It’s really a shame. On the one hand, good for Rich to stay after practice today and question Lombardi about the offense…on the other, I do wish he knew more about the game and was more willing to ask direct questions. Here is the interview

Rich first asked:

Question: When you look at the lack of scoring, I guess you can look at it on a micro or macro level. You can analyze individuals and say, “We need more from that guy, that guy and that guy,’’ or you can look at the big picture, whether it’s system, attitude, etc. How do you break down the problem?

Here is the problem with the question – when you ask someone who has experience being interviewed, you should not lead them into an easy answer within your question. The moment Rich placed into his question the answers of “need more from that guy” + “system” + “attitude”, he gave Dean Lombardi the opportunity to take all three and make a mess of an answer versus forcing Dean to give his (Dean’s) own response to the question. The first question should have simply been:

“The Kings are 30th out of 30 teams in goals per game. With the upgrades in the lineup at forward, why are the L.A. Kings consistently unable to score more than 2 goals per game?”

You then step back and let Dean answer. You either get (a) a candid answer or (b) an evasive one, each of which would be very telling of Dean Lombardi’s state of mind at this point of the season. Instead, we got the following mess (with a bit of gold), which I shall dissect.

LOMBARDI: I do think it’s probably a combination of a number of things. Number one, no question, we set out to put a strong defensive structure in place, because there’s no doubt in my mind that it starts back there and it’s critical for the playoffs. That said, this year in particular, we made a point of saying that we don’t want to change our game, we want to add to our game. We don’t want to lose the foundation we put in place, but if we’re going to be a contender, it’s necessary that we add to the offensive side without losing our defensive part. After 27 games, we’re certainly not on a pace to get that done.

This is Dean selling the fan (his audience) on our defense. Good negotiators or anyone trying to sell you something always starts off with a positive spin because most people remember what you say first and what you say last. Good move by Lombardi.

Now, in terms of how we rectify this, first off, so many individuals are capable of more. We don’t have any players who should be on the down side (of their careers). We have a number of proven players with a track record in this league of putting up some numbers for offensive production. Whether it’s Willy [Justin Williams] or Gagne or Stoll, Penner, all of these guys have a proven track record and none of them are on the down side of their careers. Although I’m waiting for Selanne to get to the down side of his career, at 41, but that’s not happening. So there’s a band (of stats) there, that all these players should be able to be within, and all those guys should be able to expect that out of themselves again, without becoming sloppy defensively.

Here was a great opening for Rich Hammond to ask a follow-up. Something akin to, “you mention these players struggling despite proven track records. Is that due to the coaching staff and Terry Murray’s offensive system and/or just the players failing to execute that system?”

Such a follow-up question piggy backs on the first one – it is blunt and to the point. It asks Dean, which is it, the players, coaching or both? He may say both and that would give an opportunity for further follow-up questions all dependant on the answer.

With a number of our younger players, it’s about taking another step. They are still defining where they are going to be, in terms of the offensive side of the puck. I think a number of them have a lot of upside left, and it’s up to them to take that step, whether it’s Kopi or Jack or Doughty, Clifford, Voynov. All these kids have offensive potential that has yet to, I think, maximize. That’s just part of the development curve. So every individual has a responsibility to contribute more. It’s just that some of them have a proven track record, and some of them have to push themselves to be the best they can be.

This is a whole lot of nothing. Look at the broad brush with which Dean Lombardi stroked his words.

Defining where they are, going to be, upside, taking the next step, maximizing potential, development curve, just canned and boilerplate responses designed to fill a page or, in this case, fill an answer. This doesn’t help the reader and fan. This portion could have been a recording of Lombardi and something every GM states about every young player on their team.

Secondly, I do think, when you say collectively, I would probably use the word `support.’ Again, I’m just talking offensively. I never want to lose sight of the fact that I don’t want to lose one iota defensively.

Notice Dean is again emphasizing the defense as a prelude to talking about the offense. That means he is about to say something important.

In terms of supporting each other on the ice — this kind of goes to the question about the system, I do think it’s something we’ve talked to the coaches about a number of times — part of producing offense is being able to be there to support each other on the puck, getting open so that when someone has the puck, you’re open for him in a scoring position. Going to the net and creating space and rebounds is a fundamental part of support. When we’re in on the forecheck, that second man has to be closer and that third man has to be willing to jump. That is something that, no question, we have to improve on.

That’s it. Right there. I have written about it. I have tweeted it (earlier today in fact). Our forecheck sucks. Dean recognizes it because it is glaringly obvious. This was a glorious opportunity to ask a follow-up question but such a follow-up question requires knowledge of the game. The question should be broken down into parts.

One part would be: “You talk about support and the second man. The Kings don’t get a 2 to 3 man forecheck because it could expose them defensively if the puck is not recovered but could also give them puck possession, time and space to create scoring chances if they do get it. So that F2 staying back, isn’t that part of the system?” This would test Dean Lombardi’s mettle. He would be forced to tell us whether he is looking at this from an execution standpoint or a system standpoint.

Depending on his answer, which is likely both, you then ask the following, “The Kings do not consistently establish the forecheck, even when they are behind in games, in the second and third periods with the F1 through F3 and the D1. How can the players establish this forecheck unless the coaches allow them?”

See where this leads? Dean got off way too easy here. He acknowledges the forecheck, a glaring problem, but wasn’t asked how the players can be expected to fix something that is a system issue. They, after all, don’t dictate the system. They execute it.

Because when you’re establishing that, you’re establishing a tempo, particularly in your own building, that you’re going to play in the other team’s end. So if we’re supporting each other around the puck the right way, we’re going to play in the other team’s end more. Particularly at home, that’s going to get your crowd into it. Two, it’s actually going to make you better defensively, because you’re not defending.

This is exactly right. Often, a good offense is a great defense. You wear the other team down by making them play defense. We don’t do that. Again however, an opportunity was lost. The follow-up question has to be, “But how can you do what you state without a system that emphasizes an aggressive forecheck, getting the puck down low to those scoring areas you mention, versus along the half-boards, up high, for a shot from the point?” Unfortunate and a missed opportunity.

Thirdly, I think there’s an attitude. This malaise that has kind of seeped in here, given that we’re now 30th in the league, we’ve got to get beyond this whole thing and they have to believe in themselves the right way. So when Willy scores a goal, like the other night, we’ve got to get that attitude of, `Yeah, you’re freaking right,’ and not, `Whew, I scored.’ Here’s a veteran player that you’re counting on. As individuals, it’s human nature, don’t get me wrong, but we’ve got to get out of that funk, and have the attitude that we’re going to score. It’s not, `Oh my God, I scored.’ That goes for each individual, and it’s a team attitude. Because the same thing can happen to a team. You saw us the year we scored 236 goals. When we got down two goals, you never got the sense that this team didn’t think it could come back. But when you start falling into this rut mentally, it’s like, `Oh my God, we scored.’ We’ve got to get rid of that in a hurry. That’s attitude. So to answer your question, you’ve got individual issues, you do have system and support issues, and I think a big think is attitude. All three of them.’’

Well, isn’t this exactly what Surly said in his Killer Instinct article? I think so. Rich then asked:

Question: If the fundamental system hasn’t changed — and Terry says, if anything, the system has been tweaked to be less defensive — that suggests the issue of attitude. Whose responsibility is that?

Sigh. When did Dean Lombardi ever state the fundamental system hasn’t changed? He TOLD US in the middle of that long answer, part of the problem IS the system. Now, we are giving credit to the system that Dean just set forth as one of the three problems and diverting everything to team attitude? I know what Rich was trying to do. He was essentially asking, “Are the coaches responsible for the third issue you mentioned? Attitude?” The problem is, the question eliminates the first two issues Dean mentioned and focuses only on the last, that last (“attitude”) being what Rich handed Dean in Rich’s first question.

LOMBARDI: You can have a system, and it doesn’t matter what sport you’re in. The Lakers can have their system, the Patriots can have their system, but you better have the right attitude. Part of attitude is believing in yourself the right way. I guess you can say it’s less restrictive, more aggressive. Whatever it is, it better come with the attitude to, or it’s just a diagram.’

See what happened? Bad question as phrased. Easy and evasive answer.

Question: But when you break it down, to find that attitude, does that fall on the coaches?

Almost. So close. There was only one answer Dean could have given here and that is “it’s all of our responsibility.” He is NEVER going to say, “it’s the players” or “coaches” or “me.” That would not be diplomatic.

LOMBARDI: It’s both. The coaches have a responsibility and the players have a responsibility. And we do too, upstairs. It’s the entire organization. We’ve all got responsibility. In the line of fire, though, they’re the ones down there in the trenches, and coaches and players have to find that.

And there you have it. Notice that Dean finished on a positive note. “It’s all of our responsibility” is a nice finish to let the fan believe that everyone is working hard on it. That is why this interview should not have ended with the issue of attitude. “Attitude” is an intangible thing. You can’t touch it or diagram it on a dry eraser board. Attitude is not the reason we are in this funk. The players are working their ass off on the ice. I see it each game. The question took the weakest aspect of the three issues and finished with it, giving Lombardi an easy out when the focus should have been that little bit of gold and entry Lombardi gave us about the forecheck and system.

Maybe next time…