October 04, 2010
While some free agents arrive in their new homes closer to the regular season, Matthew Lombardi(notes) and his family put roots down in Nashville in the first week of August, and for good reason: His wife was "real pregnant," in his words.
Not only was there a race against time to get her on a plane as early as possible, but there needed to be connections made with local medical professionals with her due date in September (which she met, safely, giving the family their second child).
That's the less-publicized pressure of signing a 3-year, $10.5 million contract during the free-agent frenzy. But Lombardi knows that hockey fans of his old team, the Phoenix Coyotes, and his new team, the Nashville Predators, will be looking at that salary and his stats with scrutiny this season.
We spoke with Lombardi last week about his time in Phoenix; his preseason and expectations with the Predators; Olli Jokinen(notes); 3-on-3 overtime; his wine collection; his obsession with salads; the pressures of free agency and country music vs. Arcade Fire. Enjoy.
Q. For the Nashville
Predators, you were their big free-agent signing for the summer, and someone
who earned a lot of attention because of it. Is that foreign territory for you?
LOMBARDI: I'm not really looking at it like that. Maybe you guys are, or they are, I don't know. I'm just coming in and trying to do my thing. Do what I did that got me here, you know?
You were a July 2 guy in signing with the Predators; so what was it like for you on July 1?
You know what, man, it was stressful. We were trying to get something done with Phoenix before that, and then you go into July 1 and you know life's going to change for the family. You're going someplace new again. You get phone calls, you have to make some decisions: do you do something right away, do you wait and see what else you have? It was a bit of a game, I guess. Obviously not having gone through that before ... I'm not much of a gambler. It was stressful.
After you signed with
Nashville, was it tough to hear Coyotes GM Don Maloney talk about how huge the
gap was between what they wanted to give you and what you were seeking as a
free agent (i.e. "a
significant ways apart")?
I didn't really read what Donny said. All I have to say about Phoenix is that they were great to me. Treated me super well. And I got a great opportunity to play there. I've got nothing bad to say about Donny.
Now that you've had some separation from Phoenix, can you appreciate how surreal that season was? Going from playing in front of a sea of empty seats to selling out the place as a playoff team, while the whole relocation thing is playing out?
It was pretty awesome, to be honest. It was funny at the beginning, because you're playing in the NHL and you're going to these games and there's nobody there. We just had a good group of guys that had fun with it. It didn't bother us. We just went out and played.
Everything just clicked. There was this one point when we felt like we couldn't lose a game; that we would always find a way to win. And then we started selling out at the end of the year.
We were motivated [by it all], to go out and win, because it's tough to get fans out there in any market if you haven't won.
People say the same
thing about Nashville, though: That they need success in the playoffs to really
kick-start that fan base.
I haven't been here long enough. I know in the preseason I was really impressed with the turnout. I know for the guys that it's a goal [to make it out of the first round]. They've been there, but they haven't had success.
Yeah man, it's been good. I have no idea what the lines are going to be during the season. I practiced with some other guys during training camp, too, like with Steve Sullivan(notes) a little bit. We've got a little depth on this team. It's pretty cool.
[Laughs] It's unbelievable how hard that guy's shot is.
I got to play with him at world championships a couple of times -- he's one of the few guys I did know on the team before I got there. I thought of Shea when I signed. As for his shot, I'm just happy I don't have to go out on the PK and go near this guy.
The other night, I just gave him a pass and he got off a one-timer on one foot that was such a hard shot. Off a terrible pass.
Nashville is your third NHL team, along with Phoenix and Calgary. I assume you still keep an eye on the Flames; were you surprised to see Olli Jokinen, for whom you were traded, come back to Calgary as a free agent?
I think everyone was a bit surprised.
I stay in contact with a few of those guys. Alex Tanguay(notes) is a friend of mine, and I know he's excited to come back. Hockey world's a small world; you always see guys who play in one place and then come back again.
Changing gears: They tested all these rules this summer, and the one that seemed to have the most interest and traction was a 3-on-3 overtime. Are you down with that?
A 3-on-3 would be pretty exciting. I'm up for those things. Anything that would get the fans more excited. And besides, 3-on-3 would be pretty sweet; there'd be so much room. As long as it's not going to be a 20-minute period of 3-on-3.
OK, so what's on your iPod these days?
I've been listening to the new Arcade Fire album, which is sweet.
You don't feel any pressure to embrace the music scene in Nashville?
I'll get in the room now, and there's a lot of country going on. Calgary was a big country room, too, so I got adapted there. Phoenix was the same thing. I'm used to it, man. I'm starting to know who sings what.
What are you driving?
Is that a pre- or post-contract Audi?
Oh, you know what? It was post, but that's because I really didn't have a car. I sold my car in Phoenix because it was a white car, which was good for Phoenix. But now I have a black car.
What's your essential food on the road?
I always gotta have a good salad.
A salad guy?
Yeah, salad. Grilled chicken. Olive oil. The whole thing. Guys are always gettin' salads. Maybe I'm a little anal about it. But as long as I'm getting my vegetables, I'm all set.
Finally, we ask this of all our interview subjects: Your adult beverage of choice, sir?
Red wine. I'm an old world red wine guy, [like from] France and Italy. I like to try everything.
Do you have a Mario-esque wine cellar in your house?
No. I probably don't. [Laughs]