September 08, 2008
Rich Hammond of Inside the Kings has done some incredible stenography of the Los Angeles Kings GM breakfast over the weekend. Director of Hockey Operations Jeff Solomon, General Manager Dean Lombardi and new head coach Terry Murray are preposterously verbose; the kind of jabber-jaws that use 10,000 words when ten would suffice. (Looks in mirror ...)
Hammond has the trio talking about how to rebuild morale on a losing team, veteran leadership and the team's goaltending situation. And Lombardi's take on hockey rumors is priceless. But the most interesting passage comes when management is asked about the ongoing Patrick O'Sullivan contract negotiations.
Allow me to translate for Solomon: The Kings could give a flying feces about what Patrick O'Sullivan "deserves"; they're negotiating this contract in anticipation of the future contracts for Anze Kopitar, Jack Johnson, Brian Boyle and Teddy Purcell. That's why this is all taking so damn long.
As Lombardi said, the Kings really do fancy themselves as a "Moneyball" hockey team, but one that can actually hold onto its players. (Why you'd need to play the small market economics game in LOS ANGELES is another topic for a much longer blog post.)
What's becoming even more apparent this off-season is that Lombardi fancies himself as the Clint Eastwood of NHL boardrooms: Staring down enemies that would dare poach his RFAs, with an unwavering heroism and through flinty eyes. Maybe he's even chewing on a toothpick. Who knows?
From Lombardi at the GM breakfast, via Hammond. Listen closely and you can hear the spaghetti western music:
I already told some general managers that we're going to do these contracts and we're going to do them right. Kopitar and Johnson will eventually be paid fairly. But if you're thinking about an offer sheet, go ahead and make my day. Because if you're going to come after us, we're going to have the space to go right back after you. And that's the one threat that might work. You've got to be careful with offer sheets anyway, in this environment. It's not to stand up and threaten them publicly. It's about having the missile to go right back at them. So when you see this cap space there -- Solly has a pretty good name for it: 'blank-you' space, he calls it -- if you want to hit us, we're coming right back.
You saw a taste of that with St. Louis, when they got that offer sheet. So when you see that space there, nothing will steer them more. If you're thinking of breathing down Kopitar, we're not only matching, we're coming right back at you. We will get you. It may not be immediately, but you will pay for that. So if you feel lucky, punk, go ahead and make my day.
"I know what you're thinking. 'Did he reference Dirty Harry six times or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track myself ..."
We covered this bluster before, it's never been so eloquently stated by Lombardi. But here's the thing: To put it in Eastwood terms, Anze Kopitar isn't a Million Dollar Baby; he might be a $6.5 million-against-the-cap-annually-baby as an RFA. That's Briere money; and someone who believes Kopitar is a foundational player -- because at 20 years old he's already one of the top 10 centers in the NHL -- will gladly pay it.
Lombardi is talking one hell of a game right now because the Kings are in a rather awful position next summer: Johnson, their best defenseman, and Kopitar, their clear-cut offensive star, are both RFAs. And the team attempting to sign them hasn't made the playoffs since Jason Allison was its leading scorer.
Of course, the distance between the Kings and the salary cap rivals that from the Earth to the moon, so they can withstand a run from other teams and match the offers -- even if it means subverting their own fiscally conservative responsible to team building.
That said, is it fair to ask if Los Angeles is taking a mulligan this season, with an eye towards adding a significant amount of payroll when they've gotten their young RFAs signed and sealed? That's what Earl Sleek sees playing out, and it's baffling the Battle of California blogger:
Still, if you tell me that (a) Kopitar is the real deal, (b) this is the cheapest he will ever be again, and (c) Kings fans do actually enjoy winning, I don't know why everyone seems to drink so much Lombardi Kool-Aid when it comes to cap-floor spending. If you asked me what would be the better team -- if the Kings spent to the cap ceiling with a cheap Kopitar this year, or if the Kings spent to the cap ceiling with an expensive Kopitar next year -- I'd fully expect this year's team to be the better version, because there's so much extra money to spend elsewhere. Isn't this the year for the Kings to go for a gamble, instead of essentially folding before the flop? Is Kopitar's best-opportunity window shutting, or am I just crazy?
An interesting point. Then again, maybe the Kings just feel lucky.