The Kings made several roster moves on Monday, returning defensemen Kale Clague to WHL-Brandon, Jacob Friend to OHL-Owen Sound and Jacob Moverare to OHL-Mississauga, and forward Matt Schmalz to OHL-Owen Sound.
Schmalz, who as a 20-year-old out of major junior hockey was eligible to play in either the OHL or AHL, got caught up in a numbers game given the number of players available to Reign Head Coach Mike Stothers. Clague is expected to miss some time upon his return to Manitoba after suffering a lower-body injury during the second rookie game against Arizona last week.
Forward Miles Koules, a Los Angeles-area native, and goaltender Jonah Imoo were also assigned to Ontario’s camp.
In case you missed the update of an earlier post, Helene Elliott of the LA Times has reported, through correspondence with Dean Lombardi, that Marian Gaborik is expected to miss eight weeks of action after injuring his foot in Europe’s semifinal win over Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey on Sunday.
With an eight-week timeframe, Gaborik is looking at regaining full health on or around November 20. Los Angeles plays at Anaheim that day, the Kings’ 20th game of the season.
Similar to when the Kings played a preseason game in Denver three years ago, and Willie Mitchell played in his first competitive game after a season-long absence, they will welcome back a familiar face when Matt Greene returns to the lineup for a preseason game after the stalwart defender missed the final 79 games of the 2015-16 regular season.
Greene, who skated alongside Derek Forbort, is slated to play in tonight’s split-squad preseason exhibition against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.
“It’s going to be good,” said Greene, who underwent shoulder and elbow surgeries last season and wasn’t fully cleared until after the season concluded. “Training camp’s been good so far, but it’ll be good to get out there and play against guys who aren’t on the same team, aren’t in the same meetings before the games or before practices with you, and get a feel for it. It’s been about a year, so hopefully just get in there and step right in and play.”
It has been a long road for Greene, who credited the birth of his first child the previous summer as helping him through a challenging time mentally while the rest of his teammates continued through the rigors of an 82-game season.
“To be able to take care of him and to see his first year a lot more than I would’ve if the schedule was normal and I was healthy, so that was a plus, but other than that, it was a long year,” he said.
Greene does not have a roster spot wrapped up in a neat little bow. Having passed through waivers over the summer while the Kings considered options to free up cap space in an attempt to re-sign Milan Lucic, he enters this training camp in a somewhat similar boat as veterans Rob Scuderi and Tom Gilbert. Darryl Sutter has previously identified two different camps – the more tenured players, listed above, and the less experienced, featuring Zach Trotman, Derek Forbort and Kevin Gravel – as competing for available spots with Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin serving as locks on the roster, and Brayden McNabb all but assured of a spot as well. The Kings have traditionally kept seven defensemen on their 23-man roster, though there is heavier competition this camp than in those previous.
“It’s unfair to base it on age or any of that,” Sutter said on Friday. “I’ve said that with the defensemen – Scuds, Greener, Tommy are all in the same spot – and then there’s a group of young guys that are in the same spot. They will sort it out on their own.”
It’s a position that isn’t unfamiliar to Greene.
“There’s always competition,” Greene said. “There’s always guys that are looking to take your job or younger guys coming up. For us to break in, we had to take somebody’s job, and it’s going to be the same way when we’re on the way out, and it’s up to us to make sure that we make sure that we do the best job we can to prove that you’re still here and do whatever you can to help this team win a championship.”
Speaking of a championship, Greene still feels the draft of an open competitive window.
“Yeah, you don’t think that, you shouldn’t be playing,” he said.
“I think we’ve got a team that’s built to win right now, and it’s on us. You play the game for reason – to win championships – and that’s what the goal is going into this year.”
Paul Bissonnette, who appeared in 187 of his 202 career NHL games with the Arizona (née Phoenix) Coyotes, will return to Gila River Arena tonight to face his former mates for the first time since he was signed to an AHL contract in the middle of the 2014-15 season and reported to the Manchester Monarchs.
He was in the middle of answering questions about it when Kings Vice President of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel Michael Futa, who was the general manager of the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack and acquired Bissonnette during the 2004-05 OHL season, emerged from the Kings’ dressing room to observe the interview. Bissonnette told Futa that the return would likely be accompanied by a tribune in the line of a 1,000-game silver stick presentation.
“They’re doing a silver bench,” joked Bissonnette, who occupied a larger percentage of the Coyotes’ leadership quotient than the ice time he was allotted as an enforcer and grinder.
So, is he saving any of his renowned verbal jabs for some of his ex-teammates?
“Probably not on the ice. Usually I’ll go over after and say stuff,” Bisonnette said. “I usually try to keep it pretty focused, but maybe in warm-up. But, the thing, too is I was skating with those guys before I got here, so I’ve already seen them, I’ve already said my hellos. I’m sure there’ll be a few smirks with guys like Brad Richardson, if he’s playing tonight against us. It’s good, it’s always a little awkward playing your old team, but I’ve done it before.”
More seriously, Bissonnette has parlayed his presence and likability amongst his coaches and teammates into a leadership role with the Ontario Reign after having won a Calder Cup championship with the team’s affiliate in Manchester. As an experienced player with three-digits of NHL games under his belt, he serves as a conduit between the room and the team’s coaching staff and has helped, in part, create the buy-in under Mike Stothers that has allowed the team to win a championship and advance to the Western Conference Final in the ex-Flyer’s two seasons as head coach.
“He’s very old school in the sense that he’s rough around the edges, but everything that he demands is realistic,” Bissonnette said. “He’s hard on the guys, but he puts it in a way where when he yells at you, you want to compete and play harder for him instead of shutting him out and tuning him out.”
“Under Tip, he’s an extremely structured coach where that’s how you have to play to win at this level, and he gets guys to buy-in,” he said. “As well there as there is here, the leadership was great . They’ve got Doaner there, and I remember my first year, they had Adrian Aucoin and guys like that where … when you see those kind of guys doing it and buying in, especially because he’s a player coach, he gets those guys to buy in and everyone else follows. … I think a lot of the teams play off the same structure, but it’s how hard you can get them to work, and also the little details. Here, just watching video and stuff, it’s the subtle details that put you over the edge.”
An emotional leader with the Coyotes, Bissonnette was on the opposite side of a heated divisional rivalry that boiled over at times, including during the preseason split-squad opener two years ago in Glendale when Jordan Nolan legally but fiercely trucked Rusty Klesla with an open-ice hit that led to multiple scrums in its aftermath, and, ultimately, a Bissonnette suspension that was reduced from 10 games to three after it was determined that what was originally deemed to be an illegal line change to engage in a scrum couldn’t be verified by the limited video available.
Representative of hockey players’ genial natures and the respect they have for their teammates, Bissonnette and Nolan have gotten past that incident.
“No, we joke around about it with Noley now, and the other way around,” Bissonnette said. “He’s my teammate, or in the same organization, anyway, whereas then my job was to try and protect guys and keep guys from maybe getting hurt. It was just my job at the time, and there are no hard feelings, and that’s the way it went.”
He’ll now have an opportunity to experience the rivalry from the other side as a member of the Kings organization. Though the teams faced each other twice in the preseason last year, Arizona’s designated home game actually took place in Bakersfield.
“Yeah, it should be good. I’m happy to be in the lineup,” Bissonnette said. “Getting back into game shape here and getting some of the systems down and do it in a real game would be nice. It’s always good to see the arena staff and people that you got to know through the years, too.”
“I’m excited. I’m happy to be back with the (Kings) organization. It’s first class, and everything they do, the way they prepare, the way they teach their young guys coming up, how they spend money in order for us to eat properly at the rink, and just the whole ordeal is great.”
If line rushes from the morning skate are any indication, he’ll skate alongside Patrick Bjorkstrand and Justin Auger tonight at Gila River Arena. Reign Head Coach Mike Stothers will be behind the Los Angeles bench to gauge their chemistry and see whether there could potentially be a fit there during regular season game situations.
“We’re a little younger than last year, and especially with a lot to live up to, the last two years we’ve won our conference, as far as the regular season, and had late pushes in the playoffs,” Bissonnette said about the Reign. “I guess just teaching these younger guys our systems and how to develop and how to be a professional, I know for me, it’s more of a veteran looking after the young guys, and as far as on-ice, [I’ll ply] probably a small role, but still, I’ll try to have an impact with the small minutes that I do get.”