Kings GM Dean Lombardi talks this season's accomplishments, Anze Kopitar and what to make of free agents.
By JONATHAN DAVISFS West
The day after the
Los Angeles Kings were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi shared his thoughts on a variety of topics.
A recap of the biggest talking points.
What the last 24 hours has been like:
“I think the disappointment is obviously the losing but I think there’s a bit of, this is something I’ve always said when we were building this thing like, I told you this two years ago that when we got beat in the playoffs, I think it was against San Jose Game 6, it was the first year guys went home ticked off versus, make the playoffs get knocked out, and saying, well good season.
"At that time I said we were progressing because it was clearly the first time there were guys that were upset the season was over. Now they're at the Conference Final level and ticked off, because of basically a missed opportunity. That’s a tribute to them for having raised the bar so high. But that’s what they’ve always wanted and that’s what you strive for and on the other hand that’s what makes it incredibly difficult for those first couple days.”
Does it hurt more losing this year after what you accomplished last season?
“There’s your mixed emotions thing. First off, I think in terms of having won it last year, I think you heard that adage from top guys, and I’ve heard this from a lot of top athletes who have won multiple championships. They say once you’ve won early in your career that’s all you want to do, and the reason is you realize it’s how great the feeling is, now you truly know that all that work is worthwhile. Until you get there, you really don’t know, when you’re putting in all that effort, banged up, playing all those games, like I said when you watch a hockey player go through the playoffs.
"Last year, my respect for players grew tenfold having witnessed it every day how hard it is, but having experienced the feeling that you get after, now you know what it feels like, and it’s been taken away from you. So it’s, you don’t know what you lost till it’s gone. You don’t really know what you’ve lost until you’ve experienced it. You can surmise it, but I surmised it and I had no idea the feeling I was going to have when those guys won, and you can’t explain it, it’s better than anything you can imagine.
“So you have to step back and say, 'Hey wait a minute here.' You can’t condone losing. You never want to do that. I have to condone their sense of honor. That they didn’t quit, they fought through and given the history of it, they deserve to be commended for what they did accomplish and they deserve to be commended for the fact is right now they’re not satisfied. Again you never want to get back in that mode like we were four years ago where ‘out in the first round, good season,’ that’s clearly not the case, and that’s not what I’m doing by saying that but given the history of it and witnessing it first hand, how this season was from training camp on and the challenges they faced.
“It’s like I said, I have to condone their sense of honor. I think too the beauty of this, the challenges they faced this year, then you go to the other side the benefit. There were a lot of different challenges they met here. Certainly the regular season was one of them, but the playoffs too in particular. Last year until we got to Game 6 against New Jersey, I don’t think we faced that fear of losing that can seep in. I said a whole thing about believing in yourself versus fearing you’re going to lose versus believing you’re going to win and you have to be put in those situations. ...
“Nobody can say in any way shape or form, that we quit. I don’t know how many emails I got from hockey people, other general managers last night and that was their tone. They said. 'Dean the one thing about it, you can say those boys do not quit.' That’s the type of culture we’ve set out to build and we’ll continue to try and do. That’ll teach you to ask a question and think you’ll get a sound bite!”
Did Anze Kopitar’s playoff struggles result from his injuries?
“Was he banged up? Yes. I think it’s just another case, like the team, it’s just a microcosm of all the things we talk about. It’s a different mindset, not only for a team, but clearly your players and clearly your top players.
"But this year, one of the byproducts of him and (Drew) Doughty and (Jonathan) Quick, they get circled. Now, OK, you’re going to draw the toughest assignments. So, just like the team faced different challenges, individuals faced different challenges. Yeah, it was harder on him, just like it was harder on the team.
“But then I come back to, wait a minute, this kid is like Drew and so many others. He is far from having maximized his potential. And like I said about every one of those kids, yeah, some of them are going to take a little longer to figure it out. But deep down, they’re a great group of kids. They care about each other, and deep down they’re all competitors. And I have no doubt he’s going to figure it out. He just had a different challenge that he never experienced before in his career, and I’ve got the utmost faith [that he’ll eventually start to think] ‘I realize what this is all about, and if I’m going to be a top, top player in this league a long time, that goes with the turf."
The overall health of the team during the playoff run
“Like any other playoff team . . . there were numerous guys who weren’t made public, they were banged up. But I think you start throwing out the names of all these guys who got hurt, and I think it sends a bad message. Unfortunately the playoffs, as we’re learning, that’s part of their learning. Learning to play hurt versus injured.
"Clearly these guys, and the one thing I can say, I guarantee you all 20 of those guys understand that concept. But I’m not in favor of putting out a list and saying, ‘Look at all these guys who were hurt.’ It sounds like an excuse. And the only thing that matters, is that their teammates know who is hurt, and how badly they’ve showed they wanted to win this thing and play through hurt, and some of them were injured, let alone hurt. But, and it’s not because I’m trying to keep injuries from you, or (saying) ‘upper body injury,’ I just don’t think that’s what this team is all about. They’re not looking for excuses in any way.”
More important to do first: Trying to sign unrestricted free-agent Rob Scuderi or restricted free-agent Slava Voynov?
“If this was the NFL, I would have started this process six months ago, and I’d say I have this $6 million in cap space so let’s get some of these guys done now. Can’t do it. Not allowed. Not sure why, but not allowed. So we've got a challenge here.
“Kind of chicken and egg, isn't it? And part of that too, what you have to factor into that, there’s at least a difference between an unrestricted free agent and a restricted, right? So that enters into who you prioritize also. I don’t have a problem with that. You can say, looking at it as a player, I do this, but there’s also the issue of a guy with seniority and he’s putting in more years, probably deserves consideration, not only morally because he has seniority, but also the agreement dictates that you probably have to move quicker because at least the other guys you have rights to."
Update on Willie Mitchell
"It’s a day-to-day thing, in terms of his progress. I guess it’s safe to say that he’s at least making progress, but the problem is it’s the same progress he made before. Until we get to those final stages, you’re not going to know for sure."