Takes and trash talk from both ALL sides of the NHL's most obscure PATHETIC* rivalry

* Thanks, Kevin Lowe!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

One trade-deadline transaction that went under the radar

In fact, this acquisition happened so late in the day that NHL still has not been notified:

Battle of California trades a conditional pick for Kings blogger Rudy Kelly.
That’s right, we’re trading away future assets for immediate gain, based on RK’s tryout post and the one below, which addresses GM Dean Lombardi and the future outlook for the Kings. (note that it was written before Jason Ward and Mattias Norstrom were moved yesterday).

There will be a little legwork getting RK on-board and posting, but hopefully this will be the last time I post on his behalf. Any way, read on for more Kings thoughts, and feel free to welcome Rudy Kelly aboard.

Dean Lombardi:

A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma Surrounded By Terrible Hockey

When the Kings hired Dean Lombardi, I was pretty stoked. I read an article about him that discussed his love for stats and his close relationship with Billy Beane, the GM for the Oakland Athletics and a revolutionary in the baseball world. I figured that Lombardi would be able to find the deficiencies in the scouting of hockey players and quickly get the Kings back on top; obviously, that hasn’t happened. Lombardi’s moves have been confusing (or retarded, depending on your view), but there are three different theories that I think can explain Lombardi’s mindset. But first, a few things to keep in mind:

  1. I am not factoring in Lombardi’s reasoning to the newspapers. We all know how much GM’s lie and I refuse to believe that Lombardi was telling the truth when he said that Jason Ward “… obviously is an NHL player.” I will be using what he said at events with season ticket holders as clues to his real intentions, and I’ll try to point out when I do so.

  2. I am mostly focusing on the moves made at the beginning of the year, since those had the most bearing on the Kings’ season.

  3. I’m not very bright, so feel free to point out all the mistakes I made.
Theory 1: He’s an idiot. Lombardi’s stated goal at the beginning of the year was to keep the Kings competitive while building on the fly, so he tried to shore up the defense by signing Rob Blake and then trading for Dan Cloutier, thinking that he’d be something other than mind-blowingly awful. The trade of Pavol Demitra was acceptable because Patrick O’Sullivan would do a good job of filling the void.

Why it’s Plausible: If Lombardi didn’t think that Blake was capable of being a great defenseman, he wouldn’t have given him 6 million dollars a year. The same holds true for Cloutier; Lombardi wouldn’t have given up a 2nd-round draft pick if he didn’t think that Cloutier could hold down the fort. Obviously, these are the actions of an idiot.

Why it’s Implausible: This theory doesn’t really hold for me because I just can’t believe that someone would be stupid enough to look at this team at the beginning of the year and think it was playoff-caliber. The trade of Demitra kind of puts a hole in this one too. You wouldn’t trade your best offensive player if you really wanted to be good. Also, he wouldn’t have traded a promising young defenseman for an even more promising (promisinger?) defenseman who wouldn’t even play this year if his goal was to win this year or the next.

Theory 2: He’s an evil mastermind. When Lombardi said that he presented a plan that called for a complete overhaul and owner Phil Anschutz rejected it, he was lying; the plan all along was to have this team be terrible but Lombardi lied to keep the season ticket holders happy.

Why it’s Plausible: The trades for O’Sullivan and Jack Johnson help this theory. Why would Lombardi trade for two players who wouldn’t have a big impact for at least two years if he didn’t want to be terrible this year? He signed a bunch of mediocre veterans to short deals to give the appearance of depth when he knew that they wouldn’t have an impact in the long run. Plus, isn’t it more comfortable to believe that Lombardi knew Cloutier would be as bad as he was?

Why it’s Implausible: I don’t like this theory because it implies some sort of wide-ranging conspiracy, and I generally don’t take to conspiracy theories. (Except for the one about how Rod Brind'amour is actually Frankenstein. I mean, Jesus, look at his face!) Plus, when has Anschutz ever shown a willingness to spend money on anything, let alone on something that would ultimately end with the Kings being this bad?

Theory 3: Lombardi tried to rebuild while also keeping the team competitive, but failed. The signing of veterans in the off-season would keep the team afloat while the younger players got their feet wet. Cloutier would help the team stay competitive and possibly sneak the team into the playoffs. The veteran-laden defense would make up for the young offense.

Why it’s Plausible: A lot of this depends on what you think of Dan Cloutier. His performance has been hilarious (at least to my Duck-supporting roommate), but you can’t let that color pre-season expectations. Lombardi traded for Cloutier because he didn’t think that Garon and LaBarbera could be a consistent goaltending duo. Cloutier wouldn’t remind Kings fans of Rogie Vachon, but he would be consistent enough to win a few games until recent draftee Jonathan Bernier would be ready to take over the reigns. This obviously didn’t work out, but the theory still seems plausible. (To be fair, Cloutier was consistent; he was just consistently awful.)

Why it’s Implausible: This theory can be hard to accept because the opposite of what was intended occurred. The offense has been good this year (though hurt by a lack of depth) while the defense has been poor. There have been breakout seasons by Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, and Mike Cammalleri, while Rob Blake, Mattias Norstrom, and Aaron Miller have looked cool (sweet goatee, Blake!), but have played pretty terribly. This can make people forget that our offense was supposed to be the weaker aspect of the team as the season opened. Remember that at the beginning of this season Kopitar was surrounded by doubt because no one knew where the hell Slovenia was, Frolov was still derided as inconsistent, and Cammalleri could never be a good player because he looks like he’s 10 years old.

When Lombardi said that his goal was to rebuild on the fly, I think he was being somewhat dishonest (though not to the extent that I’d say he was lying). I don’t think the goal was to make the playoffs this year, and I’m fine with that. At the same time, I don’t think he wanted to be in the hunt for the top pick in the draft for publicity reasons. The terrible goaltending severely hurt Lombardi’s plans and he has been attempting to come up with some sort of compromise ever since.

It’s important to remember that a GM can’t be expected to have a plan and completely stick to it. Lombardi expected to rebuild, but he tried to get Zdeno Chara and Patrik Elias when he could because they were good players who were available. He has shown a willingness to divert from a plan if it means that the Kings can ultimately benefit. (I think the Jack Johnson deal was a reflection of this.) This is good, because his plan this year seems to have not worked out. His willingness to change and adapt gives me confidence in Lombardi, even if this season has been a disappointment in some ways.

That contract extension to Cloutier, though… never mind, this guy’s an idiot.


dbushik said...

Well, right off the top, one thing DL has said to season ticket holders is that it will take three years to get where he wants with the team.

Based on that, trying to figure out what he is doing exactly with all this talk about how the team is doing today seems a bit silly. I think you get it most correctly in theory #3.

Any move is about making the team better three years from now, so pulling the trigger on O'Sullivan and Johnson makes plenty of sense at that point.

I have to think Cloutier was just a giant mistake, but also clearly think he and Crow both were confident in the guy. The concept of bringing in a proven guy to stabilize the position was a good plan. They just picked the wrong guy. Even I thought at the time he was the wrong guy, but he well surpassed the limits that I thought he could suck, so you have to think his spectacularly bad performance takes them by surprise too. Huge mistake, but an honest one.

With Blake, everyone focuses on the salary. Bringing Blake back, the plan has clearly become having him play a couple years with Johnson specifically (not just tudor random players, but for Johnson's benefit specifically) and to give incentive to Johnson to sign and not re-enter the draft.

Before Johnson, the plan was Blake would fill in where we need a body on defense and retire a King after a few years and step into the front office. To make that happen, how much was Blake looking at on the open market? He gave Blake the salary it would take to land him, and it's not like the team was making better use of that money being on the verge of a Cup run. He gave Blake two years, so that salary frees up right about the time DL is saying he's thinking the team will be where having that money would actually make a difference.

You mention him going after Chara, and when he couldn't land him, Blake was the back-up plan. Not a bad one either if you consider where you get the most bang for the buck. Tying up money in a guy who can run a power play and play extensively on the PK in the new NHL is likely more worth it than in a forward. Yeah, Blake has not been as good as he needs to, but you see why DL moved in the direction he did. Much like Cloutier, good idea, turns out bad in practice (not nearly as bad as Cloutier though).

Does anyone honestly think the Kings are a better team this year if we have Demitra instead of O'Sullivan and Blake in the line-up? Even with O'Sullivan not doing much and Blake having a down year (he started rather bad, but you can't say he's been horrible after the first 20 games), Demitra chipping in a few extra goals here and there wouldn't have made any difference for where the team ends this season. Now with O'Sullivan, there is a chance that two or three years down the line we are significantly better than we would have been holding Demitra.

I hate the fact Norstrom was moved. I'm beyond disgusted that Modry comes back in return even if it is just a salary dump by DAL. But the guy is consistently getting good returns in these deals...as long as you keep an eye on the fact that moves are not being made to make the team better this season. He's making it more likely with each of the moves he's made that three years from now the team will improve.

So yeah, Cloutier was a phenomenal disaster. Blake had not played as well as fans hoped. But I do think the team is in better position to be good a few years from now.

The only deceptive part about what he has done is pretending you can fix the car while still driving it down the road. If Cloutier didn't suck and basically all our vets including Blake and Conroy and the gaggle of SJ cast-offs had played better, maybe he could have pulled off a playoff spot this season. And if frogs had wings they wouldn't bump their ass a-hoppin'.

Then reality sets in and you maybe see the team still has its eyes on the correct prize, which is about building a winning team long term.

Aaron said...

As a Sharks fan I can tell you that you will be both delighted and disgusted by Dean Lombardi. He has a really solid record of drafting and developing talent, though he did have Doug Wilson working on that and he's ok. Lombardi is a solid GM when it comes to acquiring prospects and picks and developing talent, but he can't make the big move. I'll put it this way: if Dean Lombardi was still the Sharks' GM there is NO WAY Joe Thornton is a Shark. And this is where Dean Lombardi's talents and efforts always fell short. DEan gets the team from poor to rich like a good CEO, but he always seems to play it safe. If you read Bill Simmons he always says that there comes a time when as the GM you have to take a chance and make a move. You have to have stars, you have to have established players, and you have to sometimes take drastic measures when things aren't working. Maybe he's too cautious by nature, or maybe he overvalues his own prospects but in the end it doesn't matter. When the players and coaches need the GM to save the season, Lombardi will be MIA.

RudyKelly said...

That's a good point. I think Lombardi is a GM in the mold of Billy Beane and Mike Shanahan; he's going to be consistently good, but I don't know if he's willing to risk everything to go for the win.

dbushik said...

Bill Simmons? If you're quoting a guy who is clealry on the side of flash over substance and who pretty much doesn't bother covering hockey, I really don't know how much credence there is to the comment. But that's more an opinion on Simmons than your post.