EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi is still steamed at the Oilers after he traded Ryan Smyth to Edmonton for a player who can’t play.
Lombardi blasted the Oilers again Thursday about the clubs’ dispute over the fitness of forward Colin Fraser. The disagreement is likely to be resolved by the NHL in the next few days, with Lombardi planning to air his grievances to league general counsel David Zimmerman.
Lombardi isn’t trying to void the trade, and the Kings are likely to waive Fraser anyway—but they can’t do it until he’s healthy, and Lombardi believes the Oilers misled him.
Lombardi thinks Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini is attempting to distract everybody from that misrepresentation by arguing about the severity of Fraser’s injury—and it’s not even the first time the Oilers have tried to trade an injured player to Los Angeles.
“This is twice. There comes a point where you say, ‘This is wrong,'” said Lombardi, who recently said he “would have rather invested my money in Bernie Madoff than invest in Edmonton’s word.”
After Smyth demanded a trade back to the Oilers last month, the Kings agreed to deal the veteran centre to Edmonton for forward Gilbert Brule—until they learned Brule hadn’t been cleared to return from a concussion. Los Angeles instead acquired Fraser on June 26.
But Fraser broke his foot last season, and the Kings believe the injury will require surgery and four months of rehabilitation.
The Oilers insist Fraser is almost ready to play, saying the injury could improve with two weeks of rest. That’s not the problem, Lombardi says.
“There is no question that this player is not fit to play now, and obviously was not fit to play when (Tambellini) said he would be fit to play, which was the Wednesday after the trade,” Lombardi said. “So this is called the red herring method. What you do is say, ‘OK, the doctors disagree,’ but they don’t disagree on the fundamental premise, that this guy is not fit to play.
“When you want to get the jury off-track, throw out an ancillary issue and turn it into a major issue, and they forget about the real issue. You learn that in the first year of law school. Nice try.”
Lombardi aired his frustrations after the Kings welcomed new forward Simon Gagne to their training complex for the first time.
Gagne modelled his familiar No. 12 jersey after acquiring the number from young Kings forward Andrei Loktionov. The veteran goal-scorer signed a two-year deal with Los Angeles earlier this month, rejoining former Philadelphia teammates Mike Richards and Justin Williams and former Flyers coaches Terry Murray and John Stevens.
“I want to get back to the player I was two years ago, scoring a lot of goals,” said Gagne, a seven-time 20-goal scorer who has struggled with several injuries, including a serious concussion. “I think I was getting there at the end of last year.”
Gagne spent last season with Tampa Bay after 10 seasons with the Flyers, reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals before the Lightning lost to the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Gagne reached the Stanley Cup finals with Philadelphia in 2009 while playing on a line with Richards, also his partner on penalty-killing.
Gagne doesn’t know whether he’ll be back on a line with the playmaking Richards, acquired in a major trade last month. He’s willing to play wherever Murray and Stevens put him for his first season in the Western Conference after spending his entire life back East.
“I’m excited to see a new conference,” Gagne said. “Sure, you come into the West once in a while, but you play one game against a team. You don’t have the same feeling you do when you’re in the conference. I believe teams are a little bit better in the West, but if you look at the Stanley Cup finals, who knows? I’m excited to play a full season and see it.”
Gagne said moving after a decade in Philadelphia was difficult last year, but his family is better prepared to head to the West Coast this time. Gagne and his wife, Karine, spent much of the day looking at houses for their two-year-old son and five-month-old daughter.
“We like the area a lot,” Gagne said. “We’re really excited about it. I never had much time to take it in when we came to L.A. before. I understand why (former Kings forward) Ian Laperriere and other guys like it here so much.”