(This article was originally published by me as a guest author at the site called “Surly and Scribe”)
I am of mixed feelings about the rumored, possibly auto-generated-for-TV-commentator-content regarding proposed trades for Sir Galahad/The Cavalry/Captain “Sully” Sullenberger/A Veteran Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer/Seal Team 6 Mission Commander/Rick Nash. With a week to go Lombardi is already rumored to be up to Bernier, Loktionov, Johnson and a pick. It’s the Johnson part I don’t like.
Why is Scott Howson trying to grab our Johnson? Usually, them’s fightin’ words. Well, the balls are in his court; he’s got some and apparently our guy doesn’t. I don’t mean balls of nerve; I mean truck nuts. Brass balls, that everybody hears knocking like a Newton’s Cradle, that desk prop with the hanging ball bearings that you lift one so it hits and makes the other end bounce out like a croquet send.
The kind of brass balls you get when you are a master at something, that makes opponents fear your skill, that is just a part of the well-deserved bow-legged swagger of the vanquishing conqueror.
Our guy is not that guy.
Lombardi comes into this trade not like Bad Bob riding into town in the movie “The Life and Times Of Judge Roy Bean.” (By the way, Judge Bean’s Town is not Boston) In the movie, Bad Bob is an albino gunslinger who rides into town, shooting randomly until he picks out one poor bastard in particular. He shoots off the poor guy’s toe, tells him to take a message to Judge Bean, and when the guy questions him he shoots off the other toe. As the guy hobbles off, Bad Bob shoots someone’s horse, grabs a turnip to eat, drinks directly from a smoking hot coffeepot, and tells the dead horse’s owner to cook that horse for breakfast, and to smother it in onions and cook it “blue.” Then, Bad Bob struts into the middle of Main street:
“Bean! Oh, Beano! It’s me, Bob. Bad Bob. l’ve come here to shoot your eyes out. And then l’m going to take my ivory-handled knife… and cut your head off and sell it to a friend of mine in a carnival. lt is my intention, Beano, to rid the ground of your shadow… and take my pleasure upon this town.”
That is not our guy. This is:
This was Lombardi after the Kovalchuk fiasco. This was Lombardi after the Brad Richards “show and tell” video was rejected. This was Lombardi after the Penner deal became what it is now, when Lombardi called Penner out in the press for being a potential softball player. This was Lombardi after the Smyth trade when Colin Fraser, that vital link and near-deal-breaker once-in-a-generation player was found to be injured slightly worse than was represented and was also healing more slowly than anticipated. How the Kings got along for those awful weeks while we were deprived of Fraser’s immeasurable talents I will never know, but that’s what winners do; they suck it up and quietly persevere.
Our guy does not deal from a position of strength, either in this trade, or in any of the other ways that a GM acquires talent. Those ways are draft and develop, trade, free agency, waiver signing or walk-on signing. I separate free agency from its sub-category of walk-on because free agency sounds like implied talent, and Trent Hunter was a walk-on; see the difference?
The weakness in Lombardi’s drafting is self-evident: by the specific players not here, the type of players not here, and the actual players that are here. We have Trevor Lewis (6 goals, 19 points). We do not have Chris Stewart (78 goals, 158 points), we do not have Milan Lucic (84 goals, 193 points) and for goddamn sure we do not have some guy named Claude Giroux (72 goals and 146 points with a slight chance of adding a few more points over the coming years). That’s just one guy, one pick. I am not even mentioning Thomas Hickey. That one pick of Trevor Lewis would be enough regarding the “draft method” of acquiring talent to doubt Lombardi, but when one sees the lack of development (Moulson, Boyle, Purcell) and the lack of variety in his selections (defensemen, defensive-minded forwards and goalies) it seems clear that Dean Lombardi is no Ken Holland. Drafting and development are not gonna earn Dean those golden nuggets.
Free agency? He’s tried everything except skywriting and proposing marriage over a Jumbotron. Ummm, next.
Waiver signing? Who cares.
Trade? Well, hot and cold, to be most kind. Penner looked good on paper, but erase that idea. Richards was a fair trade, I liked it and still do. I could go down the list, but we would only end up at the same place we always do. Lombardi is not a trade wizard; he is mediocre overall, and only sometimes good. He does not pull off the blockbusters, like a Brian Burke. He is not the one that most people expect to come out on the better end of a deal. He does not have a history of total resets, like a Paul Holmgren in Philly. Lombardi is not feared by any trading partner. Some are: Dean isn’t.
So, while I do not want to lose my Johnson, I acknowledge that there might be some scenario that would include him as a trade and would be a great deal for the Kings. That deal might be for Rick Nash this year, now. It might be for someone else over the summer. But I can’t help feeling that if Johnson were involved in a deal made by Lombardi that was absolutely terrific, it would be absolutely terrific for the other side.
Would such a deal bring Lombardi closer to having the Stones of Zeus? I don’t think so. Lombardi’s position is so weak that it may be irreparable in the short term. The Kings should never have gotten to a point of being so desperate. If Dean Lombardi were to suddenly morph into Bad Bob and ride into Columbus acting tough, he would probably end up the same way Bad Bob did: shot in the back. Bad Bob, as a movie character, was a parody, and a vehicle for the hero as the butt of the joke: perhaps the analogy would still hold whether Lombardi ever became like Bad Bob or not.
Even if Nash is our savior, and the Kings make the playoffs, does a line-up with Martinez and Voynov go deep? Can we lose the Power Play points of Johnson? Would any player ever again believe Dean’s line about character, stepping up, having the tatoo, etc., after he dumps Johnson following all that was said and done in Johnson’s contract negotiation?
Sure, it’s a business, guys get traded, but cutting off our Johnson would be the final admission of failure in all that Lombardi has said was paramount: defense first, solid goaltending, and character guys. By dropping exactly those pieces which he said were most important, and the few successes accrued from that practice, he would in effect be changing urinals in mid-stream and, I think, staining his own shoes.
And, if Lombardi does the deal now, he would not only have to pay a higher price due to the bidding war factor, but also the price goes up for the “deadline/panic” factor, as well as that the Kings are obviously in great need right now, just another factor that will up the price. Also, it is widely held that Lombardi could and should lose his job if this year isn’t saved, further diminishing Lombardi’s position. Combining all those situational factors with the weakened image of the man doing the trade itself, I just end up scared to death that Lombardi will so severely overpay that the organization will be gutted of its few home-grown successes in order to land one single player.