Here’s everything from today from General Manager Rob Blake, Head Coach Todd McLellan, newly acquired defenseman Troy Stecher and newly extended forward Blake Lizotte.
For the direct updates from today, see Part 1 of LAKI Trade Deadline coverage HERE.
The message from Blake was clear – The LA Kings are still firmly aiming for the postseason.
“Good,” Blake said, of how he felt about the team’s playoff outlook. “The guys have put themselves in a real good spot. We need to get better, we need our special teams to be much better.”
When asked about the possibility of sending guys down today for the purpose of an AHL playoff run, Blake acknowledged doing that, but emphasized that the goal right now is to set up the LA Kings for the best possible chance at reaching the playoffs. Younger players like a Gabe Vilardi or a Jordan Spence will be utilized with that goal in mind.
Blake called the next couple of weeks important in determining the course of the Kings. I think it’s clear that sticking to the long-term plan was the key, with a short-term add of Troy Stecher hopefully holding down the fort until the calvary returns.
“I think we expected to be in this position, I don’t know what the final outcome will be,” he added. “The next couple of weeks are real important for us, but at least the guys are in that position, where you walk into Vegas and it feels different than it did a year ago.”
Process Of The Deadline
Blake didn’t dive too deeply into any moves that he potentially did not make, but indicated that the process for he and the other general managers around the league began a few weeks back, with a feeling out process around needs and potential plans for not just deadline day, but the time frame as a whole.
“Every team makes the call, I would say 2-3 weeks before, there are just general calls on needs, what’s the plan for your team,” he explained. “Then, ideas are put out there and there’s lots of different things that are talked about there.”
For the Kings, that conversation may have changed tones between then and now, considering the rush of injuries that have hit the organization in that time. It didn’t change the plan, though, at least not in any kind of meaningful way.
Having injuries without timetables in many instances made things challenging in terms of making different moves. The Kings could expect a large chunk of their injured players back, meaning that Blake and the team largely stood pat with their plan going in.
“I’m not sure it changed plans too much, a little different because a few of these injuries, there’s not a timetable on, where I can say he’ll be back in seven days,” he said. “They’re gradually week-to-week for the most part, except for Mikey Anderson, who will be longer term.”
Thoughts On Current Team
Blake brought up not once, but twice, the need to see improvements on special teams down the stretch. He noted that the team, when healthy, was playing the type of hockey they wanted. They were stifling defending at even strength and became a team that was tough to play against.
Special teams, though, on both fronts continues to plague the Kings. Blake indicated that was an area that needs to be improved down the stretch, something that the players and coaches have already been talking about for some time.
“You only get one Christmas Tree, that’s it, you get what’s under your tree and you can’t worry about what your neighbors have. We’re doing things here for a reason, the organization has a plan and they’re sticking to it. I think I said that Rob and his staff do everything they possibly can, not just on trade deadline day, but every damn day.”
I enjoyed this quote from Todd McLellan, who always seems to find a unique analogy to fit most hockey situations.
And he’s right. The Kings had a plan three years ago. They had a plan entering this offseason. The Kings still have a plan. Injuries or circumstances won’t cause the organization to deviate from that plan, and the Kings did a good job of sticking to it here over the last week or so. While most teams towards the top of the league, in guaranteed playoff positions, did improve on paper, most teams around the Kings in the standings made smaller moves, or stayed pat. The Kings, with a long-term vision in mind, did the former and thinking about another team’s present haul doesn’t do much benefit.
Todd McLellan had nothing but excellent things to say about Blake Lizotte after today’s announcement of a contract extension for his centerman.
“He’s the little engine, he drags a lot of players into the game, he drags our team into the game,” McLellan said. “I don’t think he cheats anybody in the organization, whether it’s on the ice or off the ice, and those are good players to have in black and silver.”
Lizotte has established an important and defined role on this season’s Kings team, meriting the contract extension he earned today. Entering the season, that role was certainly less of a known quantity, with Lizotte’s play on the ice, and work ethic off of it, paramount in that success. Good for him, as McLellan likes to say.
Alliteration only here in this section!
McLellan was clearly aware of the connection between Alex Edler and Troy Stecher. With an odd number of defensemen available to him, it wasn’t every drill they played together during today’s practice, but it was certainly more often than not.
Edler and Stecher played more than 1,400 minutes at 5-on-5 from 2016 – 19 with the Vancouver Canucks. They regularly faced top-quality opposition in Vancouver, partnering together for a large chunk of their time together. McLellan said the Kings didn’t acquire Stecher for that reason, though he did admit that was the most sensible starting point.
“We didn’t approach Troy saying we’ve got to find Alex a partner, but when Troy was acquired, it made sense to start him there, to put him in a position where he’s comfortable,” he said. “They obviously know each other’s demeanors and until he gets to know others, we think that’s a good start.”
Expect to see that pairing in action tomorrow against Nashville, assuming all else goes according to plan.
Speaking with Troy Stecher for the first time today as a member of the LA Kings, he gave us some insight on his own style of play. Todd McLellan used the word competitive, which Stecher affirmed in his own language, calling his style of hockey “tenacious” and full of energy and bite.
While perhaps undersized to the outside eye, Stecher takes pride in the way that he plays, and that brand isn’t a “small” style of hockey. In his own words –
“I think, first and foremost, people are going to look at me and assume ‘small’, but I pride myself on being tenacious,” he said. “I play with a lot of energy and a lot of bite in my game and in my six years in the league, I feel like I’ve been a player that can play on the first pairing or on the penalty kill or power play. Whatever they ask of me, I’m willing to do. When I first sat down, I understand the position that we’re in, and I don’t want to come in here and change too much. I just want to do my thing and add to the group as best I can.”
Eagle Has Landed
As noted above through McLellan, Edler and Stecher are a familiar pair from their time with the Canucks.
Stecher shared that the two spent time together in Arizona during the All-Star Break, touching on the familiarity amongst players around the league that McLellan touched on. Some good “R&R” as Stecher put it. Two former teammates who are still close, and who gelled together nicely with the Canucks.
“I think just our styles,” Stecher said, of what worked well in the past. “Eddy is pretty simple, he advances pucks, he’s solid defensively and he plays with a bite as well. I feel like I do the same thing, even though we’re different statures.”
Back In Action
Regrettably, a defenseman with an injury this season fits right in here with the Kings.
Stecher missed three months of time earlier this season, something he called the first major injury of his NHL career. That time is behind him though and he’s happy with where his game landed in the time since.
“This was the first major injury of my career, I missed three months with the first injury,” he said. “I’ve been back a little while now, I feel good about my game, I think how was playing in Detroit for a while now. I’m just excited for this opportunity to come here and pick up where I left off.”
Now, he’s back, healthy and ready to roll for the Kings as soon as he’s needed.
Player, Not Negotiator
Some players represent themselves in contract negotiations. Blake Lizotte is not one of those players.
Lizotte shared with us that he doesn’t like to get involved in the business side, calling it the “last thing he wants to think about” with the Kings in the heart of the playoff race. His focus is on the ice and he expressed to his agent that he wanted to be in Los Angeles, and to let him know if something was close. And, here we are.
“That’s not really my side of it, I just want to play hockey, that’s what I’m here for,” he said. “I don’t like to focus on that, I don’t really like to have outside noise. To tell you the truth, like I told my agent, I don’t want to hear from you unless something is really in need of my attention, I don’t need to be told this or that, negative or positive, I’m pretty good self-evaluator, so I don’t need someone in my ear saying certain things. I like to just focus on myself playing hockey.”
As you’ll hear above from McLellan, Lizotte’s contributions are ones that go well beyond the statistics you can sort by on NHL.com.
Lizotte is a tenacious player, a responsible player, an energetic player and most importantly, an effective player. Those things are true whether his play on a certain night translates into goals and assists or not. This new contract extension for Lizotte represents a belief from the organization in those qualities that he brings and a validation for the work he’s put in.
“It’s validation, and I think any time you get validated for the work you do, it’s a good feeling,” he said. “I’ve always known what I bring to the table and it’s nice that other people see that as well. It’s a good feeling.”
No matter how you shake it, that’s a good thing.
Feeling Around the Room
We’ve spoken with a few individuals leading up to the deadline about the difference in approach, difference in feeling at this deadline as opposed to years past.
Todd McLellan admitted that the past two deadlines were tough on the Kings, with the knowledge that teammates, and longtime ones at that, could be headed out the door. That feeling was different here in 2022, with the Kings in a competition mode, not a subtraction mode. Lizotte confirmed that feeling from his perspective earlier today.
“It hasn’t been too bad, as opposed to other years,” Lizotte said. “I think positioning in the standings, obviously we’re closer to making a playoff spot and in that race. I think when you’re out of the race at this time of the year, the tension is high because you know you’re going to sell some key players. I think the feeling in the room right now is just focusing on the next game, because we need the points.”
More to follow in the coming days from – and on – Lizotte and Stecher and their new roles here with the Kings. More also to follow tomorrow, with both the Kings and Reign in action against conference but not divisional opponents.
Kings are scheduled to skate tomorrow at 10:30 AM, full report to follow after morning skate!