INSIDERS. News! News-y items! Heavy swaths of quotes will follow; the bullet points come first.
— First, as the news shared: News. On today’s conference call with reporters, General Manager Rob Blake shared that Jeff Carter isn’t yet healthy and wouldn’t be ready to play were the season to resume under any timeframes theorized. “Part of the issue is he needs to travel to see a certain specialist to get a further diagnosis, [so] nothing can be taking place right now,” Blake said. “He’s continuing a rehab program from home, he hasn’t been around the practice rink in that aspect, but I wouldn’t expect him to be able to play if our season was to start in the next couple of months.”
Previously disclosed as a lower-body injury – and understood to be unrelated to his surgically-repaired ankle – Carter is actually hampered by “more of a core injury.” He’d been getting work done at the Keck/USC clinic within the team’s Toyota Sports Performance Center facility just before the league (and facility) shut down, a pre-coronavirus snapshot in which he was initially deemed to be day-to-day. Carter has two seasons remaining after the current season on a 10-year extension signed with Philadelphia in 2010 that carries a $5.273-million cap hit.
— Also news: We’ve intimated this and also went over it a bit around the deadline, but here’s the general manager giving another clear indication that he’ll be taking a long look at left-shot defensemen.
“I think that would be one area of need that we would look at, whether it’s the free agent market or the acquisition market, and most likely on the left side,” Blake said. “I think if you look at Doughty, Roy and Walker, really the two later ones, Roy and Walker, solidified themselves, with Matty Roy taking a major step this year. The right side seems pretty solid there, we got a good glimpse of them at the NHL level.”
On a previous Blake call, he didn’t-say-yes-but-didn’t-say-no when asked to envision a scenario in which Ben Hutton returned on a new contract, sharing at the time the important context that the team looks “very young” on the left side in the aftermath of the Derek Forbort trade. He’s right! Those A) who play defense B) are left handed C) have NHL experience and D) are under contract for next year have combined for 108 total games, 90 by Kurtis MacDermid.
For what it’s worth, left-shot defensemen without contracts for next season include Torey Krug, TJ Brodie, Brendan Dillon and Joel Edmundson. If Los Angeles goes the trade route, left-side defenders whose names have surfaced in trade sniffs and speculation across the league over the past year include Columbus’ Ryan Murray (one season remaining at $4.6M but has battled to remain consistently healthy), Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin (one season remaining at $4.17M) and Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere (three seasons remaining at $4.5M). Keep in mind that two teams are required to consummate a trade, and while [Player X] may look sexy in a Kings uniform, trade partners may not be focused on what the types of assets the Kings intend to offer.
— Back to players currently on the roster. This isn’t “news,” or even “newsy.” More like “interesting content that I appreciate you reading two months since the last hockey game was played.” While I hesitate to use the word “grooming,” it does appear as though the Kings envision Kurtis MacDermid continuing to grow into a role structured similarly to the one vacated by Kyle Clifford’s trade.
Listen, Clifford won two Cups, assisted on a Cup-clinching goal, moderated the Doughty-Tkachuk Summit and served as an important amplifier of the various culture-associated intangibles that are difficult to define but absolutely help teammates maximize their abilities and win hockey games. This is a high bar, but it’s one they’ve been encouraged by MacDermid’s presence in filling. More on this in the coming days, but here’s a snippet of Blake’s description of “the chip on his shoulder,” something inherent in MacDermid’s hockey constitution from his earliest days in the organization through his recent two-year contract extension.
“The chip isn’t just on the ice, it’s off the ice and … in every day work habits,” Blake said. “We’ve talked a lot about this last summer and what we want to incorporate in this team, and how we’re going to generate that type of a culture. The compelled and committed athlete, that not only raises his voice to bring guys in but brings them in by his actions and it’s hard to get to that level. He seems to be in that mindset, right from the first day of development camp that we had years ago with him.”
I’ve said it a number of times, because Blake and other executives have been quick to mention it: As much as Los Angeles is striving to play at a raised tempo and draft and develop speed and skill to a greater degree than before, “competitiveness” is just as much of a core, coveted characteristic.
— Somewhat newsy! Arthur Kaliyev. We’re expecting a contract sooner rather than later, but there’s no immediacy towards getting the 33rd pick from 2019 under contract. Still, given the names associated, it’s something that’s not far down the pike. “We’ve always put Kaliyev in that group with the Turcottes, the Hultses, the Maddens – guys that we would make, I guess, priorities to sign,” Blake said. “We’ve been in discussions with the Kaliyev camp, obviously trying to finalize something, we would like to get it done sooner than later, with the understanding that’s he’s got a little bit [fewer] options than some of the college kids that we’ve signed recently. His options next year are either the NHL or back to juniors, so we’re trying to work through the best type of development plan for next year for him.”
That last bit is obviously the most important footnote: Kaliyev’s North American options next year are to play in the OHL or NHL. He’ll be in his 19-year-old season and was drafted out of a major junior league, so the AHL won’t be an option. The Kings made the very rare attempt to skirt around this rule in 2010-11 when they assigned Brayden Schenn to AHL-Manchester on a conditioning assignment (Schenn did have a disclosed knee injury at the time) after his first four NHL games. Los Angeles had this “luxury” because Schenn was to head to Canada’s world juniors camp in early December, allowing the forward to transfer from L.A. (four games) to AHL-Manchester (seven games) to WHL-Brandon (two games) to world juniors (seven games) all the way through January 5. Upon his return to the WHL, his rights were traded to Memorial Cup-host Saskatoon, which meant that when the dust settled on 2010-11, 39 of the 66 total games he’d played were either NHL, AHL, World Juniors, Calder Cup Playoffs, WHL Playoffs or Memorial Cup games.
(This is not any sort of hint the Kings may go back to this template. Do not expect them to. I just enjoy using the Curious Case of Brayden Schenn as a case study when germane to the conversation.)
— “News-ish” now, but potentially “news” at a later date: Blake also weighed in on logistical minutiae upon the season’s hypothetical resumption. I’ve been hesitant to cover a lot of this because of what might be “news” today can quickly be made obsolete by the speed at which news and policy evolves during the pandemic. As always, the recommendations of experts and the safety of those playing and working the games will guide any league decisions. Those Blake comments are below and conclude with a on-ice and organizational systematic review and how the quarantine has affected draft preparation and live prospect interviews. I’ll share some more player evaluations tomorrow.
Blake, on the impact of a hypothetical June draft towards making trades:
That seems to be the biggest concern, is the possibility of the different trade scenarios that could happen with the draft post-season. What we’ve been doing is doing our work and analyzing the two scenarios – there’s a June draft, or there’s a draft at the end of a possible season here, and going over different things. As far as our team is concerned, with the plan and things going forward, I think we’re quite comfortable with either scenario and we’ll have to work with it, obviously. The one thing we know for sure is nothing will be status quo. Whether it’s prior in June, or later, we’re going to have to make the necessary adjustments. As far as an amateur staff, Mark Yannetti and his staff, the tie in of the pause of the season did allow for the majority of live viewing, so what they’re missing out on is possible playoff scenarios with prospects, or draft-eligible players in a playoff series, and then the U-18, which is a pure competition with some of the top players, but everybody’s in the same boat there. A lot of video supplements has been getting a list in order, being ready and they were advised a few weeks ago, be ready for a June draft, that’s a possibility, or a later one. Both scenarios have been played out.
Blake, on the challenges of motivating a team out of the playoffs to resume the season:
Well, very difficult challenges for sure. The main communication we’ve had with the players is along the same line as the league is going to do everything it can to resume play. Whether that includes regular season games, expanded playoffs, there’s so many different scenarios that have been floated out there. The message to our guys is to try to keep the same mindset, that there’s still games to be played, and their job is to play those games. The training aspect has dramatically changed, where home gyms are obviously a priority. Matt Price and our strength and conditioning [staff] have been able to adapt a program with less equipment. A lot of the guys went out and purchased the bare minimum, I know our gym at [Toyota Sports Performance Center] is pretty much empty, where guys have taken as much equipment as possible to supply their home gyms. In that aspect, every team is going to be in that same boat. Different scenarios that have been talked about throughout the league will require a training camp period, not much different than what we do at the beginning of the season, so there is a process in place. The overall mindset, yes it’s a challenge, when you know you’re playing games after being out this long that really don’t have any meaning, so that aspect would be difficult, but we’ve tried to provide a mindset to these players that there will be games, that the league will do everything they can to resume play, so make sure we’re on that path.
Blake, on the resumption scenarios that make the most sense to him:
I think you get the mixed reaction right now because there’s so many different resolutions out there right now. Until they finalize one, then the players can really key in on it. The talk of a hub city, and putting teams in there, isn’t really unfamiliar for a lot of the players that have participated in either World Championships or Olympics or different things. International tournaments seem to be the same way – You go to a host city, you can play three games a day or different countries, you’re kind of isolated between the hotel and the arena, so I don’t think that setting is all that unfamiliar with the majority of players. The issue is that there’s so many different ideas, so until they can come up with one that obviously is supported medically and by local governments, and everything that has to go into the expectations for the resumption of play, and the understanding the health of not only players and staff, but the people involved in the games and everything, there’s a lot of work to do. I think players can fairly well adapt to any situation. They understand nothing’s going to be normal, and they’ll prepare for all the different types of scenarios and once it’s defined and they’re able to go back, they will adapt.
Blake, on how damaging an inability to continue the season might be to the NHL:
The aspect of not being able to finish a playoff run and see an ultimate champion, a Stanley Cup champion, there is a precedent that it has happened before and the game has been able to bounce back and continue. I think our feeling, and a lot of the players, they understand the importance of sports in life in general. When you’re on this pause, and it’s not just hockey it’s all sports, the self isolation and staying home, there’s a great need for sports to be played. Eventually, it will be, but the right, necessary steps need to take place. We’re still trying to understand, day-to-day, what the different medical solutions and conditions that occur with it, but at the end of the day, there will be hockey. Guys will focus on getting back, and sports in general.
Blake, on what could be gained should the Kings finish the 2019-20 season:
I do think the ability to play sports, and the ability for the attraction of the fans, and to put the game on a level, and I’m not just talking hockey alone, it’s all sports. I do feel the players, the NHL and the union are all on the same capacity, where they understand the importance of playing these games. Now, does it have anything to do with our standings, or us making the playoffs, no. But, what it also does, is you’re probably going to have an expanded roster, you’re going to carry extra players just because of the situation we’re in. It won’t be, like I said, the status quo that the regular season would have, so the ability of younger guys to get in there for a training camp, whether it’s three weeks or 21 days like they talked about, plus the regular season, the experience or the development that they can get, we will find positives by playing those games. That’s kind of our mentality, is that it’s expected of us, you are NHL players, you’re expected to play these games, you’re expected to create that excitement, but as an organization, we’re expected to get benefits from players out of it.
Blake, on aspects of the season that have stood out in video review:
What we’ve done, review-wise, player review – individually, we haven’t done anything yet. Until we know the extent of the season – it’s interesting. The pause kind of allowed us to get away from the setting at the rink every day and the natural distractions and interruptions that you get during the season, and really focus on different departments. So, for the past couple weeks, the coaching staff. We went over basically their review of their systems, and we started from the offensive zone to the defensive zone into the neutral zone. Not individual players, but overall team sense. So what you do is you get a perspective of what they saw, what they wanted to incorporate, and the thing with them, with systems and style of play, there’s an ultimate style or system you want to play, but it can’t be enforced on day one, everything. You take it in different steps. Clearly we wanted to be a strong-shooting team, a team that got pucks to the net, recovered pucks well and generated offense off that. I think the year-end review showed that. Now, there’s another step on different ways. So what we’ve been able to do is take the coaches review and now what we’ll do is take an analytic approach at the season, and then we mesh the two together, and we see where not only talent to the lineup – insertion of talent or youth – but also different stages or different levels of the system will provide different opportunities to score goals. So, that’s kind of the approach we’ve taken. I wouldn’t say individually any reviews have been done yet. … And, currently, with the draft, and the possibility of an early draft, the player interviews have taken place. We’ve done the CHL – the Ontario League, Quebec and Western League interviews. We’ll go to the U.S. interviews and then the European interviews. So it’s been busy with the video conferencing every day and understanding, but it’s allowed us to focus on each department probably a little more than we would if we were at the rink. [Reporter: Are those – especially the interviews that you do with the draft picks – are they a lot different when you do them over video chat? Is there something that you miss out on by not being able to do it in person?] The difference just being in person and interaction when he comes into the room, sits in front of [you]. Question-wise and preparation-wise, it’s very similar. But you try to make the best of it not [being] in-person. But it’s the process that’s needed, and you fill it out.