These are testing times across the globe, and in our family and community networks and our Southland hockey and friendship circles, we’re all doing what we can to ensure those around us are able to remain healthy while reducing the physical, mental and financial strains associated with a global pandemic and shelter-in-place order.
Todd McLellan, like so many of us, is making do. The daily schedule is malleable, one that changes with the minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour and day-by-day direction of boldface headlines. Hockey-wise, it’s not easy to implement structure in a state of suspended animation where there is no end date in site. He and the coaching staff, however, have been able to vastly add to their video database that will help streamline instruction and video sessions once play resumes – whenever that may – though much of the time is spent holed up in the South Bay just like many others across the L.A. Kings organization. There’s a lot of family time, and as it is for all of us, a lot of unknown.
“I continue to get up early in the morning, get through all the news and coffee and the usual stuff that most people do, and then I’ll go turn on my computer and I’ll do a little bit of hockey work, but I’m not sure where to go with it,” he said. “Am I in season-ending mode where I’ve got to create some type of review video and sort out year-end meetings with players, or am I planning for a mini-training camp, should we get back to playing? How many games, [what] type of scheduling to I have to plan for, so there’s a lot of variables that are unknown. I’ll write something on a piece of paper, and the next day I’ll flip the page over and I’ll write the exact opposite. So, the unknown is difficult.”
Speaking on a conference call with Los Angeles and national hockey media, McLellan spent nearly an hour discussing his regimen in these uncertain times while also throwing some cold water on the proposal that the first-overall draft pick could be awarded to the team that wins a tournament among non-playoff teams.
There’s a ton here, so I’m going to spread this out over another one or two posts, but let’s start with Todd discussing ways in which Kings fans may donate blood and platelets to earn tickets to a game next season. In addition to that, I also asked him where exactly that needle was pointing when play halted. (“Move the needle” does seem like a while ago, doesn’t it? Sigh.) Lots more to come, Insiders.
Todd McLellan, on what he, his family and the Kings are doing to support the community:
Yeah, there are many things that I know families are doing. The Kings as a whole, we’re really trying to support CHLA. Right now, they’re like a lot of hospitals where there are some shortages in things that they need to operate on a daily basis, and one of the big things is a need for blood and platelets. I think there are a lot of individuals in today’s world that are afraid to go out – and we’ve been told not to – but also to approach a hospital or a donation center like that, and there are secure, safe areas for this to happen. There’s a definite need for it at CHLA, and I know the Kings are really pushing hard to try and help them. In fact, I think that we’ve created a website where you can register, donate and earn a couple tickets to a future Kings game. So, from a team or from a Kings/family organization, that’s what we’re doing. From an individual perspective, we’re trying to support small businesses here in the South Bay as much as we possibly can. We’re also trying to follow all the guidance and guidelines that have bee given to us with social distancing, washing the hands, staying home as much as we possibly can. We’ve tried to support some of the people that help our family – whether it’s the yard crew, a cleaning lady that might come in once every two weeks – we’ve tried to keep them on a payroll, I guess, if you want to call it that. Those families desperately need help right now. My family, and I know a lot of the players are doing the same thing, they’re trying to continue to support the nannies and the cleaners and the other people that come around to help them out. It’s something that I’m proud that the players have participated in and we’ll do anything we can to help our community.
The Blood Donor Center at @ChildrensLA is looking for healthy, eligible individuals to donate blood or platelets. Donors will receive a voucher for two free tickets to a future @LAKings game.@LAKingsCare | @BaileyLAKings pic.twitter.com/adnqxkfcB2
— AEG (@AEGworldwide) March 26, 2020
McLellan, on where the needle was pointing when play halted:
Well, at that point, it was definitely past the midway point. It was pointing in the right direction. The tank was as full as it’s been all year. Players were doing things the right way, we were coming together as a team, we were structurally much more efficient and less error-prone than we were in the past, which is everything that we could ask of from a relatively new group. We had a number of players that left the locker rooms during the trade deadline and a number of new players that stepped in. Based on the plan of turning the team over, injecting some youth, things were going well for us. But there are ebbs and flows throughout the seasons for every team. We were certainly in a positive one at that point. It would’ve been interesting to see if we could’ve maintained it or if we would’ve begun to stray from structure, to stray from the commitment to doing things right. Often with success that begins to happen, especially with young teams. So, it would’ve been a great teaching or learning opportunity for us to go through should it have arrived. But maybe we’ll find that out in the next month or two if we can get back up playing again.
McLellan, on how he’s spoken with players “like Kopitar and Brown” to convey “being with the program, being leaders,” and how they’ve dealt with that:
Good question. Well, it just began – we’re talking about it about it here in the pause in our season in March, but this began almost a year ago when I was hired. They – being Doughty and Brown and Carter and Kopitar – some of the elder statesmen on the team that have been through a good, long, healthy career were the first players that I made contact with, and I wanted them, first of all, to feel comfortable with myself. Secondly, I wanted to expose our plan not only structurally within the organization, but also a coaching plan for them, and get them to understand that I value their experience. Moving forward they’re going to be very important pieces. But also, getting them to understand that we’re beginning to run a new marathon. I think I used that word often and early with the media and the players, and marathons are not easy to run. The players I mentioned early have run one or two, and they got to the finish line, that culminating with Stanley Cups. But we’re truly at the starting line again, and I had to ask those players if they’re prepared to start at Mile 1 again and to run it and to make sure they’re prepared to go through not only the upper part, the hills, but the valleys that come with it. And each of them, to an individual, indicated at that time they were prepared throughout the season – I included with those individuals as part of the leadership group. We met quite often and talked about where we were, some of the frustrations we might be having, some of the rewards we’re getting or not getting, but always kept them informed. And then the last thing that we did as a coaching staff to maybe get their attention was really change the way we played. This team, organization has had a ton of success in the past playing a certain style of game. As a staff and an organization, we thought it might be time to change that a little bit. Get players excited about something new, and maybe catch up with what the league was doing. So, we chose to do that, and for the most part, they’ve been very patient, they’ve been very cooperative, and they’re players that I lean on a lot to lead the way for the younger players.
McLellan, on his “ideal scenario” to resume play, “provided” league play will resume:
You said ‘provided,’ and I think that’s the most important thing right now, is that we take care of everybody and make sure that not only the Kings family is healthy, but our neighborhoods, our cities, communities and that type of stuff. And I think that part of health is going to be mental health. I know that my family and I, it’s not necessarily cooped up in the house, but we’re around each other a lot more than we normally are. It’s not always easy. It’s rewarding because we get to be around each other, but it’s not always easy. I think one thing that sport and particularly the Kings and I’m sure the rest of the NHL will offer people is once we get up and running again, there will be a nice reward. There’s been numerous times I’ve sat down and turned the TV on and wanted to watch a hockey game or a baseball game or something like that, and they’re just not there right now. So, I think we will provide a sense of mental relief for a lot of individuals that are looking for something. When we start up again, I think our players are going to want to participate in any way, shape or form. That’s how they’re wired. I think they would be excited about coming back and playing. I don’t have an idea of what the proper league play or playoff format would or will look like. Obviously, the playoff part of it probably wouldn’t include us based on our record. But if we’re lucky enough and fortunate enough to be involved in some sort of regular season finality, I think that our players would be excited and take advantage of it.
McLellan, on his typical day during the league’s pause:
Well, I’m probably like a lot of people, trying to establish a routine now that I’m home for an extended period. What’s different right now from a season-ending situation or scenario when you’re at home is you really don’t know where to turn hockey-wise. But I’m an early riser. I continue to get up early in the morning, get through all the news and coffee and the usual stuff that most people do, and then I’ll go turn on my computer and I’ll do a little bit of hockey work, but I’m not sure where to go with it. Am I in season-ending mode where I’ve got to create some type of review video and sort out year-end meetings with players, or am I planning for a mini-training camp should we get back to playing? How many games, [what] type of scheduling to I have to plan for, so there’s a lot of variables that are unknown. I’ll write something on apiece of paper, and the next day I’ll flip the page over and I’ll write the exact opposite. So the unknown is difficult. One of the things that our staff does throughout the season is we create a video library or a foundation library. I’ve been going through a lot of old games from this past season trying to sort things out so I can find good individual clips for each of the players but also team clips that we might use if we come back and started camp, or if we don’t, it would be used in training camp in the fall again. After that, then it’s family time. Everybody’s up, we go for a nice long walk, whether it’s all of us together or just my wife and I. We’ve been cooking a lot together. My two sons and my oldest son’s girlfriend are here living with us right now, so the five of us will plan dinner. We all cook together, often open a nice bottle of wine. They’re all adults, so we get to enjoy that. There are some advantages to this virus – very few of them – but the one is family time. We’ve sat around and talked and told stories, we’ve played cards, we’ve played board games. Stuff I can guarantee you we wouldn’t have found the time to do as a family. So, there are those advantages, but the sooner everybody can get healthy and we move on with a normal world, the better it is for myself and my family.
McLellan, on his “level of concern” with hockey’s physicality and close quarters amidst the coronavirus pandemic:
Well, our type of sport certainly raises that question. By no means am I an expert with disease control or anything like that. We would certainly continue to rely on the experts for guidance and whatnot, but I believe that some of the best spots I can be right now are in locker rooms. Just the way our training staff and the rest of the Kings family or the Sharks family, Oilers family – everywhere I’ve been – they do such a tremendous job in keeping us in such a safe, healthy, clean environment that I think that’s a good spot for us. As far as being on the ice and making contact, player-to-player, I guess you always run that risk. You certainly wouldn’t be social distancing on the ice by any means, and if we were, the coach wouldn’t be pretty happy because it would be a pretty dull game. So, there is always that risk. Something that was pointed out to me was that we play more in a confined area than many sports where we wouldn’t have any type of fan contact. For example, in basketball, you often see players going into the stands to retrieve a ball or anything or something like that. In our situation, we’re confined by the boards and the glass, which often acts as a shield just from the fans’ perspective to the players’. Other than that, we’ll take all the guidance we can get and rely on it from the professionals that are in a situation to provide it.
McLellan, on the importance of sports to allow people to “relax in these troubled times”:
I think that’s a great point that you just made. We play 82 games a season and hopefully many more in the playoffs to entertain people. What I think the best type of entertainment is, whether it’s a movie or a sport or anything, is you take people out of the real world for two and a half hours. They get engaged in what’s going on in front of them, they forget their problems, they emotionally escape the real world and they emotionally get attached to a sport or a player or the event that’s going on, and I think moving forward right now we miss that. As I said earlier, I can’t turn the TV on and watch the Dodgers on opening night. I was excited about watching that. It would’ve created an escape for me. The fans that are missing the Kings games right now, that two-and-a-half-hour period is soothing. It provides a sense of relief and escape. I think that sports will be a big part of the healing process when this is done, because it will start up again and it will allow people whether they’re at home watching it on TV or listening to it online or on radio or in person, it will allow people to get back to what they consider the norm, and once sports starts up again, that will be a good signal to the rest of the world or everyday society that things are beginning to normalize.
McLellan, on the theorized 31-team playoff format and hypothetical tournament for the first overall pick:
Well, I’m going to start with number two, because I think we’re going to fall into that category should the league, and this is just my opinion, I think we’re going to fall into that non-playoff category should the league start up and only go with a playoff format and that’s basically what we’ve earned. I can’t justify saying “hey you should include us”, our point totals, our win-loss column isn’t strong enough to qualify as a playoff team. I’ll start with that second scenario, I’m not a fan of it one bit. I don’t think that the draft and the draft lottery was ever put in to reward a winner of a tournament. When you take the teams that don’t make the playoffs, so Team 17 might miss the playoffs, if that’s the number, may miss the playoffs by one point and you compare them to teams that are at 31, there’s a big discrepancy between 17 and 31. 17 should have a greater chance at winning and they’re less likely to need the first pick overall so for me, it’s counter-intuitive to do it that way, it makes no sense, but I’m only one voter. The 31-team tournament, I could see some validity or some thought process to that. Just exactly how is it structured, I don’t think you would want to get any teams up and running for a three-game period and then say “see you later” again. That’s why I think finishing the regular season, if everybody’s going to participate, let’s finish the regular season, let’s take care of all the questions that are out there about compensation for drafts and pretty soon I’m sure we’ll hear about player bonuses and how do they pro rate those, have some of these entry-level guys reached their bonuses and should they be paid, and then reward the 16 teams that have earned it. I think that’s the way to go, personally.