Good Morning Insiders, and happy Saturday!
Last night, the Kings held a State of the Franchise call, featuring President Luc Robitaille, Vice President & General Manager Rob Blake, Chief Operating Officer Kelly Cheeseman, Director of Player Personnel Nelson Emerson and Head Coach Todd McLellan. The live video of this was exclusive to season-ticket holders and other ticket-package holders, but we’re able to recap some of the key points here on LAKI.
The five guests answered several questions relevant to the 2021 Kings, the future of the franchise and the league, and a variety of other topics. Recapping the event with a focus on some key points below –
Dates & Logistics
– Robitaille indicated that one of the league’s top goals is to make sure that the 2021-22 season starts on time. He called that a “big priority” right now, and with that in mind, current expectations are to see the 2021-22 season begin in October.
– The NHL Draft is slated to be held in July, as opposed to being pushed back. Blake said that there had been discussions about pushing it back, as far as even into December 2021 to give teams time to do additional scouting, but the draft will likely be held just a few weeks later than usual, currently scheduled for July 23 & 24. He added that all teams are on a level playing field at this stage, there are no advantages regarding scouting.
– Robitaille also indicated there could be a week added onto the regular season for teams to make up games, and that is where the Kings/Blues game, postponed earlier this month, is likely to fall, though that is unconfirmed right now. Looking at the upcoming Kings schedule, it’s hard to find anywhere else to slot it in.
– Two notes on the TV Front:
1. The Kings shifted several games to Channel 13, KCOP. This was done for a couple of reasons. It gives more fans the access to watch Kings games down the stretch, while also being done to accommodate the change in schedule this season, which has all four of the Fox Sports West Teams (Kings, Ducks, Angels, Clippers) playing at once. This change is not permanent, but a one-off for this unique season.
2. There was a general excitement for the NHL/ESPN partnership. ESPN’s distribution and early success with ESPN+ were cited, as well as Robitaille pointing out how widely ESPN is shown in bars, restaurants, etc, which gives the team more visibility in the market.
The Here & Now
– Cheeseman addressed the possibility of getting fans back to STAPLES Center before the end of the season. Was no guarantee, but seeing recent progress in the area is encouraging, with outdoor sports getting guidelines yesterday on having fans back. Fans would likely be in “pods”, similar to what you’ve seen in other places, and said that is what the AEG-owned LA Galaxy will be doing for the upcoming MLS season. He is hoping to get some guidance over the next couple of weeks.
– He added that Toyota Sports Performance Center will likely remain closed to the public for practices through the end of the season. Guidelines are different at TSPC, and with the percentages allowed in, adding more than the players, coaches and staff, at this time, is not doable.
– As readers of LAKI, there wasn’t anything that McLellan said that you haven’t read, heard or watched here in the past. He once again preached the leadership and strong tone that the “Veteran 5” have set, and talked about the younger group coming up and supporting that group. Said that it started in training camp, carried on through. The success of Kings on special teams was lauded several times on the call as one of the biggest reasons for the turnaround this season, with those improvements starting in January of last season and carrying on through.
– To the “play the kids” crowd – Many of the kids are already playing, as Blake pointed out. Cited Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot, who entered the season with a combined total of 9 NHL games, as two guys playing Top 4 minutes at young ages. Also noted that players like Roy and Walker entered the season with less than 100 NHL games, while McLellan mentioned Jaret Anderson-Dolan as well. Also of note was that of the forwards in Ontario, 7-8 are in their first professional season in North America, and it takes some time to settle into the pro game.
– Who has stood out amongst those in Ontario this season? Emerson highlighted Rasmus Kupari and Samuel Fagemo specifically. Emerson pointed to the fact that both had pro experience, in good leagues, coming in, which benefitted them. Talked about Kupari taking the next step from where he was last year, and Fagemo coming in and excelling.
– Blake discussed how, moving forward, the strategy for the Kings is to add moving forward. Any potential deals he is looking at making would make the team better at this stage. After last season’s deadline, where the Kings moved out some veterans for future assets, he believes they have now put that foot forward, to add to the core in place. He said there have been numerous discussions so far, but those discussions support improving the Kings. Pointed to the flat cap in the coming seasons, Seattle expansion this summer and COVID Protocols as things that make this season’s trade deadline unique.
– Blake also added that there is a possibility of using the team’s cap space to its advantage. Looking around the league, and the expectation of a flat cap, he said that the team does have that option to explore. He said that with the natural flow of his team’s contracts, plus an influx of potential entry-level deals coming in, the Kings should have some flexibility moving forward.
– One specific question asked related to “size” on the blueline, which Blake said is something the Kings are mindful of, with a need to get bigger. Called the current group “competitive”, led by Drew Doughty, trending throughout the group. Pointed out guys like Matt Roy who aren’t the biggest, but play a physical game, and also spoke to Kurtis MacDermid’s physical presence when he plays. Added that it’s hard to find that bigger player who can do all of the other things that he wants from a defenseman, including mobility and making plays.
– Regarding potentially trading veteran players – Blake said that those players have earned the respect of having a conversation about their future. They have earned talking about their own plans, the team’s plans, etc, and reinforced that point several times, and that any potential move that could be made wouldn’t be made without that conversation first occurring. Said they will take place “at the appropriate time”, as the situations arise.
– Emerson and Blake, several times, pointed to the uncertainty of the OHL, regarding the future plans for Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev. From the way they described the situation, it’s likely to be status quo until we see a firm plan regarding those two players. Emerson did say however that having those two players in Southern California this season has been “such a positive” for the organization, and for their development, though he also expressed a hope that those in the OHL who currently have been unable to play, are able to return and get a season in.
– Lastly, building off of the theme of adding to the team, Blake discussed the natural next step in the plan. The Kings have established the base and have been competitive so far this season. Heading into next season, it should just be a refresher course to get the base back, and then it’s about building and taking that next step. He said they will be looking at roster construction, and ways to improve upon what is currently in place.