Some can argue or cringe, as Hextall said he did, with Lombardi's candor - especially with the presentation Lombardi made at the Spring Breakfast with the GM. Hextall did have a point. How many people used the words - bridge, filler and builder – in a hockey context prior to Lombardi’s tenure? Anyone who has their hands raised must be a Sharks' fan unless Lombardi developed a new formula for building a team after his Sharks reign.
As a fan, I sit patiently waiting for the future to be the present. What had never occurred to me prior to this off-season is the very real effect this must have on the players who now know they are merely place holders for any player who is not them…egad! Okay, that is a bit of an over-statement but not by much. Here is what Giuliano said after he signed his new deal to go to Europe:
"They called me up (around mid-season) and I stayed up to the end of the year," the 29-year-old Giuliano said. "If it was a different type of organization I would have signed, but the way they're going, they're giving the younger guys a shot."
Giuliano on the Kings
Thanks to LGKer Sidney 77 who translated the linked article, we know that Modry moved on to Europe with similar sentiments as Giuliano :
"Modry said: "I’m looking forward to have chance to win something, playing for a good team. I do not want to play for a team only to fill some hole, but I want to be part of the team where I’ll have a chance to prove myself."
Modry on Being a Filler Player
To be fair, Giuliano's statement is less about him personally. I used his quote as an example of what prospective UFAs probably thought this summer and what former Kings may be using as their excuse about their Kings' tenure under the Lombardi regime. Forget these players’ sentiments, consider some of Hextall’s sentiments at this summer’s Town Hall Meetings. He talked about the toll of losing on the veterans and how no veteran wants to come here. That is such an ironic take when I compare it to why some of the kids were sent back to Manchester last year. Who else remembers how Bernier, Murray and others were sent back because they did not want to have the Kings’ youth stunted by the losing environment that defined last season’s incarnation of the team.
Which is it? Is losing too hard on the veterans or is it that losing impedes younger players from developing? If it is both, then essentially who exactly would not be ruined by the Kings’ rebuilding movement… I am thinking mid-20’s players at best. Considering Cammalleri’s parting shots, an argument can be made losing just plain takes a toll. There is a statement that can be filed in the Department of the Obvious.
I take issue with all of these justifications. Making a career – or not – is not about finding a reason why it is everyone else’s fault other than the players themselves for their role on a team. There are two things we can control in life: What we do and how we respond to what everyone else does. I cannot speak for Crawford, Lombardi or Hextall obviously. I can say with complete conviction that if any of these veteran players let their play dictate their role on the Kings then what they make and where they play next year would be entirely different. Rather than ask anyone to take my word for it, there are some concrete examples.
I remember when Babcock became the Red Wings coach, I read that he told Chelios what his role would be more 5th or 6th D then specialty teams play and major minutes. Chelios responded that this may be Babcock’s take but he had no intention of accepting that place on the team. He only went onto let his game speak for him. That only resulted in Chelios playing closer to his definition of where he belonged than Babcock’s earlier prognostication.
Bringing this closer to home, look at Kopitar. No one – other than Kopitar – thought he would stay with the big club two years ago. He was absolutely slotted for Manchester. He just showed up and let his play speak for itself. There was no talk two years ago about his development being stunted by the losing environment that came to define the last two years’ versions of Kings. Why? He just showed up. Simple as that.
Perhaps the legal system is where the justification rationalization excuse took hold. There was the Twinkie defense (the sugar from a Hostess treat made me do it) and the mistrial in the first Menendez trial where abuse became argued as a defense to murder. All of a sudden if a person had a reason their life did not turn out the way they planned somehow that same person lost all culpability for their lot in life. I call this way of navigating the universe a complete and total cop-out.
To a large extent, where a person’s life goes has a lot to do with the choices and actions a person make and takes. It is emotionally satisfying to have anyone other than ourselves to blame. It is also a crock. Once upon a time I read an article, where they took a poll. It turned out that the difference between those who were happy and those who were not had nothing to do with what happened in each persons’ life. It had everything to do with how each person responded. Happy and unhappy people all had their fare share of trauma and reality. The people with a better disposition chose not to let their lives be defined by those same traumas and bouts of reality.
Any future veteran Kings’ player really does hold their future in their own hands all things being equal other than G-d given talent. Do the work, leave their best game on the ice, and Murray would be a fool not to play them. Preissing, Handzus, Calder or Gauthier predictably will get as much ice time as their play merits – barring injury or being outplayed by anyone other than themselves. It is time for a gut check for these veterans. Modry, Giuliano and Nagy might not have appreciated the play they got but they had everything to do with that. This season the same rules apply.