LOS ANGELES — The 2016 National Hockey League trade deadline has come and gone, and perhaps a bit surprisingly, outside of a minor league trade in which they acquired forward Brett Sutter from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for forward prospect Scott Sabourin, the Los Angeles Kings remained on the sidelines on deadline day, February 29.
“We were pretty much done yesterday,” Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi said during a media conference call. “Once we got the defenseman, the only other thing we were looking at was obviously, with [left wing Marian] Gaborik out, looking for the experienced player who can play in your top six. I talked to a lot of people today, but I didn’t anticipate anything, and it didn’t surprise me.”
As Lombardi alluded to, he had already been quite busy, acquiring veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi on February 26 and forward Kris Versteeg on February 28. Those trades were preceded by the acquisitions of center Vincent Lecavalier and defenseman Luke Schenn on January 6.
“This process starts—you get a bunch of cue cards, and you put the team on and you work through so you can go back to conversations, two, three weeks ago, in terms of buyers and sellers,” Lombardi explained. “I mean, essentially, it comes down to you’re not doing your job unless you’ve talked to just about every team except the ones in your division, where you know it’s probably not [going to happen]—the guys in your state, because it’s just not practical. But essentially, over a two, three-week period, you talk to just about everybody. It has a frontal effect on guys you continue to check in with, and then, as you narrow it down, it gets smaller and smaller, and after last night, today—you get more incoming calls because teams are still looking to move people.”
“This is a two, three week process, and quite frankly, you could say that getting Lecavalier and Schenn when we did was part of this same chain of events,” Lombardi elaborated. “It’s just that we did it earlier. We probably started the ball rolling in terms of the trade deadline with that deal.”
Versteeg, 29, was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for forward prospect Valentin Zykov and a conditional fifth round selection in the 2016 NHL Draft.
“You’ve seen us do that before, right, when we got [center Jarret] Stoll, or [center] Mike [Richards],” said Lombardi. “It was either guys who had been to the finals or won [the Stanley Cup]. A lot of those veterans had been in that position, and certainly, Versteeg fits that.”
“The other thing, too, is [that head coach Darryl Sutter is] very familiar with Versteeg, so even though we’re not as familiar with him as, maybe, a Scuderi, having been here, there’s also a history with Versteeg with the Sutter family, if you go back to his time in Alberta. But the winning part, absolutely. It’s a war zone. You better know what you’re getting into. Now I think we just got a taste of that last night [a 4-2 loss at Anaheim on February 29].”
On the other side of the red line, Lombardi indicated that the Kings had no qualms about pursuing the 37-year-old Scuderi because they determined that his recent play was a by-product of the teams he was playing for and their style, much more so than diminishing skills or physical ability.
“Rob was fairly easy,” Lombardi noted. “The biggest thing to it, as you saw that work out, was in keeping your eye on the [salary] cap and then the thing with Rob was, obviously, next year’s salary.”
“I could’ve gotten him earlier, but there was an issue with the money the next year,” Lombardi added. “But the way that is now structured, it was almost like you’re not going to get a better player than that for what we’re going to end up paying, and then it becomes the issue of, OK, before we did it, we went back and Darryl and the coaches and I and [assistant general manager Rob Blake], we sat and watched Rob’s games in Pittsburgh and Chicago, and then we put in the games that he played in the conference finals with us before he left, and then tried to make a decision on was [his] drop-off, so to speak, an issue of [him being] slower or whatever, or maybe the role and the fit not being right and him being caught in between.”
“I think all that work was being done—we got permission from Chicago to talk to him before [the trade], and one thing good about it is he knows what Darryl expects, and I talked to him about the team now. The other thing, too, was about moving his family. It was critical that—one of the reasons I think he left was because his wife wanted to be closer to his family. [I told him], ‘I don’t want you coming out here if your wife’s staying back east,’ and she was all excited. And the guy—he commands a lot of respect in that room, and like I said, for giving up what we have to pay him, as well as fitting in, it’s almost like, ‘well, it makes too much sense.’”
Looking at the big picture across the league, with Stanley Cup contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks making several big trades, did Lombardi feel the pressure to keep up?
“No, I think now you’re getting into one of the original questions here that I alluded to,” he said. “You’ve got to have a plan and stick with it in building, as well as the ‘window,’ and I’ve never been that ‘oh he did this, we gotta to do that.’ I think that’s dangerous.”
“I clearly don’t think it came into play here because one of the things, the money—remember, if you look, and we had to take a piece of [Christian] Ehrhoff for this year,” he added. “I knew [Blackhawks general manager] Stan [Bowman] was getting [Andrew] Ladd, so part of the reason I got held out was that part of the money that he had to have, so yeah, I’ll add Scuderi. I know you’re getting Ladd so that’s why you have to have 50 percent. Do what you’ve got to do. It doesn’t surprise me one bit.”
“I mean, he could have told you that he was going to do that two months ago, and he’s really good at what he does, there’s no doubt about it. If you looked at it, it didn’t surprise me one bit, but is that going to make us go out there and say, ‘well we’ve got to do this and that?’ No. I think that’s dangerous. You’ve got to look at your team, and it’s always been ‘how good are we?’ Yes, you look at your match ups, but I think if you get yourself into that, you may be throwing around first rounders before you know it.”
Although Lombardi said that pressure from what other teams were doing at the trade deadline had no effect on his decision-making, what his team is doing, or not doing, on the ice, certainly did.
“There’s always a different set of challenges, in terms of what this era is going to stand for, and one of them is, in fact, having a better regular season, and not having to [squeak in] at seventh or eighth place because there is an advantage to it, and it’s a challenge,” Lombardi emphasized. “You should want to win your division as well as the Stanley Cup. Now we all know that the Cup is clearly the most important, by far. However, it’s still a challenge that any team is going to want to pride itself on being a top team.”
“It’s to be good during both [the regular season and the playoffs], and excel during both,” Lombardi added. “So that is one of the goals they had set out to do, and now, for the first time, they got off to a big lead, and there’s a mindset that a real pro has to learn to deal with. You’ve got a big lead, so what do you do with it? Are you going to let some games go that you weren’t ready for, or are you going to meet the challenge? I think they’re in the midst of that now. You can’t look back and say, ‘well, this happened. They had a big lead four years ago and let it go.’ But this is new turf for a lot of them, and it’s also new, in a sense, and you’ve heard me talk about it, too, that the transition in the leadership group—we lost some guys who knew how to win. Some guys are responsible for taking over and making sure this doesn’t happen.”
Lombardi then turned his thoughts to his team’s ever-shrinking lead in the Pacific Division standings.
“Am I comfortable? No,” he said. “I’d like to have a 20-point lead, quite frankly. If we still had a ten-point lead, I probably wouldn’t be comfortable. But I think, last night [a 4-2 loss at Anaheim on February 29], everybody who called me today, every conversation started off with, ‘what a game last night. That was one intense game. That was a high-level playoff game.’”
“I think it’s very clear that this battle between these Southern California teams—it’s not going away anytime soon. When you look at the average ages of our two teams, I guess that’s what sports are supposed to be about. After the intensity of that game last night, with a 20-point lead, you still wouldn’t be comfortable.”
“That was a war out there last night. You’d better show up, ready to play. That was a man’s game last night, and like I said, every general manager who called me today started that conversation saying, ‘What a game that was,’ other than the fact that we had to wait ten minutes for a decision [on Milan Lucic’s disallowed goal], but everything else was pretty good.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi speaking to the media during the on-ice celebration after the Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship at Staples Center in Los Angeles on June 13, 2014. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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