When Matthew Lombardi entered the NHL in 2003, he brought with him great speed and skill that translated well to the professional game. He managed to contribute in his rookie season, posting 16 goals in the regular season on a Flames team that made the Finals.
Calgary would go on to lose the Cup to Tampa Bay, and lose Lombardi after Derian Hatcher knocked him out of the series with an elbow to the head. It was the first of a series of concussions that derailed Lombardi's career, as despite posting 207 points over his next six years and 365 games, another concussion felled Lombardi in 2010.
This was an effective NHL player through that stretch of good health: Lombardi was part of Canada's 2007 gold medal IIHF team, leading the Canadians with 12 points.
Lombardi spent his next four seasons on four different teams, before finally landing in Switzerland last season.
And if Lombardi needed a good spell of hockey to simply re-find his scoring touch, and get back on the positive end of things, last season may have been just what the doctor ordered.
In 46 games for Geneve-Servette HC, Lombardi posted 20 goals, 30 assists (a league-high), and 50 points (also tops in the Austrian National A League). The competition he was playing against can't stand up to NHL players, but Lombardi is still quite the skater, and a player with a nose for the net.
Here's what jumps out immediately about Lombardi: This is a low-risk move that could pay major dividends with Alain Vigneault calling the shots. When Lombardi was playing his best hockey in North America, he was a player leading the rush, getting out in transition and pushing the pace.
The only peculiar aspect of Lombardi's contract is the term. Two years isn't an eternity for a contract, but with Lombardi certainly looking to prove himself in the NHL, a one-year deal seemed like the logical contract. Meanwhile, Lombardi could seemingly fit into a number of different spots in the Rangers bottom six. If the team thinks J.T. Miller isn't ready to assume the third line center role out of training camp, Lombardi could slot in there. Or if Miller does occupy that role, Lombardi could get bumped down to the fourth line, perhaps at center, or even on the wing.
While Miller has more upside, and certainly could use the NHL reps for his development, Lombardi playing alongside Hagelin could absolutely torment teams in the neutral zone. When Hagelin was at his best, he was a pest in absolutely area of the ice, winning back pucks, and then beating them getting the puck in the offensive zone rather quickly before the defense can set up. In short, Lombardi is a great contingency plan for 3C, even if he's not option 'A.'
With an $800k cap hit, Lombardi is certainly in the "low risk" department when it comes to money. If he somehow spends the season in Hartford—an unlikelihood based on his veteran status—his contract won't count against the Rangers' NHL number.
New York didn't have a ton of flexibility in free agency this summer. With three key arbitration eligible players, and not a ton of wiggle room under the cap, heady moves like Lombardi, or Stempniak, could be the under-the-radar signings that pay off. (Remember the Rangers paid Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello a combined $2.415 million last season. Stempniak and Lombardi won't provide the same production as the aforementioned duo, but these signings are in the same vein for Glen Sather.