INSIDERS. A very good afternoon to you and yours. If you’re looking for the loose nuts and bolts such as personnel notes and practice alignment, click here. Onward and upward.
So, the NHLPA Player Poll came out this morning, again providing an interesting look at the players, teams and figures that draw the most respect from their colleagues. It’s one of several player polls that has come out recently depicting the breaking news that NHL players think very highly of Connor McDavid.
That’s a joke, but among the noticeable trends from the NHLPA, ESPN and The Athletic polls that caught my eye, it’s that Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov, who has repeatedly been compared to Anze Kopitar and considers Kopitar as a prime model for his game, continues to demand attention across the league for intelligent two-way play that doesn’t necessarily get excessive press because he plays in South Florida, where it take a little bit of extra time for word to get out.
Kopitar agreed with this premise, stating that it’s “a hundred percent” that Barkov’s stature has grown across the league.
“That young man is a very, very impressive hockey player,” he continued. “Even though we see them only a couple times a year, he always has a stamp on the game that we play. I get to match up with him for pretty much 95% of the shifts, so yes, I definitely see that he’s grown into a very impressive player.”
Even in a down year for the team, Los Angeles still factored into a good share of the NHLPA poll. Drew Doughty was voted the second best defenseman, the second best trash talker and the second funniest player, while Anze Kopitar was voted the fifth most difficult player to play against.
Sadly, though Swedes accounted for four of the five players voted to have the best hair, Adrian Kempe didn’t crack the list. “There are a lot of Swedes that have got long hair,” Kempe said. “In the future, maybe I’ll crack the top five, but I think I’ve got to grow it a little more.”
Notes!— Back to trash-talking. Doughty’s inclusion near the top of that poll wasn’t as big of a surprise, though if you’d ask some who know him well, they’d offer some good-natured chirps of their own that it was a surprise that he didn’t end up in the subsequent poll, Worst Trash Talkers.
At least that’s what I thought. On Wednesday, there was support of the way Doughty has tossed around his own verbal barbs. “How do you chirp one of the best defensemen in the world? Like, what do you say to him?” his friend and defensive partner Derek Forbort said. “You can’t tell him he sucks at hockey.”
Rather, Brad Marchand (who was also voted as the best trash talker), Antoine Roussel, P.K. Subban, Nick Cousins and Brendan Lemieux were voted as the league’s five worst trash talkers.
Doughty was voted as the second-funniest player in the league behind Florida’s Keith Yandle, though Forbort reached into his past to think of the funniest player he’d ever shared a locker room with. It was Brett Hextall, who paid the price for going too far in chirping an opposing coach while at North Dakota, “and he ended up having to write an apology letter,” Forbort said.
“He told him to hop on an elliptical or something. He was all-time as far as funny chirps. But, yeah, Dewey’s up there, too.”
— Doughty has shared in the past that chirping other players helps him get into a game while also getting under the opposition’s skin. He takes things seriously, but as we all know, it’s not uncommon for him to crack a smile in the heat of battle. “I’ll be making a joke out there or whatever it is, but then I’ll just go and bang you right after.”
He’s not close with Yandle, allegedly the league’s funniest player, but he is aware of Yandle’s reputation. “To be honest, I haven’t spent enough time with him to know, but some of the funniest guys I know that I’ve played with also told me he was hilarious, so it’s got to be pretty accurate,” he said.
Few would disagree with his assessment that Matt Greene was the funniest player in recent years to wear a Kings uniform. Greene’s sense of humor and dry wit endeared himself to his teammates, and even when he’s around his former teammates in his scouting capacity still finds ways to share his own unique message with his ex-teammates. “Still to this day, he’ll play along with stuff,” Doughty said.
Would Greene ever go back-and-forth with Darryl Sutter?
“I don’t know if we really joked with Darryl too, too much,” Doughty said. “He would joke with us and we would laugh, but we wouldn’t be giving the jokes back too often. But I’m sure if there was anyone that would do it, it would’ve been him.”
If you’re looking for a coach that could hold his own sparring verbally with his players, one only has to look down the hallway at Toyota Sports Center. “Mike Stothers was kind of a little like that, and he was one of the best chirpers I think I’ve ever seen, as far as coach-to-players go,” Forbort said. “His video sessions, the stuff he would come up with was just hilarious.” | RELATED: ICE CHIRPS
— Doughty was also voted as the second-best defenseman in his game, an illustration of the league-wide respect he’ll always draw among his peers, even in a down season.
“When you look at the season, my defensive game has still gotten better,” he said. “Every year it gets better. I get more confidence, I feel better making plays in my own zone. I know I’m minus a ton this year, but that’s just the way the season’s going. Our team’s in last place. We score the least amount of goals – those types of things.”
That’s an interesting appraisal. And that’s not meant sarcastically or pointedly. Doughty’s scouting reports are insightful and often very intricate; as a top player with renowned intuition, he picks up on smaller nuances and will be honest when distancing himself from some of the league’s more trendy, flavor-of-the-month viewpoints. He can also be dismissive when others are placed above him in the hierarchy of league defenseman, interrupting a questioner asking him about the poll of top defenseman to reply, “who was voted first?”
Doughty still named Victor Hedman, voted by players as the best defenseman in the league, as one of the league’s top three defensemen. Asked to share names without listing himself, he chose Hedman and Roman Josi before pausing and including Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Weber. “I’m more so looking at the complete defenseman rather than the guys that just get points,” he said. “Josi – he’s really good.”
But there are those in hockey operations who would disagree that this year serves as a high point of his all-around defensive play. This isn’t referencing what they’ve shared, but for one example – and plus-minus is a flawed statistic – Doughty’s a minus-30 even as a number of his secondary metrics have experienced a significant drop, year-over-year.
That’s why it was so interesting to hear him speak about the strides he’s observed in his own play from when he was younger – improvements he still finds inherent in his game this season. Again, this isn’t to leave him out to dry on the clothesline of public opinion, but rather to take stock in the personal evaluation of a player who’s been eminently honest – perhaps to his own fault – whenever addressing anyone’s play, himself included.
“I’m just more confident and I’m able to be more aggressive because I’m more confident in my abilities,” he said. “With our team, defense hasn’t been as good, so I’ve felt like I’ve been left in a lot more positions – two-on-ones, three-on-ones and stuff like that – and I know I’ve gotten scored on a couple times, but I’ve also broken up 20-to-30 this year, easily, and that kind of gets overlooked because you just look at the ones that go in the net. I just feel better in those areas. I feel more physical, I don’t hardly ever, ever get beat one-on-one. You’re never going to really see that. I’ve always kind of been that way. I just feel better in my own zone. I just feel like I’m wiser, I just know I can read the other team’s plays better. Individually and as a team, I can read the plays better. I just feel more aware of things, I think.”
Forgive the repetitive disclaimer, but if I were to share advice, you should personally put some in his dissenting viewpoint. Again, these observations aren’t features I’ve personally witnessed as added layers that have regularly sparked his own play season, but when Doughty shares an evaluation, all would be wise to listen and take heed before forming their own response. These are realms from which Doughty speaks with a keen eye on talent.
And not to digress too far away from the topic at hand, but this also related back to the evolving National Hockey League in which defenseman must contend with more speed and skill and players who get to spots faster than the heavier forwards who’ll forecheck the body rather than the puck. “When it comes to bumps and bruises, it’s so much different,” Doughty said. “So much different.”
“…I’m not worried about a skilled, fast little guy. I’m not worried about those guys at all,” he said. “I’m worried about the big, skilled guys, like a Getzlaf in his prime or even a Perry in his prime – those types of guys that play hard. They’re strong, they’re hard to box out at the net. Those are the tough guys for me to play against. This skill, speed game, I like the direction that’s going for my game.”
— One Doughty additional observation on a younger player referenced his own growth in the league. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because Rasmus Dahlin was a tremendous talent and a consensus first-overall draft pick, but Doughty took some notice in the teams’ December meeting.
“I was impressed with that Dahlin in the second time we played against them,” he said. “In the first one he was just average, but he’s a young guy and it was one of his first games. The second time we played, I ended up getting injured so I wasn’t out there for the whole game, but I was impressed with him. He’s going to be a good player. He just needs to get some good guidance. He was kind of like me when I was younger – like, just all offense. I shouldn’t say that. He’s good defensively too, but that’s where he’s going to need improvement is in defense, and if you can find someone like a Sean O’Donnell or a Matt Greene to help him along, kind of how I had someone to help me, it’ll help him a lot.”
— Several other bits from Willie Desjardins. He said that with the team eliminated from playoff contention, he’ll be looking at playing more younger players in different situations and would be open to resting some of the veterans over the remaining 10 games. That’s a challenge, because the vets want to play, but the way it was framed, there does appear to be a more concerted effort to get wider looks at several younger players. “There’s a point where we know what the vets can do. We’ve seen it, we know what they can do. It gives us a chance to look at younger guys,” he said.
That also applies to goaltenders. “Jack will get a few more starts, I’m sure,” said Dejsardins, who very much liked Jack Campbell’s performance against Winnipeg and said that Jonathan Quick has been “great.”
Now that that’s out of the way, does Willie Desjardins ever chirp players on opposing teams? That may seem like a farfetched thought, and Desjardins doesn’t seem like an example of a coach that would go out of his way to jaw at the opposition, but there are coaches who absolutely will use barbs as coarse means of gamesmanship to get the opposition off their games. I’ve worked with in previous stops with such coaches – many of whom have been successful at multiple levels.
“Very seldom [will a coach trash-talk an opposing player],” Desjardins said. “There’s a little bit of a rule where you have to be accountable for what you do, and it’s hard for a player to make a coach accountable. Like, player-to-player, it’s easier, so I don’t think there’s very much of that usually, talking to the other team.”
“There’s things that happen and you’re not happen with certain things that occur from the other team. The other guy you’re going to talk to is the coach. That’s the way it’ll usually happen. Sometimes with a player you’ll be upset with a player and maybe it’ll come out at the odd time, but most of the time it’s to a coach.”
–Several additional notes in press release form, courtesy of the Kings. I’m Ron Burgundy?LOS ANGELES – Legendary Anchorman and Broadcaster Ron Burgundy will be part of the LA Kings telecast as he joins Kings broadcasters Alex Faust and Jim Fox in the FOX Sports West broadcast booth tomorrow, Thursday.
Burgundy is slated to provide his expert commentary and observational analysis from STAPLES Center as part of the Kings-San Jose Sharks telecast. Burgundy is scheduled to be “live” in the Kings TV Booth at the start of the second period.
Learn more about Burgundy and listen to The Ron Burgundy Podcast on iHeartRadio by visiting: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/the-ron-burgundy-podcast-30270227/.
The Kings-Sharks game begins at 7:30 p.m. as the Kings continue their five-game homestand. The game will be broadcast on FOX Sports West, the FOX Sports App and the LA Kings Audio Network on iHeartRadio. Pre-game shows begin at 7 p.m.
And, for this Saturday…
LOS ANGELES – Actor/Director Colin Hanks will serve as the special Celebrity Guest of Honor for Hockey Night in LA presented by Attendee.com this Saturday, March 23, when the Los Angeles Kings host the Anaheim Ducks at STAPLES Center. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Colin will return to star for the fourth season of the hit CBS comedy “Life in Pieces.” The sitcom follows three generations of the Short family and also stars James Brolin, Dianne Wiest and Zoe Lister-Jones.
Prior to that, Hanks starred in FX’s critically acclaimed mini-series “Fargo” alongside Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Allison Tolman. Inspired by Ethan and Joel Coen’s film of the same name. Colin received individual nominations for the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Television Awards for his work on the series. The series also won an Emmy and Golden Globe for “Outstanding Miniseries” among numerous other accolades.
Prior to “Fargo,” Colin played the main antagonist on a season of the Golden Globe and Emmy Award winning series, “Dexter.” Additional television credits include “Mad Men,” “The Good Guys,” “Roswell” and HBO’s award-winning 10-part miniseries “Band of Brother.s”
On the silver screen, Hanks was most recently seen in the international blockbuster success, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and will return for the sequel this year. Prior to that, he was seen in Elvis & Nixon across Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey. Additional film credits include the romantic comedy No Stranger than Love, the historical drama Parkland, The Guilt Trip with Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogan, the independent film Lucky, the Oliver Stone biopic W, the ensemble comedy The House Bunny, the thriller Untraceable, The Great Buck Howard with John Malkovich, Universal’s King Kong, directed by Peter Jackson, Paramount’s Orange County, Miramax’s comedy Get Over It, Alone With Her, Standing Still, Rx, 11:14 and Whatever It Takes.
In 2002 Colin appeared, to critical acclaim, in the theatrical performance of “This Is Our Youth,” written by Ken Lonergan, at the Garrick Theater in London’s West End. In 2009, he made his Broadway debut, acting alongside Jane Fonda in the Moisés Kaufman play 33 Variations.
–Thank you for reading, Insiders. More to come tomorrow on a busy rivalry game day. Let’s talk then.
–Lead photo via Debora Robinson/NHLI