Good Morning, Insiders!
Our first of several breakdowns from Exit Interviews is available below with General Manager Rob Blake and Head Coach Todd McLellan. Exit Interviews in their entirety are available on the Kings YouTube channels and I’m sure many of you have already watched them. Will try to pull the larger storylines shared from each interview here, to add some narrative and context to the remarks. Will spread those pieces out throughout the course of the week.
Recap 1 below, featuring Blake and McLellan.
Importance Of Getting In
For Blake, much of this season was about proof of concept.
You don’t know how your group will fare in the postseason until your group plays in the postseason. And, in order to see how your group plays in the postseason, you need to qualify for the postseason.
“We had to get in, that was something we talked about,” Blake said. “Ultimate success is always winning and continued winning and we have a lot to work on, a lot to build on. What it does is it really paints a picture of what we learned about our team and you can only learn so much in the regular season.”
In that aspect, the team checked off the first box of goals, though obviously falling four boxes short of completing the checklist.
What this season did, in Blake’s mind, was to remind those who haven’t been there in awhile what the playoffs were like. For this organization as a whole, it’s been four years. It also gave those who have not gone through it at all the opportunity to do exactly that. Blake talked about the importance of matchups in the playoffs and how you really see how certain individuals fare in certain matchups. Regardless of the stakes of the regular season, no matter how important any one of the scheduled 82 might be, the stakes are always higher and more ramped up during the playoffs. For Blake, he was able to see the team he assembled in that setting.
“Until you put them in the position of the playoffs, I think a lot of us forgot how important that first day of playoffs really is,” he added. “It’s a whole different mindset, a whole different game, the head-to-head competitions, everything that the players have to go through. In that part, having that and going into that, we needed to do that.”
As we’ll hear from Todd McLellan below, it’s now about how the group takes that experience and applies it moving forward. It’s banked, it’s gained, now it’s time to grow.
What More Is Needed
Looking at growing, the Kings will certainly have some form of change on the active roster headed into next season. With Dustin Brown retiring, we know at least that much for sure.
With certain players coming back from injury, others hitting unrestricted free agency, expected development from within the organization and ample cap space and capital, the Kings have the freedom and flexibility to make just about any more that is available for them to make.
When Blake helped to sculpt “The Plan”, it was first about establishing the identity, establishing the structure and establishing the way the Kings want to play. This year proved that. Now, it’s about continuing to add talent moving forward to help grow those things even more than they are now.
“What I think has kind of happened, and you see it, the system and the style was of importance a few years ago,” Blake explained. “Get that in place and that structure helped us to get into the playoffs this year, it helped us and now you’ve got to add some skill to that. Through that, it can be internal, it can be external and we’ve done both in the offseasons and we’ll continue to do it. Everything is about getting better and keep moving forward.”
That doesn’t mean they’ll go full video-game GM and just load up in free agency. Per Blake, both internal and external improvements are available and things that will present themselves to the Kings this summer.
Blake and his staff made three veteran additions last offseason and those moves were pretty successful across the board. Phillip Danault was the team’s MVP, Alex Edler was a needed, calming presence on the blueline and Viktor Arvidsson’s impact was shown just as much when he was in the lineup as when he was out of it during the postseason. The three players added a combined 50 goals to the lineup, as the forward duo of Danault and Arvidsson combined for 47, forming two-thirds of an incredibly effective second line.
“I think we had more holes last year, so we had more opportunities to get players into that system that can help,” Blake said. “I think some of that has to be internally driven now. We’ve had some draft picks the last three years, so now they’re getting a couple of years in the American League, a taste of the NHL, so internally, that drive should be there too.”
That internal improvement doesn’t need to be just 19-year-olds either. Restricted free agent Adrian Kempe, who Blake called the team’s number-one priority this offseason, saw internal growth into a 35-goal scorer. Matt Roy and Mikey Anderson were examples of internal growth as well. Trevor Moore and Blake Lizotte too. It needs to be those younger players too, but it can also be guys with a year or two of NHL experience growing and evolving.
When pressed on what type of moves he might make, and whether those moves could include a first-round draft pick being moved for immediate help, Blake was non-committal, but certainly left the door open for whatever might come available.
“We’ve always looked at those options,” he said. “Whatever you need to improve, there are different ways to do it. Whether it’s prospects, players currently or draft picks / draft capital.”
While he didn’t give us a full, player-by-player evaluation, the position group focused on the most was the defensemen, specifically on the right side.
From both Blake and McLellan’s remarks, it’s clear that there will be a meeting coming up in the near future between coaches and management to assess the roster as it stood concluding the 2021-22 season and see how it may transition into the 2022-23 season. Could happen as soon as today. Who remains, who is potentially in line for more, who needs to make the most strides to maintain and what holes need to be filled by players not in the Game 7 lineup. All things to come, with a focus specifically on the duo of Drew Doughty and Sean Walker, two NHL-caliber players to put it lightly who are internal additions to the group that played on Saturday.
“We haven’t sat as a staff and addressed all of the needs, but we have to be concerned that the players who have broken through on the backend, you’ve got Walker and Doughty who haven’t played much this year and you know they’re going to be in that lineup too,” Blake said. “There will be a time when we sit and go over the strategy of the players that are on the team and what we’re going to do going forward.”
The concern is obviously not that the Kings have players that have broken through, but that the Kings now have so many options. Doughty and Walker are joined by Matt Roy as veterans with three-plus years remaining on their NHL contracts. Sean Durzi and Jordan Spence announced their respective presences as NHL-caliber, while Helge Grans had a strong season with AHL-Ontario and top prospects Brandt Clarke and Brock Faber are waiting in the wings, knocking at the door.
“They were kind of thrust into it and I’m not sure we factored into Spence playing as much as he did this year, due to injuries, and I thought Sean Durzi also stepped up into that role,” Blake said. “With Drew and Walker out, the power play point position, Durzi really took off with that. It also shows that these players are capable when they get into the lineup.”
A good “problem” to have, if you want to call it that, but clear from today’s remarks that Blake knows he’s got a position of strength on the right side of the blueline.
Experience, Check……Now What?
If Blake talked about the importance of getting in, then McLellan’s focus was about what comes next.
It was almost in lockstep, even if they spoke to the group in reverse order. McLellan had already spoken to the importance of getting into the playoffs, and gaining experience, but by the time Game 7 came to a close, he was sick of the word entirely. Experience, experience, experience.
It’s great, but what do you do with it now?
“It’s what we do with it next season and I went on a little rant after Game 7, I was already taking us into next season, but it happens that fast and the mentality when we meet with these players is to prepare them for that,” McLellan said yesterday. “I’ve lived it in San Jose, I’ve lived it in Edmonton. It becomes a really tough year now, expectations go up, stress levels go up as they should for everybody. So, the answer to the question of, was it successful this year or not, will lie in what we do with it next season.”
Following his first season in Edmonton, a season in which McLellan guided a young Edmonton team to a .427 winning percentage, he saw massive strides in the second season, jumping up by more than 200 percentage points in that category. With 47 victories, McLellan and the Oilers won a playoff series and advanced to Game 7 in Round 2. The following season, however, Edmonton fell back under .500 and out of the postseason picture.
The 2020-21 Kings had a .438 winning percentage, just about in line with the 2015-16 Oilers. The jump wasn’t quite as staggering, but still was more than 160 percentage points upwards. McLellan knows that making the playoffs meant achieving a short-term goal, but establishing consistent success, and winning championships, is the long-term goal the Kings are trying to achieve.
“We’re trying establish a team that can consistently do it, and I look at St. Louis – while they’re consistently doing it, they’re winning championships and that’s success,” McLellan said. “The short-term goal of making the playoffs, that’s great. If you give it all back in a season or you don’t approach the next season, that was my comment on experience.”
When asked about what message he’ll have in training camp next season, he responded with two words – get ready.
The landscape will be changed, the pressures higher and the stress levels greater. He wants his group to be prepared and enforced in his interview that he will be making sure the players understand that in their own exit meetings.
“If we have a 1-5-1 start that is unacceptable now,” he added. “1-5-1 wasn’t acceptable this year, but the pressures and the stresses on the group are going to be significantly different and you have to be ready for that. I’ve been with teams where we’re not ready for that and it can spiral.”
When he said next season starts the day after this one, McLellan wasn’t just speaking. He meant it and reinforced those points today.
The Christmas List
McLellan made it pretty clear that while he’s always got his wish list, his ideal world, he also understands it’s exactly that.
Firstly, he was happy with the additions that Rob Blake and his team made last season in adding Phillip Danault, Viktor Arvidsson and Alex Edler to the group.
“Blakey and his staff did an outstanding job last year of bringing in players that fit our group, and trusting players,” he said. “We could play them in any situation and that rubs off on the other players.”
Then, he looks at the “wishlist”. Sure, there are things he’d love to see added into the mix. He recalled back to the Santa analogy he used at the Trade Deadline. Coaches want everything, sure, but he’s also realistic of what can be done, all at once.
McLellan’s answers below to both adding more goalscoring and more size on the blueline –
On the notion of adding more goalscoring to the lineup
“It’s interesting, I think I used the Santa Claus analogy at the trade deadline, we’re coaches, we want more all the time, but we’re also realists. We have a lot of real good players. Arty Kaliyev shot 7.4 percent and he’s one of our best shooters. Volume shooting, yes, but do I think that Arty is going to stay at 5.1 percent next year 5-on-5? I think that’s going to increase and he’s going to feel better about it, especially early, a lot of guys get their confidence early in the year. There are players that are coming that will score more goals. Phil Danault and Viktor Arvidsson didn’t get off to a real rocketing, offensive start, but they came to a new team……they started to score for us. There’s scoring in that locker room. We need to help them on the power play, and we take a large responsibility of that, and we will, but there is scoring in the organization. If you look across the hallway [at the Ontario Reign], they’re scoring there. Are the guys that are scoring NHL players? I don’t know, I guess we’ll find that out over time, but we have guys that can score.”
On the thoughts of adding size on the backend
We’d like to have the biggest, most offensive, shutdown group of defensemen in the NHL. But again, that’s the fantasy world that we’re in, it doesn’t work that way. There are three guys who are up for the Norris Trophy and I don’t think we’re going to be acquiring any of them, they tend to have some size. You still have to eat dinner with the ingredients that you have and we’re going to eat dinner and we’re going to make the players we have better. I’m not walking into Blakey’s room, pounding the door, saying we need to change all of this. He’s very good at what he does and he’ll give us everything we need.
“Blake Lizotte, Trevor Moore, Adrian Kempe, huge growth in leadership. Huge.”
The Kings are losing one of the greatest leaders in NHL history in Dustin Brown, no doubt about that. The first American captain to lift the Stanley Cup and the only American captain to do it twice. A player who has been invaluable to this organization, on and off the ice, and someone who will see his impact on the team’s younger, evolving players continue to be felt in years to come.
But they also gained leadership this season, both internally and externally. Phillip Danault, signed in the offseason, wore an “A” in the second-half of the season and the playoffs, showcasing his immediate impact from aleadership perspective. Others behind those with letters on their jerseys began to step up. The aforementioned group of Lizotte, Kempe and Moore, along with defensemen Mikey Anderson and Matt Roy were all mentioned by McLellan.
Those players join a group consisting of Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, Danault and Iafallo and suddenly you’ve got quite the collection to fall back on. That’s what you want.
“We lose that significant voice, and I don’t mean to lower the significance of the voice that Brownie had, because it was immense, especially down the stretch,” McLellan said. “But, we have three or four who need to step up and bring it even more and I started to see that this year with them. Dustin Brown, year three or four, he started to grow into that role and we have guys who are capable of doing it. It’s there.”
For those coming in, it’s still about 11, 8 and 32. You want to make sure you follow those players, get to know those players and see how those players carry themselves.
But it’s also important not to JUST follow those three players. An evolving core behind them is developing with leadership traits and they’re finding their own niche within the room. And that’s a great thing.
“If you’re prepared, and you’ve watched things, you should be keeping an eye on 12, 24, 44, the way he carries himself, and 3, because they’re starting take over,” McLellan added. “And not take away from Kopi, or Drew, but they’re starting to take more prominent positions with their play and with their preparations and leadership. That’s a healthy thing for a team.”
Player Interview breakdowns to follow! We’ll take a look at Dustin Brown alone, after his final press conference as a member of the LA Kings as a player, and then a look at the other eight players who spoke following the season. Also planning to schedule a season-ending Insider Q&A either this week or next week in the comment section, probably sometime during the day to avoid the usual gameday conversations! More to follow.