Here’s the third set of forum questions and answers…
tornado 12 asked: 1) at his point in time, what do you see as the teams greatest need(s)? do you think this can be filled from within and if so by whom? 2) what would be your choices for line combos? 3) who do think will win the cup this year? 4) could you offer an opinion on whether blake’s #4 should be retired (or do you need a cool off period to answer?)
Answers: 1) Second-line scoring, and yes, it can be filled if Scott Parse successfully steps into the left-wing role and if Jarret Stoll increases his production. 2) At the start of the season, I would stick with Smyth-Kopitar-Williams, to see if they can recapture the chemistry from last season. I would go with Ponikarovksy-Handzus-Simmonds. Second line is tougher. I’d like to see Oscar Moller get a chance with Stoll and Brown, but it’s hard to argue against giving Parse a look. Fourth line is up for grabs. Probably Richardson centering Westgarth and Clune, unless Clifford wins a spot. 3) I’m thinking it will be an East team, perhaps Washington or New Jersey. 4) It’s going to require some time to figure out. Based on accomplishments — he’s presumably a Hall of Famer and he’s the Kings’ only Norris Trophy winner — it’s tough to argue against it, but retiring a number is just as much as sentimentality as anything else, and if fans don’t support it, it shouldn’t be done.
nykingfan asked: What was it about Hickey’s play during the rookie’s game that impressed you the most and would lead you to believe he’ll be an NHL defenseman possibly this year? Do you see Kozun being a Martin St.Louis type player?
Answers: 1) The word I keep coming back to is “poise.” He doesn’t have the biggest shot and he’s not the most physical, but he plays a smart game and usually has very solid positioning. He looked like he has the ability to quarterback a power play, although the Kings’ power play went scoreless in the two rookie games. 2) St. Louis would be an obvious comparable, but in fairness, every small, skilled player draws that comparison. The AHL is littered with players who couldn’t make the next step, so that is now Kozun’s challenge. There’s no question that the Kings are optimistic about him, but he’s going to have to show that he can score in the AHL first.
Dave asked: Given that the Kings failed to upgrade team scoring over the summer, are you at all concerned that they could take a step back this year and miss the playoffs similar to the Blues and the Blue Jackets from last year?
Answer: There’s always that concern, for any team, but I would not tie it to the theory that the Kings didn’t upgrade team scoring. As I said in response to a previous question, the team should be better if the young players improve. This is not an aging team that needs reinforcements. It’s a young team, with a very young core, that should continue to improve. In my opinion, if the Kings don’t make the playoffs, it will be because Kopitar, Brown, Doughty, Johnson, Simmonds and Quick, to name a few, didn’t get better (or regressed), not because management didn’t add another free agent/trade piece.
Turbo Laser Davey asked: Getting into league point systems. It sounds like resorting to fraction of points to balance out the OT or SO points problem is completely out of the question. There was a TSN panel that brought it up but it seemed quickly shot down when one panelist said, “oh and then youll get into 1/3 points or 1/4 points, or 3/8ths points, just keep it simple!” and then the topic finished. If the panelist wasnt so self righteous, he would realize that its “half points” that were up for debate, and half points (at least to me) is still toddlers math. My questions is, as a reporter did you hear any discussion about this? Maybe during the new experimental rules period? Do you yourself have an opinion on half points?
Answer: To answer your direct question first, no, I haven’t heard a lot about it, beyond the fact that they’re changing the tiebreaker system to de-emphasize shootouts. My thought is, if they have a problem with the points accumulated in shootouts, they should get rid of shootouts. It seems like they’re trying to have it both ways. They want to keep shootouts because the fans like them, but they want to de-emphasize their importance. If there is movement for further change, I’d rather see them go to a soccer-style system in which regulation wins get three points, but in general I’m not really that passionate about the subject.
drew asked: At last season’s State of the Kings meeting for season ticket holders, Lombardi was asked about the possibility of signing Kovalchuk as a free agent and he responded in very unflattering terms as far as his character and other abilities aside from goal scoring. Flash forward to the start of summer and Leiweke said in media interviews that if the guy we want is out there (which everyone took to mean I.K.), we will make a play for him. Throw in the fact that Kovalchuk was quoted as saying he did not care for Lombardi when they met in L.A. for the negotiations. Reading between the lines, do you think Leiweke wanted Kovalchuk as a name attraction more than Lombardi? Or was Leiweke bluffing at the State of the Kings and he truly wanted Kovalchuk as much as Leiweke? And should fans be concerned that Leiweke was so involved in this free agent operation given that he has stated he would remain hands off and that Lombardi seems to prefer to rule the hockey ops dept. without interference from above?
Answer: Respectfully, I think you’re vastly overstating the extent to which Lombardi spoke negatively about Kovalchuk. I went back over my notes from the day, and the gist of his answer was about finding the right fit, and he also challenged the fans as to how much money they would be willing to spend on a player such as Kovalchuk. I’m not really feeling the whole Leiweke Conspiracy thing. It’s too easy, and in past years there might be some fuel there, but I really don’t see it. If I recall correctly, Leiweke was directly quoted as supporting Lombardi during the negotiations. And I’m not suggesting that you’re insinuating a conspiracy. I’m just talking in general. Lombardi held up his entire summer for two-plus weeks because of Kovalchuk and made an $80-million offer. That doesn’t suggest, to me, someone who didn’t want the player in Los Angeles. I’m also not sure where Kovalchuk was quoted as saying he did not care for Lombardi. I have not seen that anywhere. If you want to blame Lombardi/the Kings for anything, blame them for underestimating the Devils and underestimating Kovalchuk’s fortitude in getting a $100-million contract. Other than that, I’m not seeing a lot.
kopykopykopy asked: What kind of a trade output do you think that the Kings would get for Erik Ersberg?
Answer: Given the number of goalies out there, I don’t know that there’s going to be a market for Ersberg. That has very little to do with his talent as a goalie. It’s a product of the market.
Chris asked: Do you feel that the Kings can’t attract any 1st or 2nd tier players? Always have to overpay to get someone decent and are we still going for a top 6 forward?
Answer: Before I could answer that question, I would have to ask you a couple questions. Who do you consider 1st or 2nd tier players? And how many of them have the Kings actually gone after during Lombardi’s tenure? I would count Kovalchuk, Hossa, Briere, Drury, Gomez, Hamhuis and Martin in that category, and except for Hamhuis (who wanted to play near home) and Martin, they all signed pretty obscene contracts, in my opinion. I can assure you that the fans of their respective teams think that Briere, Drury and Gomez got overpaid. The short answer is, you attract better players when you win. Three years ago, I don’t think Willie Mitchell or Ryan Smyth would have glanced at the Kings. That’s one step. The next step is to win so much, and so consistently, that a player such as Hossa doesn’t view winning as the deciding factor when he weighs similar offers from the Kings and Blackhawks. And no, I don’t believe the Kings are in pursuit of any forwards right now.
Mike J. asked: Since you saw Kozun play, who does he remind you of? From what you’re saying, it sounds to me that he’s got a bit of the game that Scott Gomez has. Or would his game be closer to Cammalleri’s? There’s something about his that even though I’ve never seen him play, I get this feeling that he’s one of those low-round special draft picks.
Answer: I like the Gomez comparison more than the Cammalleri comparison, because I think Kozun has a little more grit in terms of creating things for himself and getting to the net. Someone came up with Martin St. Louis also, earlier.
Mike asked: Rich, Can you update us on the health of the players who were questionable for training camp? Voynov, Westgarth, and Schenn? We know Teubert and Greene will miss all of training camp.
Answer: Unless I missed an update on Teubert, I think there’s a chance that he will be back for part of training camp. He has been on the ice, but he won’t be in any type of drills/practice until the soft cast it removed. Schenn and Westgarth should be OK. Not sure about Voynov, although he might miss camp. Greene is out for sure, as we know.
EncinoMan asked: It seemed that DL suggested over the past few years about the Kings’ opportunity to take advantage of some of the other teams (Philly, Chicago, etc.) being over the cap and and making available some players below market value. Has that time come and gone? It doesn’t seem that the Kings’ were really able to take advantage of that.
Answer: I would say Lombardi probably overstated the extent that this would be a potential advantage. If you look at the players Chicago, in particular, had to deal, I’m not sure that there were any that the Kings could have poached for a bargain who would have represented a significant upgrade over what they already have. The Kings were looking for a top-six forward this summer, and how many of them moved? The Blackhawks did move Versteeg, they also got a pretty damn good package for him. I don’t know exactly what Lombardi was thinking would happen around the league when he made that statement, but since he said it, I don’t think we’ve really seen teams dump top-level players. I guess you could make the argument that the Kings got Ryan Smyth that way, but that probably depends on how highly you think of Smyth. My thought is that in hindsight, Lombardi was probably being a little ambitious/optimistic with his statement.