Radio silence from Dean Lombardi isn’t something that Los Angeles Kings fans are used to. The famously loquacious former GM routinely gave interview answers that wouldn’t fit in just one screenshot, let alone in 140 characters or less. Dean Lombardi does not deal in sound bites; he deals in sprawling sound epics. His penchant for derailing interviews with lengthy anecdotes about history, or other sports franchises he admired, was legendary.
So his departure from the Kings’ organization has been unusually quiet. Even the announcement that Lombardi had taken a job with the Philadelphia Flyers came with little fanfare -- both in the media and from Lombardi himself.
That couldn’t possibly last for long.
After months of badgering, Lombardi is back, granting Pierre LeBrun an interview for the Athletic.
LeBrun’s interview was posted this morning, meaning that I spent my commute into work detangling Lombardi’s words. By the time I finished dealing with my own very complicated feelings on Dean Lombardi, the west coast was up and I got to do it all over again.
The interview is quintessential Lombardi. In nearly 4,000 words, he covers an incredible amount of territory, from the time he was let go in San Jose, to early career lessons from Lou Lamoriello, his time in Philadelphia, and yes, the Mike Richards situation.
For anyone who’s followed Lombardi’s comments over the past few years, there’s nothing particularly new in his interview with LeBrun. He still very clearly loves the Los Angeles Kings, particularly the Cup winning teams, with a very large percentage of his heart, regardless of how things ended.
And to think about what they went through to, in essence, enhance my own career. Without them, there’s nothing. So that’s hard when you think what those players go through and then say, `I’m going to cut you loose now.’
Lombardi’s long been pointed out as someone who has embraced analytics, yes, but who also sees hockey as a game of heart and grit and passion. There’s a reason he constructed the Team USA roster the way he did for the World Cup — and there’s a reason that team failed to have any impact whatsoever in the tournament. For better or worse, Lombardi puts a lot of stock in character, something that he will always whole-heartedly defend.
I clearly think analytics are an incredibly valuable resource and I think there’s a lot of untapped knowledge in there. But the problem is, you can’t let the statistics drive the decision-making, because then you’re going to overlook all those things that are critical to sport and hockey in particular: the passionate side and the emotional side
The Stanley Cup winning Kings teams were constructed and nurtured by Lombardi, and the players still care very deeply about their former GM (per, of course, said former GM). And the core players from those teams are essentially all still in Los Angeles. There’s been much consternation over recent years about those players: Dustin Brown’s contract, Anze Kopitar’s down year, whether or not Jonathan Quick is elite or just playing behind a good team. Lombardi’s not surprised that those core players have stepped up, though.
They just didn’t perform, but now you’re seeing them perform. I guess now those are good contracts. … These are guys that are still capable of being top players and know how to win. And they should be capable of winning again.
Where there any real changes in L.A.? No, the infrastructure, the development, the scouting staff, the principles we put in place, the analytics, all those people are there.
But he still manages to display a stunning lack of awareness of his own role in the situation that resulted in Mike Richards’ contract termination. Lombardi’s love for Richards is well-known -- yes, there’s another Derek Jeter reference in this interview -- and Lombardi spends quite a bit of time ruminating on Richards’ career before it went off the rails.
I put together a video of what he was like in Philadelphia and what his skating was like now. I had a guy put on video where he put it side by side, I remember saying to Mike, `You’re 28 years old, you’re not beat up, you’re not hurt, promise me you’re going to get back to this guy.’ And obviously it didn’t turn out.
(Lombardi apparently chose to bypass considering Richards’ injury history, including multiple concussions, when he put together that plea up in Kenora.)
A discussion of what happened with Richards could be a healthy, productive conversation about the role the NHL, team personnel, front offices, etc., play in offering help and support to players with (alleged) substance abuse issues. In some ways, Lombardi seems that he’s close to getting there, as he talks about wanting to understand what went wrong with Richards and how to prevent other players’ careers from ending in the same way. But there’s still the same subtext in Lombardi’s comments that there has been all along: betrayal and upset that Richards wasn’t the player he used to be, rather than compassion for whatever issues he was facing.
It’s a fascinating read, regardless of how you feel about Lombardi, and we encourage you to read it, if you’re an Athletic subscriber (or can read over the shoulder of a friend who is).