Quisp Notes: Lombardi on Doughty contract [UPDATED with tinfoil hat Smyth rumor connection!]

Here's the Lombardi interview with my comments. I meant to post it this afternoon but Ryan Smyth intervened, or had his agent intervene.

Lombardi, on Doughty contract talks " LA Kings Insider

Question: What is the status of the Drew Doughty contract talks?

LOMBARDI: "[...] traditionally, in the past, a lot of these contracts for restricted free agents often didn’t get done until the end of August. There was an old school of thought, that a lot of GMs would say, `What’s the sense of talking in July and August? Nothing gets done.’ Because traditionally, in any negotiation, whether it’s a player contract, the CBA or a TV contract, it always comes down to the end.

Translation: Lower your expectations. He might be signed by 7/1. He might not. This is a variation of "we're ahead of schedule."

But in this case, we’ve tried to accelerate it, [...] There’s two things. One, you’d like to get it done so you know what you can do to improve your team.

Translation: you can't sign a big UFA, or even a small one, until you know that Doughty's deal is for $5MM or $7MM, or somewhere in between.

So you don’t want to go out, with the whole theory of `the grass is always greener,’ and not take care of your own. That doesn’t apply here. You’ve got to take care of your own, particularly if you’ve got a player of this caliber.

Translation: Offer sheet offer sheet offer sheet. You have to take care of Doughty first because if you sign a UFA that eats up your cap space, you could put yourself in a position where you don't have the cap flexibility to match an outrageous offer sheet for Doughty. And then you're screwed.

[UPDATE: however, if you were magically able to rid yourself of Ryan Smyth's cap hit, you could sign a big UFA even if Doughty wasn't signed. It occurs to me that this may be (1) evidence that Dean Lombardi is a genius, but also (2) evidence that Doughty isn't going to be signed any time soon.]


Secondly, I also think it’s important because my experience in this area — and I guess I have very good first-hand experience, because arguably it cost me my job in San Jose, where there was a group of young players got together and held out. It’s not only the holdout. What happens with young players is, it really disrupts their focus and their routine in the offseason. So not only did those players hold out, but their learning curve kind of became stymied, because it took away from the critical part of their career when they need to totally focus on getting better.

Translation: No, I don't think he's hinting that Doughty is holding out or will hold out. I fully expect someone to interpret this paragraph this way, but I'm fairly sure what he's saying is, "we need to get this done sooner rather than later so that Drew can focus on his off-season work-out regimen."

Never mind. I feel less optimistic about this "hold out" comment than I did this morning.

Also, particularly in Drew’s case, we’ve still got some work to do in order to get him to the area where he prepares to compete. Nobody questions that when he puts on a pair of skates, he competes. But part of being a real pro is preparing to compete, and that’s what so many young players have to learn. So I’m expecting him to take a step here in his conditioning.

It’s somewhat like Kopitar. Remember Kopitar’s first couple years? He was at the bottom of all our conditioning charts. Last year was the first year that he moved up to average, overall, and I expect him to take another step. Drew is kind of similar, but we’re trying to accelerate it here.

Translation: he expects his elite players to be in elite condition. I don't really get the "but" at the end of the last sentence though. Why "but we're trying to accelerate it here"? Is that to be interpreted as "despite the fact that he hasn't yet gotten himself in shape, we're still trying to get it done, i.e. before he's in shape, as a show of good faith...p.s. also for less money because he's not in shape yet"?

I think whenever you have a young player with the uncertainty of a contract or whatever, it really disrupts their focus. Then, particularly if they hold out and don’t show up to camp, it’s not about how good he’s going to be this year, it’s about whether he’s going to be here.

Translation: Patrick O`Sullivan screwed up.

So those are the two years we really accelerated this, to get this done now, was to prepare to build the rest of our team and to ensure that he is focused on his preparation, in taking another step.

I assume he meant to say, "those are the two reasons" not "those are the two years."

[...] I went up there (to Toronto) four weeks ago and opened up the dialogue (with agent Don Meehan). It was very clear, at that time, where it looked like it was headed.

Translation: we know the ballpark of the number he's looking for, the term he's looking for, who he thinks the comparables are. We know that he either wants a contract to take him to UFA status, or he doesn't mind falling short of that. We know if he is wiling to get paid around what Jack Johnson got, and, if not, how much more than JJ money it's going to take. Also, we know whether or not he thinks he deserves to be paid as much as Anze Kopitar.

[UPDATE: based on Helene Elliott's characterization of those meetings, that Lombardi was "blistered" by Meehan, and that there were a series of offers, not just one "serious" offer, I think it's reasonable to assume Meehan is looking for many more dollars than Lombardi can afford. I don't see  how term could be an issue, or at least as big an issue.]

We came back and did our planning, looked at our options and what we could offer him, looked at the market, [...] and then I [...had] another meeting (with Meehan). When you have the first meeting, you’re  kind of laying the ground rules or whatever. This one was a little more focused. Things become clearer and we say, `OK, if this is going to get done, this is probably where it needs to be.’

Translation: Having said I don't think he's hinting about a hold-out, this paragraph is making me doubt myself. I do find the phrase "if this is going to get done" a little troubling. Not a lot troubling. Just a teeny, tiny little red-flag maybe.

[UPDATE: okay, I would revise that to strike "teeny tiny little"]

"This is where it needs to be" means "for the Kings." The "need" is the need to keep everything on track cap-wise.

"We did our planning, looked at our options" means, literally what can we offer, how much and for how long? Is short-term or long-term better?

-- "looked at the market" -- means looked at what other players of Doughty's caliber have gotten. That's the relevant market. You don't look at the market unless you're trying to argue the other side down from an unreasonable notion of what they should get. Although it's also possible Lombardi is just speaking generally about the process. But I don't think so. "Looking at the market" in this case is about preparing a response to whatever Doughty's agent said.

In that context, I would like to revise my previous dismissal of the whole "hold out" possibility. I think it's reasonable at least to consider the possibility that Lombardi is bringing up the whole conditioning thing -- and the need for Doughty to get to work early and not waste his summer negotiating this contract and put himself at a disadvantage next season -- as a veiled threat.

I said consider the possibility. Don't freak out.

[UPDATE: okay, maybe a little]

It's not insane to interpret the story so far as "look what happened to Patrick O'Sullivan. He got all distracted and played badly and got traded. He should have been working out all summer instead." It might be a little alarmist to make that interpretation, but I don't think it's entirely disconnected from reality.

Then I think we made a very serious offer to him this past week. I’m hoping to really push this forward at the draft.

Question: Does the prospect of an offer sheet concern you at all?

LOMBARDI: "It’s something that enters into the equation. [...] Anything can happen. I don’t think it’s likely. And it didn’t have any bearing on us trying to bring this to a close quickly. I gave you the two reasons that we were moving quickly. One, to build the rest of the team and, two, to get Drew focused. Getting serious about this offer, versus letting things drag out throughout the summer, the offer-sheet part was not entering the equation.

Translation: even though it looks like I might be concerned about an offer sheet, I maintain I'm not. And I've worked out the official reasons we're doing what we're doing in a very organized, lawyerly way. Don't **** with me.

So, are you concerned about it? It could happen, but it wasn’t a factor in us trying to get this done. It’s more of a byproduct.

Especially in the sense that an offer sheet isn't possible unless Doughty's unsigned on 7/1. That's the other reason he "hopes to push this forward at the draft." After the draft, RFA players are allowed to talk to other clubs re potential offers.

This is a very significant offer anyway, and if you’re going to make offers based on the threat of someone giving an offer sheet, I think you’re going to have real trouble. It’s hard enough, as it is, putting your payroll in order, the way salaries have gone for young players. Now if you’re going to add an offer-sheet-potential inflator, you’re not going to be able to build your team.

Translation: the "very significant"/"serious" offer isn't going to be good enough.

Question: There are some other RFAs there — Wayne Simmonds most notably — and then you have a make a decision on whether to bring back a guy like Handzus…

LOMBARDI: "That kind of all ties in, right? We certainly want to try to improve our team, but our ability to address some of these other issues, in large part depends on getting Drew’s number solidified, so we know exactly what we can and can’t do. So that ties into the reason number one about why we’re doing this (Doughty contract) now. It’s very difficult to answer those questions now.

Not really though. The difference between an outrageous Simmonds contract and a cap-friendly one is pretty small compared to Doughty-land, and Handzus makes just about no sense to re-sign unless you're talking about a one or two year deal probably well under $2MM, closer to $1MM in my opinion. Because otherwise you just go with Trevor Lewis, who -- while not as experienced or super-excellent defensively -- is smart and fast enough to do the job. And if you can't sign those guys to reasonable deals, their replacements are going to cost you $2MM (total), so the idea of those guys having to wait around for Doughty is quite a stretch, I think.

Though linking them all together does give him cover in case Simmonds' negotiation drags on. And it will allow him to wait on Handzus so that Zus can sign with someone else while Lombardi maintains his hands are tied.

The Smyth leak makes more sense to me in the context of problems in Doughty-land. Getting rid of Smyth allows Lombardi to pursue Big Fish UFAs without the fear of not being able to match a Doughty offer-sheet. I don't know whether I think Smyth did tell his agent to inquire but craftily denied doing it himself, or (I'm leaning this way:) that Team Lombardi is the source and is telling Helene that it's Smyth's agent doing the dirty work because (1) people will believe that and (2) it paints Meehan as The Bad Guy, which helps Lombardi on the Smyth front AND the Doughty front. What worries me about that is what I just described is essentially a P.R. campaign waged in the press...and there wouldn't be any need for such a campaign if the Doughty contract was imminent. Because if it's not imminent, that has the potential to be a P.R. disaster, not to mention (more important) the threat of a real disaster.

I'm not there yet. But I'm closer than I thought I would be, this morning when I started this post. Factor in the usual tendencies of hockey-starved bloggers in the off-season withdrawal phase. Hopefully, that's all this is.