There’s been quite a bit to digest from the team’s exit day media availability, but one story that continues to evolve and could ultimately reach a head relatively soon is that the Kings are in search of a head coach and are motivated to act quickly. They would prefer to hire a former NHL head coach with high-level championship experience who helps instill good organizational structure and culture.
“You’re going to have systems and a style, so you’re going to want a coach that’ll come in here, teach these guys a certain style and have a player buy-in,” General Manager Rob Blake said. “You’ve got to get the players to buy in, so it’s not so much you’re telling ‘em to do it, show ‘em why you’re doing this. Why are we going to play this way? Why are we going to play quick-ups? Why are we going to have four men across on the power play? It’s not so much you’re being told, you need someone to explain why, and you have to get that buy-in. And then other component is to motivate. You have to hold players accountable. Ice time is a huge thing. It’s about the only thing a coach has control over, but you have to have some type of motivation tactics to allow these players to grow and play.”
That type of coaching that acknowledges younger players want to be explained the “why” in addition to the who, what, when and where was acknowledged by Blake and others in recent days. More on that below.
But another topic referenced several times on Monday and throughout the season was the need for the team’s practice habits to improve, which is somewhat related to the need for buy-in described above. And this is puzzling, because there were practically sonnets written about these players’ buy-in and approach (and so many other intangibles) en route to winning a pair of Stanley Cups. So, I asked Tyler Toffoli: was it more difficult for the players to “buy-in” under an interim coach, or were the challenges based more in the ability of the coach to communicate the detail and commitment necessary in practice?
“I’m not really sure why our practices weren’t as good or crisp and just making practices to each other, and honestly, it just comes back to things being off during the season. At the end of the day, I guess it essentially comes back to that, and we needed to be better in all aspects of the game,” he said. “You guys saw our practices sometimes. It was kind of pathetic a lot of time, which is frustrating. Looking back now, I wish I could’ve done more or we all could’ve done more obviously, but it’s just the way it is.”
So! Practice habits will be one topic of discussion when the training camp, 2019 rolls around.
More on coaching from Blake, Toffoli, Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick:
Rob Blake, on whether it is important that his next coach has NHL coaching experience:
For now, on my list, yes. That criteria may change if you can’t get the guy or he’s not available. But for me, that resonates credibility. Have you coached in the National Hockey League, have you won a championship at a certain level high enough to be respected and have that credibility? Now, listen – this criteria paints a very narrow list, and if that coach isn’t available or you can not get him, then, yeah, you have to expand that criteria. But for right now, for me that is an important thing with credibility amongst our players. We have a mix of old and young, and you can see the direction we went since the deadline, but someone has to come in that can allow the older players the credibility to play a certain way, to teach them, but then also incorporate young players into that mix. It’s difficult.
Blake, on the coach’s implementation of the team’s systems and style:
There’s a vision in all this. When I look at the system and style … I’m responsible 100% for the plan, and then I’ve got to communicate that plan with the coaching staff and the players, and it’s their job to make that execute. But they have to be very well prepared to do that. It’s all in one – it’s a vision in how we’re supposed to play, the coach has to be on the exact same page, that his job is to execute that for the players.
Blake, on how much input towards coaching he receives from the team’s veteran players:
A little. I think that’s going to come from me now a little bit more. I’ve talked a lot. I’m not having an individual meeting with the older guys today because I met with them a lot. Probably the most important meeting – and I don’t expect them to elaborate much on it – was coming back from the trade deadline. I met with 11 of the older guys, and we went through the entitlement factor. Where are teams headed? And for me it was all about laying what we were going to do coming forward. What I want is I want the older guys or the veterans that have been around to show that they want to get better every day. Are you just coming in? Are you going through practice where you’re just going through the motions every day, or are you trying to get better? And we’ve got to install that to get better every day. Because the kids don’t understand – they come in and they’re excited to be in the NHL, they’re going to do all this stuff. But we’ve got to put a plan in place where Dustin Brown comes in and if he didn’t like his game before, he’s going out and he’s working on his wall play the next morning. Or Tyler, if he needs to get a quicker step coming off the wall, he’s got to go and do that in the mornings before practice. You can’t just come in and go through the motions in practice anymore. We have to install a much better – I have to install that. I didn’t do a good job of that this year.
Dustin Brown, on why the Kings’s special teams took such a substantial hit in 2018-19:
Things changed when we let Johnny go. I might be wrong, but I think we were a top-five PK team on November 4, and then we dropped drastically and we changed a few things and became less aggressive on the PK. Power playis good and bad. You look at percentages on power play, I think power plays, it’s more about scoring the timely goal. We didn’t have the percentage, we also didn’t have the timely goals, either. You can practice power play. I think it’s more getting units together, working through problems, finding solutions. We had good stretches and changed something, and if you look at some of the really good power plays, they practiced a lot and they generally speaking have a lot of units that stick together – my biggest one is probably Washington. They have one power play, but they’ve been playing together for three years now. San Jose used to have that when Marleau was there. They had those five guys – Couture, Pavelski, Thornton, Marleau and Burns. When you have a unit of five that had done power play things for years on end, it’s much like me and Kopi PK’ing. We’ve PK’d together for a decade. I don’t have to think about what Kopi’s doing, I know what he’s doing. Same thing on the power play.
Anze Kopitar, on whether players deserve responsibility for another coaching search:
We’ve had three coaches in two years, so there’s definitely some looking in the mirror that going to have to be done. We’re going to own up on it now certainly going forward, because you can’t be firing coaches left and right.
Kopitar, on what he’d like in a coach:
We went from Darryl to Johnny to Willie, three probably exact opposites that you could possibly think about. It’s hard to say what this team needs. It’s also tough to say what this team’s going to look like next year, so once I think a few more weeks go by – i don’t know what Blakey’s plan is right away – you do need a guy that’s a little bit more demanding, for sure, just to make sure he brings out the best of us.
Kopitar, on whether there has been a shift in how coaches handle players, particularly younger ones:
I think there certainly has been a shift towards the soft side of it, I think. I don’t think there’s very many old school coaches, if you call them like that. I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad, I think that maybe we are trending in that direction, yeah.
Drew Doughty, on the type of coach the team needs:
I think we need someone that’s going to kick our ass a little bit. I think some of us have gotten a little to full and we need to be hungrier and we need someone to push us and we need someone to have the right system in place and be adamant on the system. If guys aren’t doing that system, they need to hear about it, and I think that’s something we’ve lacked.
Dustin Brown, on the Kings’ next coach:
I can only speak for myself, especially knowing that we’re not in the playoffs right now, this is the time you have to use to get better so we’re not in this situation again. But guys have to want to do it themselves. If we’re relying on a coach to motivate us – outside motivation – it doesn’t work that way at this level. You can bring in a coach, you can bring in skill coaches or mental coaches. If you don’t have it individually, you don’t have it collectively. The league’s too good.
Jonathan Quick, on whether the team needs a “softer” or “harder” coach:
We’ve had a few coaches over time. I don’t know if it’s ‘soft’ or ‘hard.’ Whoever comes in, they’re going to want to win, we want to win, obviously we’re disappointed in how we played this year and the result but … we’re looking forward to trying to win it next year.
— Lead photo via Debora Robinson/NHLI