Okay, so it's no secret that most of us here like Dean Lombardi. It's also no secret that he's made his share of questionable moves over the last couple years, though some trades which appeared to be baffling at the outset (Regehr for two second rounders, a fifth rounder for Loktionov) now appear to be, at worst, even. In the meantime, he's built a very strong team in Los Angeles, and he helped bring the Kings their first Stanley Cup last season.
So he's a good general manager, perhaps a great one. But compared to some of the other general managers in the league? He might be a freaking genius. At least, that's the way Scott Burnside made him look.
By now, you've probably read Burnside's account of how the 2014 U.S. Olympic hockey team was chosen. Lombardi was one of the eight general managers involved in this selection process. The others:
- David Poile, Nashville Predators (head GM)
- Stan Bowman, Chicago Blackhawks
- Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers
- Ray Shero, Pittsburgh Penguins
- Don Waddell, ex-Atlanta Thrashers
- Paul Holmgren, Philadelphia Flyers
- Brian Burke, Calgary Flames
Burnside's story has caused a bit of a firestorm, with the GMs' frank discussion of Bobby Ryan causing outrage among those who thought Ryan should have made the team easily... and somehow, outrage among some towards Burnside for reporting what was said in the presence of a reporter. Anyway, I'm not about to wade into that discussion, so let's go ahead and check out some of the important decisions Lombardi factored into.
All right, add a new term to the Jewels from the Crown glossary: "Yandle Manifesto."
The early discussion on Yandle portrayed him as barely an afterthought to make the team.
Keith Yandle is another lightning-rod player whom the coaches were not enthused about having on the roster.
With him the reward never seems to exceed the risk, Poile says.
However, Dean Lombardi came into one conference call with what we imagine was a 700 page doctrine on why the team should maybe, just maybe, look at Keith Yandle. According to Burnside, Lombardi took a focused look at Yandle's performance in situations where he needed to be responsible defensively. His opinion?
He's not great defensively but he's not soft.
And the quotable:
If this kid was playing in New York, would we be embarrassed not to take him?
That feels like one part "Lombardi pushing against East Coast Bias", but one part "Making people think." Which is pretty much what Lombardi does with his trademark long quotes. Burnside explains that, at the end of the session, "Yandle has gone from being on the very edge of the roster discussion to a virtual lock in a matter of hours." All this despite Brian Burke comparing his report to both the New Testament and Gone with the Wind. Both classics!
Unfortunately, the coaches end up overruling Lombardi's research, stating that Cam Fowler has emerged as a "better all-around player" who "can play in more situations in their estimation." We don't get Lombardi's view of Fowler, but it's safe to say that he probably would've preferred Yandle. Yandle, of course, would end up (along with Kyle Okposo) as one of the two biggest snubs not named Bobby Ryan.
We don't know whether Lombardi pushed for Johnson once the selection process gets to the critical final meeting, but we can hear his subtle change in perception over the first few months. It's a change that mirrors the general perception of Johnson over time.
Early on in the process? Lombardi goes to bat for his old player, despite trading him.
"This kid's a damn good player," says L.A. GM Dean Lombardi, who acquired Johnson from Carolina before dealing him to Columbus for Jeff Carter.
"It's not even close for me on whether this kid should be in our top five," he says. "No question."
A month later? Lombardi agrees that Johnson's play has hurt his cause quite a bit.
"If he knew where he was on this board right now, it would kill him."
During the aforementioned Yandle Sequence on the next conference call, it's clear that Johnson is no longer on Lombardi's radar. When the team has been narrowed to seven locks and one opening on D, he only has eyes for Yandle.
"Yandle is clearly the only guy that I would consider for this team. I started this trying to figure out why the kid isn't basically amongst the top six."
It was pretty much just a matter of assuring the other members of the braintrust that Quick would be healthy on schedule. Which he is. Of course, Dean doesn't get to decide whether Quick will start in net; that's a coaching call. According to Burnside, Quick was still the de facto starter as recently as November 25, or two weeks after his injury. A good few weeks back from injury could put him right back in the starter's spot for Sochi.
Dean Lombardi's place on the hierarchy of this selection committee is unclear, but it does appear that his opinions were glossed over to an extent. Lombardi's most enduring question was whether the team could afford to leave off the highest-scoring American defenseman, and the question spread to the forwards as well. Of course, the final squad left off both Yandle and Bobby Ryan, so clearly, the desire to build a complete well-rounded team outweighed the desire to load up on offense.
In short, Lombardi did his research, but he was overruled. Were the other GMs simply mocking him and ignoring his advice? Of course not, though it's a pretty hilarious image. Were the other GMs a little too conservative and unwilling to listen to a guy who built a Cup winner? Probably. Regardless, Lombardi appears to be winning in the court of public opinion. If the United States underachieves in Sochi, you'll be hearing about this again.