For those who didn’t attend Hockey Fest this morning and missed the live stream on LAKings.com, I’ll do my best to recap some highlights of the “state of the franchise” question-and-answer session that kicked off the event. (For those who want to see the full video, it should be available via Kings Vision fairly shortly.)
The session, and day, started with emcee Bob Miller asking for a moment of silence in remembrance of the Sept. 11 victims (including Kings scouts Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis) as well as those who lost their lives in last week’s KHL plane crash. The Kings will honor Bailey and Bavis with on-ice logos behind the nets. Here’s a long-range photo, as well as a shot of the panel participants: Terry Murray (with Miller in the background), Jeff Solomon, Ron Hextall and a lurking, pacing Dean Lombardi.
Lombardi started the session with a statement, and joked that he would filibuster the event so that nobody could ask about Drew Doughty. Lombardi spoke about the team learning to recognize and thrive in “critical moments,” such as the failed power play near the end of Game 6 against San Jose, and how things such as that are the key to improvement.
The first question, not surprisingly, was regarding Doughty, and that topic has pretty much been covered in a previous post. The only point to add is Lombardi’s comparison of this situation to the one he faced in San Jose when players — most notably Evgeni Nabokov — held out at the start of training camp. Lombardi said he “couldn’t look the three of them in the eye,” because he knew that budget concerns prevented him from making fair offers in negotiations. Lombardi said he had no such qualms in talking to Doughty. Lombardi called the situation “just a bump in the road” and said there is “no question that ownership is committed to winning.”
Murray took a question about the fitness of Dustin Penner, who came under public criticism at the end of last season. Murray deadpanned that Penner “is a much better-looking person today than what he was at the end of the year.” Murray added that Penner looks “strong and ready” and noted that Penner, who owns a home in Orange County, had moved in order to be closer to the team’s training facility.
Murray was asked about improving the power play, and praised team management’s addition of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne while stressing the need for a better shooting mentality among the players. Lombardi had some fun with the questioner and turned the question back on him, asking what he thought needed to be done. The fan essentially agreed with Murray’s shot-mentality analysis, and Lombardi added that it must be accompanied by a net-presence attitude as well, in order for the shooting to be effective.
Murray was asked about a potential change in the Kings’ leadership group, with the addition of former Philadelphia captain Mike Richards, but said that no changes would be made and that Dustin Brown is the team captain.
Hextall fielded a question about the depth of defensemen in the Kings’ system, a question seemingly centered around a concern that there isn’t enough “room” on the Kings’ roster for upcoming prospects. Hextall said it’s a good situation to have, so that the Kings don’t need to force prospects into situations ahead of schedule. Hextall noted that he had “never seen a player over-prepared to play in the National Hockey League.”
Murray was asked about his goalie plan for the upcoming season and whether he would consider the competition open. Murray said, “Jonathan Quick is going into the start of the season as my No. 1 goalie,” but Murray also praised Jonathan Bernier and said Bernier’s level of play “skyrocketed” in the second half of last season.
The panel was asked about the need, on the part of the NHL and its teams, to better “protect” players in the aftermath of this summer’s player deaths. Solomon took the question, noting that before he joined the Kings, he worked as Wade Belak’s agent. Solomon said that the league and the players’ association are “trying to get a handle” on some of the issues involved and are committed to protecting the players.
A fan asked what the Kings hoped to get from playing the first game of the season in Europe. Solomon quickly deadpanned, “Two points,” before Murray said the trip was a way for the league to give something back to its fans in Europe.
The next question was about the development of some prospects. Lombardi praised the Kings’ development team of coaches Nelson Emerson, Mike O’Connell and Mike Donnelly and also singled out Linden Vey for his improvement. Lombardi noted that in his first camp, Vey was chastised for not being able to do a single pull-up, but Lombardi noted Vey’s drastic improvement in fitness. Hextall noted that players such as Jordan Weal and Brandon Kozun have been successful scorers in junior hockey but are now challenged to become better all-around players in the AHL.
The next question brought out Lombardi’s traditional reference to Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees (at 9:56 a.m., for those scoring at home). Lombardi was asked about bringing in new player during the summer, and the risks that can accompany those moves, in terms of altering team chemistry. Lombardi referenced Mike Richards and said that there were only a handful of players he was willing to trade Brayden Schenn for, and Richards was one of them. Lombardi noted how longtime NHL general manager Bill Torrey classified players on a “chemistry chart,” designating them by personality types such as “surfers, swimmers and sunbathers” based on their personalities. Murray, who knew Richards and Gagne from their mutual times in Philadelphia, said he had “no concerns whatsoever” about adding the players to the Kings’ locker room.
Lombardi was asked about the fact that popular center Michal Handzus signed in San Jose instead of with the Kings. Lombardi acknowledged that the team’s pursuit of Brad Richards on July 1 took some attention away from Handzus but said he still believed that the Kings’ “strength down the middle is still one of the best” in the NHL.