Here’s the eighth set of questions and answers. I’ll go through the ensuing posts and try to answer as many more questions as I can. Check back a bit later for an update on the Manchester Monarchs, who are leading Game 3 of their playoff series right now…
KingsFan asked: 1) Would you mind posting a list of all of the upcoming NHL free agents who are “top six forwards” or “top four defensemen”? I would be curious to start guessing who DL might target. 2) As a former goalie, I just have to say, it appeared JQuick never got his confidence level back to his pre-Olympic break level- this was most apparant in the latter half of the Vancouver series. Based on what you know, would you say that 1) this is true, and 2) what attempts the organization made to address this with him?
Answers: 1) Well, it can be pretty subjective to say who fits into those categories, so I would suggest checking out one of the websites — www.nhlnumbers.com/freeagents seems to be pretty comprehensive — to give yourself an idea of who’s available. It also gives players’ age and last year’s salary, so it gives you a pretty good sense of what’s out there and what the cost might be. 2) As a former goalie, perhaps you have a better sense of it than I do, but my sense, from dealing with a lot of pro athletes in the past, is that a lack of results leads to a lack of confidence, rather than the other way around. If Quick’s confidence went down, it was probably because the pucks were going in, and that’s something that could be attributed to a few factors. Is he rested enough? Is he just technically “off,” in terms of mechanics? I really didn’t get the sense that Quick was beating himself up or thinking he couldn’t do the job. The results just weren’t there, the way they had been earlier in the season. That’s my perspective on it.
Jason asked: Something that seemed to be sorely missing for the Kings, especially in the playoffs, was that “questionable hit” guy. It seems to me that a guy who can keep the other team thinking about taking that borderline hit is very valuable. I always thought Lappy was the best at it, but even Gauthier at least filled the void last year. Do you think Westgarth fills that void next season?
Answer: To the extent that that’s a needed, valuable role, you’d probably looking at a guy like Rich Clune to provide it. Off the top of my head, I’d say it’s not typically the “heavyweights” who do that, although Westgarth can probably move a little better than your standard heavyweight. Kyle Clifford is also a guy to look at, going forward.
anton asked: 1. Do you think that Williams has been a good fit with this team? I just don’t see it. Maybe it’s because I liked Demitra alot when he was here and he got traded for O’sullyvan because he got hurt too often. I didn’t like that trade, but then we traded O’sullyvan for Williams who gets hurt just as much, if not more than Demitra, and is not as good of a player. 2. I heard several references of Kings looking into a top-4 D this summer. Who are the big-name free agents this summer? Both D and forward, aside from Kovalchuk and Plekanec.
Answers: 1) Well, you’re sort of comparing different types of players. I liked Demitra’s game as well, when he was healthy, and he’s a well-rounded player. O’Sullivan was more one-dimensional but, at his best, is a great sniper. Williams isn’t going to dazzle you, but why did the Kings’ first line work so well during the first six weeks of this season? Largely because Williams was the guy working in the corners or behind the net, digging out pucks and getting them to Kopitar so Smyth could screen the front of the net. He does the little things, but he’s not going to impress you in a first-glance way. 2) As I did with a previous question, I’ll recommend you check out nhlnumbers.com/freeagents, simply because my idea of a “big-name free agent” might be very different than someone else’s.
YogaPhart asked: I forget who said this, but someone once described Michael Jordan like this:
“You can tell a winner by the way he responds at critical times. When the game is on the line, he’s the guy who says, ‘Give the ball to me.’”
Do you feel that the Kings currently have that type of player in the lineup, or with the potential to carry the team on his shoulders when they need a lift?
In the past, we’ve seen players like Esa Tikanen, Theo Fleury, and Claude Lemieux raise their game during the playoffs, not necessarily from a numbers standpoint, but they were always able to have an impact with their style of play. These players played with an “edge,” almost like they had a chip on their shoulder. I personally feel the Kings should be going after one of those types of players aggressively. Would you agree or disagree? If so, which current players fit that bill?
Answer: It’s an interesting concept, but I don’t necessarily agree with it. I would agree more with Terry Murray’s way of thinking, which is that you don’t try to change what got you there. I agree that, within the context of your system, you want players to raise their games and become a beast for the other team to have to deal with. Such as Mikael Samuelsson, for instance. Do the Kings have the potential for that type of player? Perhaps. Wayne Simmonds, Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson come to mind. Of course, all three of those guys just got their first first-hand look at what the NHL playoffs are like. Tikkanen, Fleury and Lemieux got to the playoffs early and often in their careers. It was almost second-nature to them. So what you want to get to is having your top players get to the playoffs with confidence and say, “I can do this.” I’m not sure, though, if the Jordan/basketball comparison works, at least not in the long term. Yes, when you’re on the power play, you want Jack Johnson to step up and make that special play. But do you want individual players, over 60 minutes, trying end-to-end rushes and 1-on-3s all the time? As I recall, those Jordan-type players (Jordan, Kobe) didn’t start winning championships until they had a better supporting cast.
John_oc asked: Can you elaborate on your “contract” as far as who signs your checks, and if there is a chain of command or an editor that oversees your work? Do you have a quota?
Answer: According to my check stub, I’m employed by The Los Angeles Kings Hockey Club, L.P. I’m not sure what you mean by “chain of command,” but given that everyone in the organization fits in somewhere, I’m in the “communications” group, which is headed up by Michael Altieri. There’s no quota for me to reach, and there’s no editor, in terms of changing or censoring things that I write.
Jarome asked: With Gretzky in the building and McSorley doing some online work, are they any closer to re-joining the organization in an official capacity?
Answer: Not that I’m aware of. Gretzky was there as a guest in Luc Robitaille’s suite, I believe, but I’ve yet to hear anything more about him possibly joining the organization. McSorley was doing online work for the Fox Sports West site, not the Kings’ site, although he’s quite active in the Kings’ alumni efforts, as I understand.
cindy asked: wouldn’t it be easier for anschutz to just say something – anything? – to address the frequent criticisms of his silence and absences rather than hide behind defenses from leiweke and bettman who are arguably the only 2 hockey people more disliked and distrusted than he is?
Answer: Apparently not. He’s a man who, in all facets of his life, has no desire to have a public life. Whether we think it’s wise or unwise, from a public-relations standpoint, for him to take that stance, that’s what he has decided to do and I don’t believe he’s going to change his mind.
Marshall asked: What is your take on the NHL’s decision not to suspend Hossa and Chara after their recent incidents? To be blunt, I feel it makes Colin Campbell look like a complete idiot. Why bother to have rules if you always seem to look for a way to get out any repercussions? How does the NHL expect to get any credibility from outsiders when hockey fans look at the inconsistent rulings and can’t help but come away thinking the league is just plain clueless in so many frustrating areas?
Answer: I have two thoughts on this. One, I think your question illustrates the complexity of the situation, because while you seem to think Chara should have been suspended, I don’t. He was reacting to being hit/slashed, and that’s why the suspension got removed. So this is why there’s a lot of debate on these type of hits. Now, more to your overall point, I agree with you that there needs to be consistency and better communication. Jim Fox has raised the idea, and I agree, that it would be great for the league to come out and explicitly explain these suspensions (or non-suspensions), come up with a video with a voiceover and let fans and players/teams know exactly what’s going on. It could actually be a great feature on the website. Go on in the morning and look at the hits, as applicable, and get Campbell’s thoughts.
Philip Roberts asked: when is coach murray’s contract up, and is he the coach to take this team to the next level? his frequent line changes really bothered me; how could they not affect the players? yes they are pros who should be able to play with anyone, but on the flip side, it is easier to play with someone whose tendencies you know, etc.
Answer: Murray’s contract is up at the end of next season. As to the question of whether he’s the coach to take the team to the next level, I have no idea. Only time will tell, but he did take a previous team to the Stanley Cup Finals, so clearly he has the potential to do so. To be perfectly honest with you, I think the criticism of the frequent line changes is overrated. The guys play and practice together every single day, in some cases for two or three — or in the case of Brown and Frolov, six or seven — years together. In terms of on-ice production, I really don’t think it should be a factor at all. However, the one thing I’ve said is that I would be wary, as a coach, of creating a sense of panic within my team. If I’m constantly changing lines, does it send the wrong message to the team, a message of, “Nothing is working”? I don’t know that it does or doesn’t, but that would be the only concern for me.
Reg Haywood asked: With all of the sellouts and the 3 home playoff games, will AEG turn a profit on the Kings this year or do they not even consider that as important as the team improving?
Answer: In the interview I did with him, Tim Leiweke indicated that this season “is going to be one of the largest losses we’ve had,” in terms of making/losing money.
Hank asked: Are you honestly not edited or restrained by the Kings in any conceivable way and even though you are paid by the team, we are to believe that you can be as critical as say The Times’ Helene Elliott without fear of retribution?
Answer: You are correct. I’m not edited or restrained, and I have no fear of retribution. The proof is in the work, and you’re either going to be believe it or not. I don’t feel any need to defend myself.
Yvonne asked; What kind of reaction from L.A. fans awaits Gary Bettman at the NHL Draft and is this the type of reception that you feel he deserves? Can you name any other head of a major pro sports league who is consistently treated with such open derision by the public on a daily basis, and is this treatment warranted?
Answer: He’s probably going to get booed, the same way he does in pretty much every arena he makes a public appearance. I really don’t care, one way or another, whether he gets booed. Given the fact that, in my opinion, he did a poor job with television and isn’t a good enough communicator, for someone who holds the highest job in the league, I can understand it. I don’t watch the NBA a lot, but I’ve seen David Stern get booed quite a bit. I’m really not in the business of studying other league’s commissioners though.
Johnny asked: I am curious about your recent interviews with Bettman and Leiweke. Was anyone else with you in the room at the time or just you and the subject of the interview? Did you come away unchanged in your feelings about these 2 men and what they had to say, or did their comments change your impression at all? After reading their answers, I felt slightly better toward TL and even more disgusted with GB.
Answer: With Bettman, his vice president for communications, Frank Brown was there, working on his laptop at the other end of the conference room. I believe the Kings’ Michael Altieri came in and out once or twice, but I had my back to the door and wasn’t really paying attention to that side of the room. With Leiweke, Altieri took me to Leiweke’s office and sat on the couch, and contributed a clarification on season-ticket renewals. I was pretty much unchanged by both, certainly by Bettman. I’ve always been disappointed in the way he seems to be combative with even the simplest of questions. I thought Leiweke handled his questions very well. He takes a lot of grief, and — as he admits — sometimes deservedly so, but he does a good job of explaining his views and I think a lot of people felt like you did, that he did a good job.
bernard asked: How did the Kings’ average attendance rank among all NHL teams? Can you find out if the rate of season ticket renewals was higher this year after a more successful season? Also, can you ask that dept. if they can go back to the June renewal date instead of March? Asking us to commit to the next season before the regular season even ends is just not right.
Answers: According to ESPN.com, the Kings finished 16th in the league in average attendance, at 17,313. That’s listed as a 93.6-percent capacity. When I interviewed Leiweke, it was stated that the Kings had a 92-percent renewal rate at that time (the end of the regular season). I don’t know, off the top of my head, how that compares to previous seasons, but I believe it’s an increase. I’d like to help on the renewal date, but that’s far beyond my reach and depth.
jobi asked: Do you think the Kings could sign Marty Turco and have him split time with Bernier? Send Quick to Manchester. Turco has all kinds of playoff experience.
Answer: I really, really, really don’t see that happening.
RBR asked: Do you travel with the team on the same plane/train/bus? Do players pay for their own meals when out on the road? Who is Dean willing to give up for a top 4 Dman? Do see the Kings pursuing a guy like Scott Niedermayer as a Sean O’Donnel type role? Which Kings player impressed you the most this year? What is your favorite NHL team?
Answer: 1) Yes. No trains this year, though. 2) Everyone in the traveling party is given “per diem” money, and there are often team meals for the players. 3) I wish I could give a better answer to these questions, but there’s just no fast-and-easy chart to these things. Lombardi is not sitting there, right now, with a list of players he would give up for other players. Trade talks evolve and get more/less intense, and you might have 10 players’ names tossed around during trade talks. Other than a handful of very top prospects (Bernier, Schenn, etc.), everyone is liable to be discussed. 4) Unless Niedermayer is going to take a significant pay cut, I wouldn’t put him on a list of possibilities, no. 5) Brad Richardson. 6) I don’t have one.
Scott asked: The birth of Quick’s child coincided with his loss streak in my opinion. Has Quick or anyone commented on this? Having had my first child, it’s definitley a distraction. Is this really a fair test for Quick as a playoff goalie? I don’t think we should give up on him under the circumstances. Even Patrick Roy might have lost focus with the same pressures.
Answer: The only person I heard reference it at all was Terry Murray, who brought it up in the context of Quick perhaps struggling to maintain focus and concentration late in the season. I understand your question, in terms of this being a fair test for Quick, but I would say, how do we know what’s going on in the lives of every player? Quick’s parenthood was played out publicly. Who’s to say that Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur or Antti Niemi isn’t going through something personal, something that’s weighing heavily on their mind, and we just don’t know about it? What if they’re playing through secret injuries? I understand where you’re coming from, but I think that’s why it’s better to simply evaluate players based on what they do on the ice.
aj asked: 1) Which players do you think are most likely to stay with the Kings after they reach UFA status?
2) What factors into making the decision of buying a player out as opposed to just stuffing them in the minor leagues to hide their salary?
3) What’s the longest contract you see Lombardi offering a player? And what’s his general feeling regarding the advantage of lower average cap hit versus the risk of long term injury?
4) Lombardi seems to argue teams require a long time to rebuild their franchise. But what about teams like the Ducks (with Burke) and this year’s Colorado and Phoenix that have been able to “rebuild” a team in a matter of a year or two. Is there a fundamental flaw that Lombardi sees in these teams that we as fans don’t see?
5) What’s your theory on Ducks and Kings never making the playoffs on the same year? And when will it happen!
Answers: 1) I’d say Frolov and O’Donnell are the only two that have at least a 50/50 shot of coming back, in my opinion. 2) It’s hard for me to speak for other teams, because every GM probably has a different philosophy on this, but in the Kings’ case under Lombardi, they bought out two guys (Cloutier and McCauley) who were considered to have injuries serious enough to prevent them from playing again during the span of their contracts. In general, buying out a player is the ultimate sign of, “We don’t need/want you anymore, at any level, and we’re willing to pay part of your salary just to be done with it.” 3) I honestly have no idea how high he would go. I don’t think he would ever even hint at that publicly. Last summer, it’s believed that Lombardi offered Marian Hossa a contract comparable to the 12-year, $62.8-million deal he got from Chicago. I don’t know that Lombardi takes the potential for injury into account very heavily when looking at average cap hit. I’ve not heard that mentioned. 4) I wouldn’t say it’s a fundamental flaw, but it is a difference in philosophy. Lombardi is attempting to go with the Chicago/Pittsburgh — and, going back to the 90s, Detroit — model, which is to develop your core over a couple years and build around it for a decade. It’s harder to establish, because you better make sure you have the correct core players, but if you do it right, you can tinker without fundamentally changing your team. Burke, on the Ducks’ Cup winning team, didn’t go that way. The Ducks made some shrewd undrafted-player signings (McDonald, Kunitz, Penner), took a couple of previous draft picks (Getzlaf, Perry) and an established goalie (Giguere) and added a couple big names (Selanne, Niedermayer, Pronger). Now, three years later, how many of those nine players are still there? Four, and two might retire. The flip side to “build quickly” is that you’re frequently re-working your roster and, as a GM, you’re more likely to make mistakes. Phoenix went with a lot of young players last season. This season, they brought in more veterans. This summer, they could lose UFAs Morris, Michalek and Aucoin from their defense, so they’re going to have to, perhaps, role the dice again and find the right fit. There’s no question that both models can work though. 5) It’s crazy, isn’t it? I mean, the Kings bear the brunt of the responsibility, for being so bad for most of this decade, but for most of this season, I really thought it would happen. If it doesn’t happen next season, there might be a curse!
ryan asked: I’m surprised this hasn’t been asked yet, but do you think Gretzky will come back to LA in some sort of management role? He was at Game 6 and the crowd roared. I believe that he’ll be back this season, and if/when he is, I hope its a good management position!
Answer: If it were to ever happen, I don’t think you’d see him in any kind of role that would influence player personnel. I think the idea would be to have Gretzky around as sort of an ambassador, or perhaps work on the business side of things to promote the team. When you’re Wayne Gretzky, though, I’m sure you don’t lack for opportunities, so it’s probably a matter of him determining what he wants to do with his life.