EL SEGUNDO, CA — Not long after newly acquired defenseman Robyn Regehr left the ice following the Los Angeles Kings’ optional skate on April 3, President/General Manager Dean Lombardi came down from his second floor office to hold court with the local media.
As it usually does, Lombardi’s remarks about the trade ended up being a verbal treatise on building a National Hockey League team in the salary cap era.
Mind you, that is not a complaint. Far from it. In fact, Lombardi’s comments are almost always pure gold, given the information and detail he provides.
That said, we now return you to your regularly scheduled Dean Lombardi Show…
Unlike the first few years of his tenure with the Kings, Lombardi’s trading philosophy has changed, given the circumstances.
“Fortunately, we’re at the stage, unlike in the past, that I think it’s safe to say that we were really zeroing in on a certain type of player, unlike five or six years ago, when we went from acquiring draft picks and prospects, to a couple of years ago, [when] you start looking for smaller additions, to now,” said Lombardi. “Your market really gets kind of finite when you’re looking for a certain element. Even though you’re having a lot of discussions with people, as a practical matter, you zero down to a couple of teams.”
“The one thing about this whole process, too, we were engaged fairly early, because it wasn’t looking good for Willie Mitchell,” added Lombardi. “Losing two guys [Mitchell and Matt Greene] like that, right away, I’ve been looking for this all year.”
So why wait until the trade deadline?
“You’re looking at two big, physical guys who were clearly part of our identity who have not been in our lineup all year, and we knew it was going to be long term, so you could argue that this process started two months ago,” Lombardi noted. “It’s just that, again, people aren’t willing to deal until this time of year.”
With this deal, Lombardi addressed the Kings’ most pressing need.
“We like our team,” he said. “It was just filling those two holes [Greene and Mitchell]. The hardest part about this wasn’t the player trade. It’s making sure we keep this group together. I’ve made it clear numerous times that the way [the salary] cap is coming down next year, when we have six young players up for contracts, cause this to be a physics project.”
Indeed, Regehr was targeted, and not just because of how he fits on the ice.
“Of the players I looked at in making this deal, I spent way more time evaluating our [salary] cap, and [about] keeping this group together than I actually did in evaluating the player,” Lombardi emphasized. “That’s not taking anything away from the work of the player.”
“We knew we were going to get to this point someday,” Lombardi continued. “I’ve said it time and time again: build slowly with young players, and the thought of keeping them together. But this CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) really hurt in terms of us having to adjust, because we certainly didn’t plan on a dramatic decrease, and then, like I said, we have $6 million in space when we brought this team back that we can’t use, so everything we did in the last two weeks with Solly (Kings Vice President/Hockey Operations and Legal Affairs Jeff Solomon, the team’s cap specialist)—we’ve got more physics projects on the board than MIT in trying to figure out how to make sure we keep our own. That certainly had an impact on your market, too.”
Quite the balancing act, no doubt.
“You’re balancing the players,” said Lombardi. “You don’t want to get into the situation where you’re paying this to get the player, but then you’re going to pay another tax in the summer because you can’t keep another player, so actually, your price could increase dramatically if you aren’t cognizant of that.”
“That’s why I think [Regehr] is a really good fit for us,” added Lombardi. “I think with Robyn, that element he brings is something that we need to add to the mix, and I think [when] you put Greene back in this lineup, now you have that mix of puck-moving and hard to play against, so he’s a great fit.”
Lombardi is big on character, and thanks to the fact that head coach Darryl Sutter also coached Regehr in Calgary, Lombardi did not have to spend time trying to determine what kind of person Regehr was.
“What you get there, just like with [Jeff] Carter and [Mike] Richards—you guys do your digging to find out about a player—[in this case], we don’t have to do that,” Lombardi indicated. “This guy’s character is off the charts. He’s no picnic to play against, and in the end, you know from your own locker room. [Our] players know. This is a guy you’d rather have on your side than have to play against him.”
“Being a left shot—we’re obviously blessed with some really good, young defensemen, and [then there’s] the way [rookie defenseman Jake] Muzzin has come along. But we still need that element that guys like Robyn, Greene, and Willie Mitchell bring.”
Lombardi is very, very focused on keeping his team together going into next season. Even with that, signing Regehr to a new contract is a strong possibility.
“There’s a good chance that we can retain him,” Lombardi noted. “I think we’ve got a lot going for us, so this wasn’t looked at as a rental. We’re looking at this is a guy who can fit with us for a number of years.”
“I just feel so strongly, and I think you [the local media covering the Kings] know this group,” Lombardi added. “Through the process, at times, yeah, [they] get frustrated. But there’s no question [that] they care about each other. Time and time again I’ve seen them, the way they stick together through tough times, and you want to do everything you can to let them build together.”
“You’ve heard me talk about culture. Quite frankly, and this has always been in the back of my mind. First, you need stability and continuity. Then you get an identity. But if you don’t have the first one, you’re not going to get the culture, and culture takes time. The only way you’re going to do it is to keep a bunch of good players together who care about each other, learn through the ups and downs, and learn to win. That’s a culture, and that’s not going to happen in one year.”
Lombardi indicated that the culture is not there just yet.
“It’s a process, like we’re just starting to get an identity now,” he said. “There’s another step here, and if I have to start pulling guys out of that room, you take away the stability and continuity, and now you back the whole thing up. That was very much in the back of my mind, that there’s an emotional bond and step that we need to take, as a franchise, and if I start ripping the guts out of it, and start getting away from continuity, we’re never going to get there, and we’re going to end up like everything else—mediocrity, back to .500.”
“It’s harder and harder in this day and age,” he added. “That’s what caps are designed to do—bring everything to the medium. But with constant changes, you’re never going to get a team with culture if that’s going on. I’ve been consistent with that since [my] first year. I’ve really faced the challenge of trying to improve the team, and keep them together, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”
“This deal is very much not [about] just the player. It’s this other thing (culture) that’s in the back of my mind. It’s very important.”
Aside from acquiring Regehr, Lombardi indicated that he was not close on any other deals.
“I like our team, and I think we addressed our biggest need,” said Lombardi. “You saw Matt Greene in [the dressing room]—if we get him back, that’s like getting a player for nothing. I didn’t see anything that was really going to improve us. Our depth up front, with [rookie right wing Tyler] Toffoli, Brad Richardson—we forget about him, but he’s shown that he’s a good depth player. There wasn’t really anything that made sense, in terms of an upgrade, let alone what is that upgrade going to do to your cap?”
Lombardi took note of the fact that he acquired another pick in this year’s draft, albeit a late-round selection.
“The other thing we were able to do that we really liked, and you know how I feel about this: we’ve got ten picks in this year’s draft,” he said. “You never want to lose sight of that part. We don’t have a first rounder, but going into this, we were able to keep this nucleus, get this piece here, and have ten picks going into [this year’s] draft. Going forward, we haven’t sold the farm by any stretch. We’ve got the [cap] space to keep our young players, and hopefully, add the right veterans.”
“Now it’s up to our scouts hitting the middle rounds,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of swings in there, so we’ll keep the supply line going. We’re in good shape here, and that’s unusual for a team coming off the success we had last year. Generally, you’ve got to empty the store a little more.”
When asked how the addition of Regehr might impact contract negotiations with veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, who is in the final year of his contract, and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, Lombardi pointed to his balancing act again.
“We just started this afternoon—we kind of went back to the drawing board to see the dominos,” he said. “We’ve got an idea of what we think we can try to do to keep these guys together. We have an issue, because we’ve got these young players up, so we’ve got to do a balancing act.”
“The less term you give, you can probably keep it down to keep the veterans, so you’ve got do to this balancing act between the advantages of term, but also keeping the other pieces,” he added.
“Solly is finally going to earn his money this year.”
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