Keep Calm and Chive on
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Nakatomi Plaza
I love Rich Hammond's Blog.
His interview with Kings GM Dean Lombardi on mostly Bernier and the reasoning for sending him down...gives long detailed answers.
Q: Can you share a little about the conversation you had with Bernier today?
LOMBARDI: I met with him this morning and I told him what we were going to do. Whenever you're dealing with young players, and I've always believed this, the communication and the message, when they get sent down to the minors or junior, is critical. So I told him this morning... I think at the time, it was an emotional time for him. I told him to go see his teammates, to go through the emotional roller coaster and come back at 5 (p.m.) and meet with Ron Hextall and Billy Ranford and I. We met with him and went over how proud we are of him and how much he has accomplished. He's way ahead of schedule. Billy went over the four things we think he needs to work on, to stay focused and try to get better.
This is, in no way, an indictment of how he has played. Like I said, he went beyond our expectations. There's no way that we anticipated him going this far. We thought, when he came in, that he would get half an exhibition game, but obviously he continued to play well and showed enormous potential. We feel that the best way to ensure he realizes it, though, is to take it a step at a time and go back to junior. So that's basically it, in a nutshell. The meeting was a lot longer, but like I said, it's important that he understands where we're coming from and also what we expect of him now, going forward.
Q: You could have waited nine games before sending him down. Why did you choose now?
LOMBARDI: I struggled with this right from the beginning. It almost bordered on a moral dilemma. I think there's the
question of what's best for Jon. Most people know me enough, and how I feel about development, that is has to be taken a step at a time. I think I've made clear that I'm not big into hype for young players. So I was cautious at the beginning even, and like I said, I had to ask myself too, what's best for him and the franchise? I can remember a dilemma I had in San Jose my last year, when we were struggling to make the playoffs and I could have gone one of two ways. I could have traded draft picks just to try to make the playoffs that year, or do the right thing and actually load up on picks, and those picks turned into guys like (Steve) Bernier, (Milan) Michalek and (Matt) Carle. That was the right thing to do. At the time, it might not have looked that way, but that's how I feel about this. It's a tough decision, but I think it's the best thing for the franchise in the long run.
And I think, like I said, it's a very tough position to play. My experience with Nabokov and Kiprusoff and Toskala, you just have to be careful. And we're starting to put together now, with Jack Johnson coming in and Kopitar last year, there's nothing wrong with another piece maybe coming in down the road. That's how it's built. So it wasn't easy, but on the other hand, once you realize what you thought was best for the franchise, it was kind of easy. The only risk in this, as we told Jon, is that what happens sometimes with kids, particularly ones that do well, they'll go back and they'll struggle for a month because they're not focused or it's such a big letdown. I don't think Jon is like that. Last year, he didn't make that World Junior team, which was a huge setback for him. And he went right back and worked his butt off and took his team and went 16-1 in the Memorial Cup and just kept on going.
So it's a little setback for him, in his own mind. But we conveyed to him that it wasn't. `Look how much, how fast, you've come. To play in England, to have played at this level and played well.' So again, as a young man he probably doesn't look at it that way, but we're looking at it and saying, `Wow, we might have something here.' But you've got to do the right thing.
Q: Which specifically about this situation made you decide it wasn't working? Was he just not getting enough support from the defense or was it something you saw in his game?
LOMBARDI: Part of being a goaltender, and I guess you could say it with any athlete, but goaltending success... Other than a quarterback or a pitcher, the emotional toughness with the position is probably second to none. I think that's why a lot of young goaltenders have failed. You can't overlook the maturity factor, and being able to deal with the ups and downs and having, at some point, to carry a team. That is an enormous responsibility that he's going to have to do some day. I think that's why you see so many young goaltenders fail. They might, athletically, be capable of it, but the mental part of that game is incredibly...
I think, to me, that's why Ron Hextall was so successful. Everyone knows that mental makeup, that mental toughness, as much as his athleticism, made him great. Same with Billy Ranford. Both of those guys were Conn Smythe Trophy winners, not only because of their athleticism but because of their mental toughness. I just think you can't push that too fast. I know it may be a nebulous thing, but again, why risk it at this stage of the kid's career? And why risk it for the franchise? It just didn't make sense when you add it up. I think the experience for him was great. I mean, he got more experience than we anticipated. Like I said, knowing the way the kid came back from the World Juniors (experience), I think it's going to be tough at the beginning but I think he's going to come back and continue on with a vengeance. He's a pretty special kid.
Q: Did you anticipate the team being in the situation that it's in at this stage?
LOMBARDI: No. I think we all felt that we were going to be better than this. I don't think there's one person (in the front office) or downstairs who thought that we would be in this situation, but we didn't have any legs here. It's been one of the issues, the way we've come out from the beginning. There's not a lot of juice there, for whatever reason, and it's something that we're going to have to figure out here. We put ourselves in a hole. When you bring in a lot of new players, on a team that's searching for an identity, and you get off to this kind of start, it's certainly not a great recipe, but we're going to have to find a way through it. It starts in the (dressing) room. You can throw out all the cliches, but I don't think there's one guy in there who thinks we're playing up to our level.
Q: Following up on that, I was wondering if you could respond to something Crawford said this morning. He said, `We protected Jonathan Bernier and we protected Brady Murray from an environment that's not conducive for younger players.' How do you respond to that?
LOMBARDI: I don't know if this is what he's getting at... I don't think that's in Brady's case. We went over Brady this afternoon. There are some things that we want to tighten up on Brady. We went over some of his film and he was good, he understands where he was short and what he's got to work on. I think he realizes too, with the European game that he was playing there (in Switzerland), that he's going to have to tighten some things up. The kid is a real driven kid and I would expect him to embrace this. He was good and he understood. He said something to the effect of, `With the big rink, it's different and I've got to be better in these areas.' So in Brady's case, I don't think that was the case at all. In Jon's case, I think one of the things (Crawford) might be alluding to is, because we have not played well, I think the tendency is, when you see seven goals, is to look at the goaltending. I don't think, when you look at the goals, that you pin it on Jon. But I think the tendency is, sometimes, to do that, and it's not fair, particularly to him as a 19 year old.
So to put that burden... And this is what we told Jon. At some point in his career, and this is what the great goalies do, they put a team on their back. Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, the great ones...Hexy did it. `Here we go, the team is flat. Just get me one (goal) boys and I'll get it done.' At some point, you're going to expect your No. 1 goalie to do that, and hopefully Jon is the guy. But I don't think that's fair to him right now. I don't think anybody does. So I don't know if Marc's alluding to, in Jon's case, to expect him to put a team on his back, that has not found its legs for whatever reason, that part is not conducive for any player. I don't think that is fair. So if that's what he meant, I concur. The one thing to know is, as far as the room, there's not any fracture in the room, so to speak. I don't think there's a lack of character, so to speak, or guys that are bad influences. I think it's more that it's not fair to put it on Jon's back.