Dean Lombardi kept waiting until the time was right … and then waited some more to finally make the move he was never fully comfortable making.
It was never going to be easy saying goodbye to Jonathan Bernier, a No. 1-caliber goaltender stuck behind Jonathan Quick. But with free agency set to begin next month and the lower, $64.3 million salary cap looming, the Los Angeles Kings general manager pulled the trigger on a deal he said was in the works for some time.
"It's safe to say we've been talking about this for eight months," Lombardi said of his discussions with Toronto Maple Leafs GM David Nonis.
On Sunday the Kings sent Bernier to Toronto for backup goalie Ben Scrivens, wing Matt Frattin and a second-round draft pick in 2014 or 2015. Lombardi had been trying to fulfill Bernier's wish to start elsewhere, but the process was interrupted by the lockout and then Bernier really was needed because Quick was recovering from back surgery.
"Actually, David was very aggressive on this," Lombardi said. "I don't blame him. This is a good young goalie. Last year we talked a number of times … but I wasn't completely convinced it was time to move John. In the end, thank God I didn't move him because he was clearly instrumental in us making the playoffs."
The theme with Lombardi in his conference call with reporters was compliance with the cap and his knowledge that it was going to be difficult to get proper value for Bernier, who went 9-3-1 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 14 games this season.
"Unfortunately in this game, you're not allowed to have a Grant Fuhr and an Andy Moog," Lombardi said. "That's the reality of what I'm dealing with … I don't particularly relish these deals. You don't start out with a hockey deal. It's an asset deal. It was a very difficult deal to make. There was a lot of due diligence.
"It's very difficult to get market value for a guy who's No. 1. You do the best you can."
L.A. needed to get a backup goalie in return because top prospect Martin Jones isn't quite ready. His next NHL game will be his first. Scrivens, on the other hand, is proven and has a clearly defined role behind Quick.
The deal gives the Kings slightly more wiggle room under the cap because they certainly would have had to give pending restricted free agent Bernier a raise from the $1.525 million he made this season, according to nhlnumbers.com. Scrivens has one season remaining at $612,500 and Frattin has one more year at $925,000 before he can become a restricted free agent, according to capgeek.com.
Lombardi at first wouldn't comment on a TSN report that Toronto took back close to $500,000 worth of cap hit in the deal, but said, "I'm coming from our side. I guess it's fair to say you might be on the right track … if [the report is] coming out of Toronto, it ain't coming out of here."
Lombardi's next priority is re-signing veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, which would take up a large portion of the Kings' remaining cap space. L.A. would also like to re-sign upstart defenseman Jake Muzzin and valued wing Trevor Lewis, both restricted free agents.
"We'll keep trying here," Lombardi said of Scuderi. "We'd love to have him back, but with the cap coming down, it's about making things fit. At least with this off our plate, we've got a pretty good handle on our space."
Lombardi said he's had a "feeling out" with the agent for Dustin Penner about re-signing his client. But that seems a long shot, especially after the emergence of Tyler Toffoli and the addition of Frattin, who could potentially help solve the Kings' gaping hole at left wing.
Lombardi said he tried to trade for Frattin two years ago. Frattin scored seven goals in his first 10 games with Toronto this season and played in six Stanley Cup Playoff games against the Boston Bruins.
"Like a lot of young players, he's got to improve defensively and, again, like a lot of young players, be consistent," Lombardi said. "That being said, he's got a lot of tools. He shows up in scoring areas. He's got that knack for being in the right place. He certainly upgrades our speed and he's got some grit.
"He fit that M.O. I watched him in the playoffs and how often he ran into [Zdeno] Chara … there's a lot to work with. We think with our centers, we think he can be a good fit for us. This is an unfinished product, but universally, our staff, we really tracked this kid. There's a lot to work with here if we can keep him on track."
Lombardi did not really have an update on defenseman Willie Mitchell, whose status underlies all of Lombardi's moves. Mitchell is trying to recover from knee surgery last December, and his setbacks were enough for Lombardi to classify the injury as career-threatening earlier this year.
"All indications are positive in terms of his health, but that could change tomorrow," Lombardi said. "I can't give you a definitive answer. It's a moving target."