I caught up with the newest Coyote, Matthew Lombardi, for some deeper insight Thursday afternoon. Lombardi was still in Toronto, hopeful that his visa issues would be resolved by Friday so he can join the team for the season opener Saturday in Dallas.
Coyotes general manager Don Maloney alluded to a botched negotiation with Lombardi when he became a free agent two seasons ago, saying that Lombardi left for the same reason many players leave: a little more money.
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Lombardi had this to say about that ill-fated deal:
“In hindsight, if I look back, I’d change the way the negotiation went, but I don’t hold a grudge. Don had a few guys he had to get signed, and with the team in the situation it was in with ownership, I’m sure he was under the gun.
“To be honest, it was really disappointing, because I never wanted to leave. It’s great to be back in a place where you feel like you fit in.”
Lombardi said that wasn’t the case in Toronto, where he played primarily on the wing, although he and the Coyotes brain trust believe he is a natural center. Compounding the problem was that he was coming off a neck injury that didn’t allow him to do anything, let alone skate and practice.
“Basically, I went 11 months without doing any exercise of any kind,” he said. “We didn’t really even figure out what was wrong until just before training camp.
“A lot of the symptoms were from my nerves being damaged or irritated in the upper cervical area – the ones that go into the brain. It was a product of the way I went into the boards and my neck getting torqued.”
Lombardi was injured in the second game of the 2010-11 season in Chicago. When he finally worked his way back into the Leafs’ lineup – although still not in the best game shape — he suffered a separated shoulder in November that forced him to miss about another month and a half.
“Frustrating doesn’t even describe it,” he said.
Lombardi had a sense he didn’t fit into the Leafs’ plans because the team was already deep at center. He, his wife and his two girls spent two weeks at Shane Doan’s ranch in the fall, and Lombardi decided to stay another three weeks after that to train with many of the Coyotes skaters.
He had already forged a friendship and chemistry with Doan that started when the two played on a line together in the 2007 World Championships in Moscow, where Team Canada won gold with a 4-2 victory over Finland. But the time spent in Doan’s home solidified his desire to return to the Valley.
“When I got traded here the first time (from Calgary), Shane was the first guy who called me,” Lombardi said. “We had a good relationship on and off the ice. It’s pretty easy with him because of the kind of person he is.”
As for any concerns about the past two seasons, Lombardi brushed them aside.
“I believe in myself; I believe in my abilities,” he said. “Given the right opportunities, I know I can help this team, and I know this is a team where I can earn those opportunities.”