the minors if you start a season in the NHL, isn’t it? Objectivity’s a bitch, isn’t it?

  37. Hey Mr. Lombardi –
    Send JMFJ on up to Detroit … we’ll take him!
    And we’ll also keep Red and his ability to graduate his kids and keep them out of trouble WHILE ALSO putting many more of his guys into the NHL (by a country mile) than any other program. But I guess all those other NHL execs have just been duped by slickster Red for decades, huh? Some day maybe the other GMs will see the light, but hey: good thing for Kings fans your club is in the hands of such a wizened visionary who alone has seen through the smoke and mirrors of the way Michigan Hockey develops its young men.

    1. Keep them out of trouble… I guess that’s why a former USNTDP player got kicked off this year. Or why Kampfer ended up tha horrid and unfortunate altercation with a fifth string football player.

  38. Both Johnson and Frolov will be gone by trading deadline. It makes no sense to critique your player in print unless your cocked and loaded.

  39. To piggyback on Bob Bobson’s comment, I too would like to know more about the apology.

    It seems a little peculiar and disturbs me that you wrote this whole story, set these motions off, and then only told the follow-up to the story in a comment buried on someone else’s blog. Shouldn’t there be a story here, even if its only a blurb, about DL’s apology and JJ’s reaction to that apology? That is equally as important, if not more important, than the original article’s by you and Helene.

  40. Tim: Funny how few Wolverines have even played for Detroit, let alone lasted long in the NHL. However, I see a few Spartans who are currently Red Wings. Nice to see Michigan State not plaster their NHL ties all over their website, a testament to true academic integrity. Your “country mile” lends itself to quantity over quality.

  41. That’s because all Johnson told me after the game was that Lombardi apologized. That was it. Lombardi said basically the same thing.

    I’m still in the process of figuring out an approach to the next story about all this. Problem is, I don’t do this for a living. I have a day job and that had to take precedence, even late last night after I got home from the game.

  42. Figured as much Gann. No biggie.

    Perhaps something like, “Johnson told me after the game that Lombardi apologized. Lombardi said basically the same thing. Very brief convo and that’s all I know,” would removed the tease element of your comment on LAKI…

  43. I bet the scouts and recruiters for the Kings are mad at Lombardi now! Good luck luring talent into your organization, buddy.

    I am sure that is okay though.. what, with the Kings making the playoffs every year since Lombardi became GM. What? They haven’t made the playoffs since Lombardi came over?

    Well, at least they are improving, right?
    2006-2007: 4th in Pacific
    2007-2008: 5th in Pacific (aka LAST)
    2008-2009: 5th in Pacific (aka LAST)

    Hmmm…. okay, right on Mr Lombardi. Surely you know what you are talking about. Remember folks, there is a BIG difference between “telling it the way it is” and “spraying feces out of your mouth because you have no idea what you are talking about”. Good luck finding a team to hire you after LA runs you out of town for making a bad team worse.

  44. NYWinger, do you have even the slightest clue what’s going on here in LA? By every measure, the Kings have one of the deepest pools of talent in the NHL thanks to, you didn’t guess it, DL. And if by “making a bad team worse” you mean, by all accounts, one of the youngest and most talented, up and coming teams in the NHL, you’d be right. But of course, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

  45. Johnson was upset but not ranting, raving or screaming. Under the circumstances, I’m sure you can understand why he was upset.

    I knew he wasn’t happy about the situation when he came up to me in the dressing room last night and asked to speak with me. Usually, dressing room interviews right after a game are “scrum” interviews where all the media present fire questions at players in a group. You usually don’t get individual interviews until after we’re done with all the players and Terry Murray.

    But Johnson approached me. I’ve done this long enough to know that when a player, coach or front office person approaches you and wants to talk to you individually, that’s rarely going to be a good thing.

    Thankfully, Johnson wasn’t upset at me. He’d destroy me if he wanted to drop the gloves!

  46. It’s kinda hard for Red to “coach” a kid when he only sticks around for 2 years. I guess all the other D men that went to Michigan were not “coached” either. What a f**king joke!

  47. Huh, ok now I’m a little confused. So to be clear (if you don’t mind), JJ pulled you aside only to tell you DL said he was sorry? “That was it,” as you said? Hmmm. That doesn’t quite add up.

  48. He wanted to talk, but we had to go interview Murray, so I told him that I’d be back to talk to him. He was fine with that. But I also told him that because of obligations related to the day job, I may not be able to publish a story featuring his comments immediately. I guess that didn’t sit well with him (again, can’t say I blame him) so he apparently found Helene Elliott and told her. When I got back to the dressing room to talk to him, he said he decided that enough had been said and that he was going to drop it (and that he had nothing against me).

  49. Hmmm…. thanks for the clarification Gann.

    Sounds like Jack isn’t exactly satisfied with DL’s apology, especially if his comments to Helene were made AFTER he told you that DL had already apologized (assuming I have your timeline correct).

    Then again, its also hard to tell without knowing Helene’s specific line of questions.

  50. Ahhh, now it make sense. Thanks for the inside scoop Gann. Frickin awesome stuff. I hope you tell the long version of the story when you can. Man, I can only imagine all the stuff said that won’t get reported.

  51. In terms of this incident…I don’t know what Elliott and Johnson talked about, other than what’s in Elliott’s blog post. Other than that, I don’t see anything that “…won’t get reported” that’s not already out there, other than the question of whether or not I’m now persona non grata in terms of one-on-one interviews with anyone in the Kings organization for the rest of my life.

  52. LOL. Too funny. I just meant “long story” as a response to your, “I’m still in the process of figuring out an approach to the next story about all this.” But cool, thanks again.

  53. Oh…that. Actually, if anything, that story will be mostly my own reflections on the whole experience…probably a discussion with myself about the journalistic issues raised, where to draw the line, how to balance trying to build and maintain trust with your interview subject while maintaining your objectively, integrity and journalistic independence…stuff like that.

  54. I didn’t mean to say Helene left anything out of her story. What I mean was, it is hard to judge Johnson’s comments completely in context without knowing the questions Helene asked.

    EX: Johnson said: (Berenson) “is one of the finest coaches and men that I’ve met. For my general manager to rip me as a person and criticize me as a person and as a player and call me an awful hockey player is irresponsible and unprofessional.”

    That comes across one way if Helene had asked “How do you feel about Lombardi’s comment on Berenson and yourself?” and another if the question was “Are you upset over the comments?” Not to insinuate that Helene leads her questions, but Johnson’s apparent anger is one thing if prompted as such and another if it came out of nowhere.

    I don’t know. I’m rambling. The rain outside combined with the screeching bird inside have scrambled my brain.

  55. To clippers of the nhl:

    My comment was meant to be directed at Long Memory Guy in regards to Lombardi telling Johnson to stay an extra season at Michigan. The opinion I have is that he said it to accommodate Johnson because of the Carolina fiasco rather than because he likes to “talk out of both sides of his mouth.”

    It essentially would reads like this — “You can stay an extra year in Michigan if you want because I’m not going to force you out early like Jim Rutherford, but it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like the coach there.”

    To Gann Matsuda:

    You say that Marc Crawford didn’t stress defensive play at all yet there’s an old Kevin Allen interview with Jack Johnson on USA Today that seems to indicate otherwise so now I’m left a little confused.


    Johnson: My role on the team is different from what I’m used to. I’m more a defensive player, a shutdown guy. I think it’s just part of the learning curve. But it’s certainly different for me. Instead of playing against guys in my age group, I’m playing against San Jose with Joe Thornton or Anaheim with Ryan Getzlaf. So it’s been a good experience. I’m out there with Rob Blake, so it can’t get much better.

  56. vbing, it’s funny to read you say it seems players leave Michigan early and you speculate that it has to do with Coach, but when basketball players leave college early it’s all good, not the coach’s fault and all that.

    Remember, Michigan plays in Ann Arbor and guess what’s located in Ann Arbor, the US Hockey National Team Development Program. Michigan has recruited some of those kids and JJ was one of them. Just sayin’.

    They have 11 players who have been drafted on there roster, is that bad coaching or is that a mix of talent and coaching or just talent? Four juniors are on that list, three sophomores, two seniors, and two freshmen.

    I find it crazy to think that people believe Lombardi when he says Michigan is the worst. Why is it that those players that stay four years, three years, two years, one year, are drafted and scattered around the NHL. Here are just a few that came through Red’s program:

    * Brendan Morrison
    * Mike Knuble
    * Mike Cammalleri
    * Marty Turco
    * John Madden
    * Mike Komisarek
    * Aaron Ward
    * Mike Comrie
    * Mike Van Ryn
    * Matt Hunwick
    * Pat Hughes
    * Matt Herr
    * Josh Langfeld
    * Jack Johnson
    * Jed Ortmeyer
    * Mike Brown
    * Andrew Cogliano
    * Al Montoya
    * David Moss
    * Eric Nystrom
    * Kevin Porter
    * Max Pacioretty
    * Jeff Tambellini
    * Chad Kolarik
    * Brian Lundberg
    * Bill Muckalt
    * Andrew Ebbett
    * Jeff Jillson
    * John Sherf
    * Andy Hilbert
    * Travis Turnbull
    * Wally Grant
    * Mike Legg
    * Jason Botterill
    * Greg Crozier
    * Dave Debol
    * Vic Heyliger
    * Steven Halko

    I see a disconnect between what Lombardi has said and what has come out of Michigan.

  57. wavesinair Says:
    January 22, 2010 at 12:57 PM
    Tim: Funny how few Wolverines have even played for Detroit, let alone lasted long in the NHL. However, I see a few Spartans who are currently Red Wings. Nice to see Michigan State not plaster their NHL ties all over their website, a testament to true academic integrity. Your “country mile” lends itself to quantity over quality.


    “academic integrity” You are probably the only person I have seen use Michigan St. and academic in the same sentence.

    And as for integrity, I hope that doesn’t mean one player hitting another player in the back of the head while his teammate slashes the fallen player with his stick. Now that’s true “integrity”. Good post!

  58. Can some one please help me find this guys stats – I typed in Lombardi in but there was no dean lombardi – Maybe I missed it. I’m sure he’s a real smart guy. Did he play college hockey? He must have attended college right? Did he play NHL? AHL?

  59. Forehead-slapping stupidity and shocking, vindictive quotes from Lombardi, especially since the one college coach he was ripping in the media was once an NHL Coach of the Year before coaching at Michigan, has won 2 NCAA titles, has been to 10 Frozen Fours and has turned out more NHL players than any college coach in the USA. Red Berenson is a legend, and Michigan is the most decorated NCAA program in the country. To say that Johnson “got no coaching” and “Michigan is the worst” is so contrary to Berenson’s record that these quotes seem like they are coming out of the mouth of an insane person.

  60. My son played four years for Red Berenson at Michigan, and played in every game (164) that the team played for four years. Red was a tremendous coach, and believe me, he did not let the kids run loose. He was a tremendous disciplinarian, and he taught them as much off the ice as he did on. My son still talks about the teaching that Red did. Red is a class act in every respect!

  61. He said they were taken out of context and then said that what he meant was that JJ has come a long way and is now a more complete player…which is exactly what your article says. It is typical posturing by a public figure who is unhappy that what he said, on the record, is being received badly.

  62. Gann,

    There’s absolutely no need for you to apologize for your journalism! You did EXACTLY what a good journalist does–ask the questions and let the subject dig his own grave.

    Granted, you should put up an article about Johnson’s reply and about Lombardi’s apology, but in terms of the interview, you did it exactly right.

    BTW, I was a journalist for 10 years and have a Master’s in Journalism, so I know a little about what I’m saying. :-)

  63. The only thing I apologized to Lombardi for was making him look bad. However, as I told him and he knew, I wasn’t trying to do that, nor was I trying to throw him under the bus. Although I probably should have written the story without that particular quote (still could’ve gotten the same point across), I stand by the story. The comments he made were on the record, so he must bear some responsibility as well.

    Like I said, I believe that there’s a fine line that you have to draw between maintaining your objectivity, integrity and journalistic independence with building and maintaining trust with interview subjects so that they’ll talk to you again. The question is: where do you draw that line? That’s really the only question in my mind right now.

    As for Johnson’s reply and Lombardi’s apology, Johnson spoke to the LA Times, not me. I won’t be able to talk to Lombardi until the Kings return from their road trip (if he’ll talk to me at all; we’ll see). As such, I’m not sure I’d be adding anything with a story on that of my own at this point.

  64. Trade Johnson to our Red Wings…Hey you (Lombardi), take a common sense pill since you have none of it and I am thankful it is Ken Holland at the GM helm with the Wings instead of Y-O-U!…Kings, fire him and hire a better GM.

  65. What is odd is for an NHL GM to tell the truth in plain English. Lombardi is dead on about Johnson and here are many more of these ‘highlight reel’ types of kids coming up through the Canadian and US minor hockey systems. I have managed AAA hockey teams (Toronto) for 30 years and have received calls from scouts about kids and they look for character and coach-ability. The kids that do well are those that are well coached within a respectable program. In my experience 99% of kids at the Bantam AAA level are there because of the need to feed the minor JrA or college clubs and most by the grace of deep pockets of elitist hockey parents. Of the 2000 kids there will be 2-3 players come through the program and shine. Johnson was one of those kids who ended up in a spoiled brat program. We will see how Johnson reacts to Lombardi’s remarks – chances are Jack will act like a spoiled brat – just as Lombardi has described.

    1. Spot on. Lombardi simply publicly acknowledged what many people in hockey already know, the USNTDP is a breeding ground for spoiling kids and putting them on an untouchable pedestal. By extension, UofM recruits heavily from the neighboring program. While their results show success, the fact is if Michigan ever got their character act together they should have had more recent championships than 1998! Put that timeline together with the US Program and figure it out folks! Johnson was a dirty, free lancing, do what I want whenever I want player when he played for the blue and maize.

  66. Let’s see…. U of M has the most players in hockey of any University… they have the most national championships of any University…

    Well, what about Lombardi? He started as an assistant GM with Minn in 88, then as the Sharks GM for 7 playoff choking years, and now is the GM of the perpetual losers the Kings (a team which is outside the playoff picture yet again)…..

    Yeah, I believe this dumbass.

  67. I am seriously shocked that Dean Lombardi threw Gann under the bus. Here we are, many fans, believing DL’s words were calculated and intended to be published. What was the message he was trying to send? Was a trade involving JJ imminent? Was this some strange GM voodoo he was trying to use on a player? Nope. Nothing of the sort. It was simply DL shooting his mouth off ON THE RECORD… and now he’s backtracking in a huge way.

    Gann did absolutely nothing wrong. Is Gann a professional reporter for a paper? No. Is he a hall-of-fame sports writer? No. Did DL know this. Yes. Gann wrote a respectable, accurate piece that was objective and thorough with DL’s full knowledge that it was on the record.

    Dean Lombardi, you should be ashamed of yourself and you owe Gann and Kings fans an apology. This one is ALL on you.

  68. Gann, I’m not exactly impressed with your judgement in publishing some of these quotes by DL. Just my opinion, of course, but it seems you don’t quite “get it” as a journalist. I wouldn’t be surprised if from now on the Kings organization decides to restrict player/personnel access to more seasoned, proven, professional reporters. Just because you’ve got the dirt — as do all journalists (or “journalists”, in your case) with similar access to such public figures — doesn’t mean you have to show it to everybody. There are some responsibilities on your side, too. If I were Lombardi, I wouldn’t want to speak you again, ever. You might not have intended it, but it sure looks like you betrayed his trust and twisted that story up big time. What a circus this has become! Thanks a lot for the soap opera, dude. Just what this tightly-knit, cohesive teams need now is a stupid rift. Good job, not!

    1. With all due respect, you clearly have no clue about journalism. Your claim that I have a responsibility to support the team in any way is absolutely ridiculous. Try learning something about journalism before you spout off about it.

  69. lol …. gann gann ….. lol i cant believe …. i knew the article was a little strange with those negative quotes but i didnt expect this firestrom …. this is first time i have returned to your blog in 3 days or so and i cant believe i didnt know about all this going on …. i commented early on in the comments section and figured their would only be a few more after me and then wammmmm….. i come on here now and all this controversey …… can we please have the same honesty from lombardi about the johnson situation as the ivannis situation …. i doubt it, since the ivannis situation – playing him every game …. implicates lombardi as the dope …… but once again the proof is out there ………. the kings have played two games with a fourth line of moller purcell and segal and they beat two great teams and now look like a playoff calibur team …. i mean that solid 4th line looks like they will actually get a few goals before the seasons end …… but knowing the kings , ivannis will return at some point …… ivannis and jones should be scrathed for the remainder of their contracts – every game ……. neither of them should ever see the ice again with this team if lombardi knows what he is doing ……. jones, maybe, with a little coaching …. or if theres an injury to a forward, maybe he can be a fourth line forward like harrold ….. so jones seeing the ice for a game or two to see if he can improve i can tolerate … because at least jones can play …. but however, there should be no more excuse for ivannis …. i do not ever want to see him on the ice again – ever …. healthy scratch every game ….. by the way, peter harrold looks like an all star on defense – who knew? ….. i think all those games harrold played at forward improved his game on defense because he really looks confident with the puck and takes charge out there – wow! ……. gann, i hope your great article dosent stir up unrest with the kings … they do not need the distraction …. so far ivannis and jones on the scratch list and the kings look great …. even purcell is doing well on the fourth line without all the pressure on him and hes getting chances …… gann, my question for you – when drewiske comes back …. who do you sit , odonnels old legs , drewiske, or harrold …….. harrold looks too good to sit ……… my vote is to sit odonnels old legs and go with the young drewiske ….. or at the very least, trade them off like every game to save odonnels legs …. drewiske one night, odonnel the next ……. so gann, who do you sit …. whats your opinion ….. and is lombardi still your boy for throwing you under the bus …. or do you still like him

  70. OK…I’ve been away from a computer since 8:00 AM on Saturday morning and just sat down in front of the computer to find a huge load of comments, the vast majority—I’d say at least 90%—loaded with blatant insults, personal attacks, name-calling, epithets and other offensive or otherwise inappropriate language.

    I have little time as it is, and I’m not going to waste my time sifting through all that crap. So other than the previous eight comments, the rest were deleted. Also, I took a quick spin through earlier comments and removed ones that contained such words as well, to be consistent.

    Like it or not, such behavior is not tolerated on this blog, and I will not bend on that, so don’t even bother complaining.

    I welcome comments by anyone, as long as they do not contain what I mentioned above. I don’t care who you’re targeting, or if you’re just responding to to a perceived attack on you by someone else. Doesn’t matter who starts it. That kind of behavior simply doesn’t fly here.

    I really want to foster discussion by allowing all of you to comment on this story. However, I will not hesitate to disable comments if all I’m going to get in my moderation queue are messages loaded with inappropriate content.

  71. Guess you won’t be getting any interviews with the Kings players, coaches or staff again. I hope your instant rise to fame was worth it.

    Well, it did get me to visit your blog, but I won’t be back….

  72. It’s all Helen Elliot’s fault!!! I’ve been forced to read her awful coverage of the Kings for years since she was it here in l.a. until just recently. The worst hockey writer in all of hockey. Sometimes I would wonder if she even was at the games she would report about. I really think she just through tidbits (the juicy stuff to get a reaction) of the story on JJ’s lap without JJ actually reading the whole article and caught JJ in a vulnerable position. If I would’ve read the full article and it was about me, I only would’ve thought of it as complimentary.

  73. Keep your chin up Gann. I was critical of your approach to this and still am, but if you love your craft, you learn from these experiences and apply better judgment in the future.

  74. well i couldnt find a recent thread to post this so i will post this off topic comment here , since this seems to be the most recent one ……… continuing to use brown over handzus in shootouts and ivannis will be back in the lineup tomorrow against the leafs ….. dumb and dumber ….. its truly sad when i , as a fan, know more than the coach and gm ….. oh and no need to respond gann …. i know u think thats ludicris of me to say and that im a moron so dont bother …. i know where u stand – and just about everybody else – as far as me being dumb as hell ….. but i stand by my opinions and convictions wholeheartedly …….. marion gaborik anyone? …… all we had to do was sign him …. simple as that …. and there is our superstar skill guy ….. and only 7.5 million ….. what a bargain …… instead of battling for a playoff spot, wed be battling san jose and chicago for first overall if we had gaborik …. dummies running the show ….. truly sad …… and yes brown scoring in the last two shootouts was complete luck for him ….. guy has the worst hands i have ever seen ….. hes an absolutely fabulous player – hes all over the ice – but has proven throughout his career that finishing is not his strongsuit ….. to keep handzus off the top three in the shootout is simply inexcusable ………. and where the hell is westgarth …. didnt he prove to everyone last year hes 5000 times better than ivannis …… jesus …… truly sad whats going on around here

  75. but gann u never answered my question …. yes i know the big johnson controversey im sure has u in a bit of a stuper lol, but gann , who would u sit when drewiske comes back ….. drewiske, odonnel or harrold

  76. lol gann ,,,,,,……… are you still alive … lol …. must be real busy i guess ….. okay look, brown is playing great right now …. im so glad to be proven wrong for the most part ….. i no longer want to trade him in the kovulchuk deal …… brown still cant finish, but hes doing so many things well right now that he is proving his worth …. since it dosent look like dean wants to pay frolov, then try to include him in the deal for kovulchuk ……. atlanta probably wont do it since frolov will be a free agent, but it cant hurt to try ….. hmmmmmmmm i wonder if jack johnson will be part of the deal now that gann has triggered such controversey …… lol lol … yes im bored and cant think of anything to say except dreaming about trades …. gann where are you

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