Speaking with Michael Futa today, the Los Angeles Kings’ Vice President of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel did not mince words when he described the feeling of the franchise’s first playoff-free spring since 2009.
“It hits you right in the stones,” he said about narrowly missing the playoffs and not being able to defend the Stanley Cup. “It’s a wake up for everybody, and it’s not like we’re the kind of group that gets around and likes the smell of our own cologne or anything like that. But it just grinds you. It really pisses you off to not be playing this time of year.”
While most of our conversation centered around the Manchester Monarchs’ play, Futa did characterize the front office’s spring efforts as the push to “just getting better.”
“You want adversity to get you better. We’ve had enough adversity off the ice that hopefully it’ll do us an extended period. But you don’t want to let any of that in any way dampen what that group accomplished.”
“It’s not a team that’s getting stripped down. There’s still plenty there to go, and the guys who are the right kind of angry that are already starting to work on getting themselves ready for next year, so I think that’s it. Every day we just want to be better. Try and find ways to make ourselves better. The amateur staff – Mark Yannetti’s done an unbelievable job, and Chris Byrne, the new addition, all those guys. They’re so ready for the draft, as well as myself, and in my new role, being involved in all these different things. It’s cool to be around the American League team, it’s great to be around the big team. So again, it’s just not a fun feeling in hockey to turn on a TV and watching somebody else chasing the thing that we’ve been very fortunate to have two of the last three years. It’s a very competitive league.”
Futa worked alongside Manchester coach Mike Stothers at OHL-Owen Sound and spoke highly about the success Stothers and assistant coach Chris Hajt have found thus far in working with the development staff to develop players and create a winning environment amongst the team that will face Hartford beginning Thursday in the Eastern Conference Final.
Mike Futa, on Manchester’s playoff run:
It’s been a pretty incredible year for them. Obviously I think Stuts and Hajter have done an incredible job, and I think the player development crew has provided an excellent mix down there, but when you’re around this group, it’s like Dean said. They’re like a machine. They score big goals, there are big guys who don’t fall into many prolonged slumps. They play solid defense. Both goaltenders – I mean, Berube’s obviously played them all in the playoffs, but they’re an excellent team. Anybody that I talk to – we got a nice [note] from Jason Botterill of the Penguins organization, who said it’s just a really fun team to watch. They’re entertaining, they’re a little undersized compared to the big team, but they’re incredibly skilled and they’re fun to watch. They seem to deal very well with adversity, and it’s obviously worked real well. … We’re thrilled we’ve drafted these kids and handed them over to the development team, and Stuts has done an incredible job. If they keep kicking and pushing and finally to get a chance to become Kings, they’re going to be that much more ready with this [group]. The one thing Darryl was really hoping for was for these kids to have a prolonged playoff run. It seems that Stuts has them heading in that direction.
Futa, on Jordan Weal’s playoff performance:
He’s dynamic. We beat the hell out of these conversations on smaller players and their effect on being able to play in the National Hockey League and be effective. It’s something with our team, the big team, that we haven’t really dipped our toes into the water on that one. That being said, it’s been a tough year for Jordan. There have been, obviously, things completely out of his control. He didn’t get in the lineup when he was called up for whatever reason, whether it was salary cap or numbers or stuff like that. He just didn’t get in the lineup. And he just kept going back, and he’s done everything asked of him from a development standpoint … Teams go after him. They go after him hard, and he’s unfazed by it, and we’re certainly at a point in this organization … where we have to try and find a way to reward a kid like that. And, again, the whole crew – O’Neill and every one of ‘em down there, it’s just been fun to watch, and again, they just keep kicking away, kicking away and kicking away, and they’ve certainly earned the respect of the people who have been down there watching them. They already had our respect, but especially in a year that we obviously didn’t finish up the way we wanted to, [it’s great] our extension is doing so well.
Futa, on whether Adrian Kempe’s transition to North America has been “encouraging”:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think he’s not understating the adjustment – a kid like that, coming over at this stage of the year when you’re really getting into the grind of it. He’s being tested. People have gone after him, but he just keeps working. There are the nights where he sat out, but he hasn’t complained. He just keeps working. I think it was great – we had some of our guys down there at the end, unfortunately, who were banged up like Zykov, and the timing of it didn’t allow a lot of guys to get in, play in the season – some of the prospects. I know Dean and Stuts [thought] we’re not screwing around with the chemistry of those guys that have been there all year – the guys who have put the sweat, the blood and the tears in for this run. … It was good for our younger guys to be around that environment, and Kempe, he’s in a different situation with his contract in Sweden and his ability to come over and play right away, and the timing worked out extremely well, and he’s found himself a spot.