|Oscar Moller at Rookie Camp 2010|
At the end of the regular season, Kings’ prospect Bud Holloway stopped by MayorsManor to help preview the Manchester Monarchs first round playoff series with Binghamton.
One of the questions we touched on was did he expect to be called-up this past season, given he was the leading scorer in Manchester and the Kings apparent lack of depth on the left side. His response was ‘It’s always in the back of your head and obviously that’s what you’re building towards.’
What’s going on in his head more recently is something GM Dean Lombardi would like to know. The always animated leader of the Kings organization had plenty to say last week when I asked him for some thoughts on several Monarchs signing to play in Europe next season…
“That’s, (heavy sigh)…that’s really frustrating,” Lombardi started with. “This is another one of those things in the CBA where it was kind of predictable. Whenever you have a cap in the minors, so to speak, and also, we have a problem in our system…not only are we losing these guys, but they’re still building equity towards free agency. It used to be that you had to get service, like in baseball. Now you have this thing where these kids can go over there, earn double the money and still move along the path of free agency.”
Corey Elkins, a 6-foot-2 center who the Kings originally signed as a free agent out of college in 2009, is one of the trio of players heading to Europe. However, Lombardi focused most of his comments on a different two.
“Both of them are knocking at the door,” said Lombardi, referring to Holloway and Oscar Moller. “That’s the thing that’s really surprising. Oscar got ahead of himself. We were a bad team. Taking nothing away from Oscar, but you’ve heard me say this time and again, if it’s too much too soon. Bernier went through it (after making his pro debut with the Kings at age 19). Too much too soon, he takes a step back, then boom – he gets back on the right track. Now you see where you have him today. I know Oscar, kind of, was really disappointed. It was kind of like ‘go back and finish your training,’ when he had been in the show. But, he clearly seem to be on track.”
Then it was back to Holloway, who will be playing for Skellefteå AIK of the Swedish Elite League next season, the same team Moller signed on with.
“In Holloway, we were talking at the deadline, we almost called him up. Now, is he ready to be a regular? But, when Justin Williams went down, he (Holloway) got himself on the board, where we had National Hockey League people saying ‘You know what, let’s give him a shot.’ And that’s how close he’s starting to come along. Now, to go to Europe? It’s mind-boggling to me, other than the money’s so much different. So, you go over there and you earn $120-grand, or 120-Euros or whatever, it’s tax free. You get a car and an apartment. There is a big gap, you know. But, usually the guys who do that…are 26-27 (years old) and they’ve kind of already been labeled as ‘minor league players’ and maybe a ‘call-up.’ But, when you’re dealing with 22-year olds, this is mind-boggling – for these kids, where their whole dream was to play in the (NHL).”
Whenever you talk with Lombardi, you know you have his attention and interest if he finds a way to work in a baseball reference. He didn’t disappoint here either.
“I was talking to Wayne Gretzky two days ago. He was telling me he’s shocked at how much these kids (in baseball) – boom, they get drafted, they go to instructional league, then they go to winter ball and it’s all plotted out – single A, double A, you might not see a Major League…it’s already pre-ordained. You’re probably not going to see a Major League ballfield until you’re 23-24 (years old) at the earliest…But, that’s their (MLB clubs) attitude. They already get it. Our players, like Holloway, three years from 18 (years old)…and the feeling so many of these kids have – that, ‘Oh, it’s passing me by, I’m not getting a chance?!?'”
Over the weekend I posted a conversation with another Kings prospect, Rich Clune, who half-jokingly acknowledged that these guys might be going there for ‘the mighty dollar,’ as he put it.
Still, Lombardi doesn’t think it makes sense when you look at the big picture. “Having now seen Holloway and Moller go over there – granted, it’s $100,000 difference – but, I’m not sure at that stage of my career that I’m ready to…I’ve never seen that before. But, then again, maybe we’re going to see it more and more.”
However, he went on to say that he somewhat understands Moller’s line of thinking – “We talked to Oscar. (His situation) is a little tougher because he kinda went (using his hands to explain he went up to the NHL, then to the minors) and now he’s getting his way back up. Actually, he was good about saying ‘I’m not going there to quit.’ I think in his mind he did have to grow a little. He’s still a kid. So, there is just a fact that he’s going to mature and start growing a beard more. I think he realized that there’s a physical part of it, that he’s gotta just grow up. But, Bud, I was really surprised with.”
One final thought on this and it may, or may not, be related. Some have questioned if coach Terry Murray will ever use a smaller player, like Moller, in a top-6 role.
Murray scoffed at the notion when asked about it a few weeks ago – “The game has changed,” he said. “With the rule changes, the style that we’re playing and the way we’re looking at things as coaches, there’s lots of room for the smaller player who has great skill and speed, like a guy like (Brandon) Kozun…These guys create separation all the time. If you load up with too many big guys and then you get a smaller guy like that, who plays with some real determination and heart to play the game hard, you’re going to play.”
Specific to Moller, was he missing that in Murray’s eyes? Is that why he didn’t get more playing time at the end of last season? “Absolutely not, never a lack of compete. He never hesitated to battle or go take a hit to go and make a play, absolutely not. He was always involved. He, I don’t know…I thought he actually came into our line-up at the end of the year and played very well. You go back to game two, against San Jose in the playoffs, where Jarret Stoll was suspended, man – he played good. He did everything that you’d ever want him to do. Sometimes it’s a numbers thing and sometimes you just want that player to be a little bit better than what he is right today. He was taking the right steps – progression and improvement was coming. So, I’m a little surprised that he decided to go back and play overseas. But, other players have done it, and maybe it will benefit him in the long haul.”
Three simple words – we shall see.
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