Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said Friday his harsh evaluation of Jack Johnson’s old flaws in an interview on the blog frozenroyalty.net was intended to lend perspective to the defenseman’s progress, not to disparage Johnson or the University of Michigan.
In the interview, conducted by Gann Matsuda and published as part of a series, Lombardi said Johnson “never had any coaching” at Michigan and was “awful as a hockey player” before he joined the Kings and refined his game enough to be chosen for the U.S. Olympic team at the Vancouver Games.
An angry Johnson told The Times on Thursday that Wolverines Coach Red Berenson is “one of the finest coaches and men that I’ve met. For my general manager to rip me as a person and criticize me as a person and as a player and call me an awful hockey player is irresponsible and unprofessional.”
Lombardi said he meant to give Matsuda background information on Johnson’s evolution and didn’t expect those comments to be published. “The whole article was completely out of context,” Lombardi said.
Matsuda said Lombardi never designated that part of the conversation as off the record. Lombardi did not dispute that.
“I wasn’t trying to do a hatchet job,” said Matsuda, who said he has been blogging for two full seasons and has a full-time job doing network and IT work for UCLA’s School Management Program.
Lombardi was particularly barbed about Johnson’s poor defensive play in college and in saying Johnson reacted badly to criticism. Lombardi said he expected Matsuda to know the comments were for his education and not for publication.
“I made a huge mistake thinking the guy would understand that,” Lombardi said. “The question insinuated [Johnson] wasn’t developed and not coming along fast. I was in there defending him. . . .
“If you just go, go, go, like he was at Michigan, you don’t learn. I’m incredibly proud of this kid. He’s a good player now, but the object is for him to be great. The part of the game he’s learning now is very difficult and very subtle.”
Lombardi is part of the Olympic selection committee and supported Johnson’s candidacy. He said his peers also valued Johnson’s talents above his team-worst minus-18 plus/minus rating.
“I look at Jack and I see the potential for greatness,” Lombardi said. “This kid has got as much talent physically as any player I’ve ever had. He can skate, shoot, do it all. He’s got to learn the mental part of the game and that’s very subtle.”
Lombardi said he spoke to Johnson about the blog posting “Am I going to trash a player who can help us?” Lombardi said. “I was defending him.”