There are two sides of today’s availability with Kings General Manager Rob Blake.
There’s what we learned and there’s where we go from here.
To me, it makes sense to start with the former, because without the former, there is no latter. So, for today, we start with what came of today’s availability, following the coaching change made this weekend. Then, we can take that information and decide how it impacts things moving forward.
For the full availability, it’s embedded below for reference –
Not looking to hold anything back, not looking to not share any information, but simply trying to take a 20-minute availability and break it into a couple of different storylines, because there’s a lot to take in.
Starting things off how Blake did, with his opening statement –
“Just to go off the statement we released a couple of days ago, we moved forward with relieving Todd of his head-coaching duties. In the meantime, Jim Hiller, was moved to interm [head coach] for the remainder of the season, to take over and guide this team. this was done in an effort to correct the way we’ve played of late, our offense, our defense, our overall game – individuals and the team – have not been up to a level of our desired needs. So, that part we’ll take care of there. I’d like to thank Todd, I remember meeting Todd, maybe 5+ years ago, in Kelowna, we sat down, went over our team, went over the direction we were headed, the difficult decisions and the challenges ahead. He fully embraced them, he instilled a belief in the players, a system and a structure, that was able to get this team back a the competitive level and into the playoffs. So for that, we are very thankful.”
Then came the questions and from the questions asked, we learned a lot about why Friday’s decision was ultimately made.
On Thursday, January 18, Blake addressed the media for a midseason availability. The Kings had just completed their first 41 games, ending with what you could consider to be the first portion of this poor stretch of games heading into the All-Star break, coming off a roadtrip that finished 1-3-2. That morning, Blake said that the Kings were not considering a coaching change at that time and that the group believed they could pull through things by doubling down on what made the team successful early in the season and what that success was built upon.
Then came a stretch with one win from six games, including one of four from a homestand that included three of four games against teams that were outside the playoff picture at the time. The direction was obviously going a certain way coming out of that trip, but there was clearly a hope internally that the Kings could turn it around. It didn’t happen. That direction continued into the seven games headed into the All-Star break, leading into Friday’s announcement.
“Go back before that 41 game mark, we went on that trip to Florida, Tampa, and different [cities], playing games, had leads, given them up, close games, Dallas I didn’t think we were in that game, end of a trip and different things,” Blake said. “We came home, Nashville, San Jose, I believe, didn’t like the direction it was going back into the road on the roadm into Colorado and obviously St. Louis and finished with Nashville. Nashville, we got the win, but we did not play well.”
Direction and team performance seemed to be the prevailing theme of today’s availability, as it pertains to why. To remove all doubt about other influences, Blake took full responsibility for choosing to make the coaching change and for giving McLellan the one-year contract extension this offseason, which was set to run through the 2024-25 season, prior to this move. He also said that finances did not play a role in the decision. There didn’t seem to be a ton of blame placed directly on McLellan, even if he was the one to pay the price at the end.
That led to what Blake agreed was the most difficult conversation – certainly one of two – from his time as the team’s General Manager, which was the conversation with McLellan directly about his decision to move on.
“It’s not just a coach, Todd and I, we’ve been together a long time and, you know, there’s a cost to doing this job and part of that is, you’re going to have to have a situation where it’s not going to be favorable for somebody you care about. So, I went over to Todd’s house, I met him, we chatted for an hour and a half, almost two hours. This isn’t good, this isn’t a good day for me, it hasn’t been a good three or four days. Tomorrow’s a new day, but right now, it’s not fun.”
Blake acknowledged that he did not seek player input specifically as it came to this decision and that he didn’t speak with team leaders immediately before the decision, though he said he’s had several conversations with everyone in the locker room over the last month or so. That included 1-on-1 meetings, smaller groups and full-group discussions, as everyone sought to determine what was going wrong. Blake added that he plans to address the players upon their return from the All-Star break, which is league-mandated. He added that he’s been fine with the team’s cohesion in the locker room, despite the recent stretch of play, not pointing to that as a reason behind making the eventual move.
Blake also said that what has happened in other markets, such as Edmonton, which saw a run of success off a coaching change, did not factor into his decision to move on.
Regarding the reasoning behind choosing Hiller, Blake pointed towards Hiller’s coaching experience, which is vast in the NHL as an assistant and also includes head coaching experience at the major junior-level. As noted on the 32 Thoughts podcast, Hiller has garnered interest elsewhere in a head-coaching capacity, so it’s not as if the Kings are along in their thinking there. Blake spoke about Hiller’s impact on the forwards and on the power play in his 18 months with the organization. He also seemed to really like Hiller’s unique combination of knowing this team well, from his time here, but also felt he brings a fresh set of ideas, joining the current staff from another organization.
More to come on Hiller here throughout the rest of the week. Sharing a few other notes – relatively unrelated – from Blake’s availability.
Quick Hitters –
– Viktor Arvidsson is scheduled to practice with the team on Thursday, which would be his first practice with the team this regular season. Arvidsson was placed on long-term injured reserve in October and has not played a game this season. He’s been skating for pretty much the entire month of January and could factor in as soon as the upcoming roadtrip in mid-February, assuming he continues to progress according to plan.
– Regarding Blake Lizotte, however, there is no update at this time. Lizotte has not begun skating as of today and Blake indicated that he could also be placed on LTIR, in a move that would give the Kings additional room under the salary cap when Arvidsson does return. Should everyone be healthy, Blake confirmed the Kings would not be able to carry more than one extra skater, but with both Lizotte and Pheonix Copley in an LTIR situation, there would be additional flexibility in the interim. From there, you just don’t know where things might go.
– Blake also confirmed that, as of today, there was no update regarding Matt Roy’s pending UFA status, as he also said a few weeks back during his midseason availability. Blake was asked several variations of a question involving a potential trade, from a variety of different angles, but would not speculate on what ifs, regarding wins or losses over the next few weeks until the deadline. Regardless of performance, the Kings do not have a ton of salary-cap space to play with.
– He also spoke about Arthur Kaliyev’s season to date, with the winger’s name circulating via national media in trade conversations, something that McLellan alluded to in mid-January. Blake said that it “hasn’t gone well for him” this year, pointing to being in and out of the lineup for various reasons. He added that he doesn’t “think anybody is happy when they’re not playing” but did not say anything beyond that regarding his current status with the team.
To follow is where things will go from here, on a couple of different fronts. Blake indicated that the Kings expect to have movement soon on a new assistant coach to join Hiller’s staff, with external reports already signaling a done deal. There are multiple reasons the Kings opted to go with Hiller, with changes needed going forward. Some of which are noted above, but we’ll dive a bit deeper into those areas as well.
Lastly, sharing my reaction on All The Kings Men from earlier today. No real agenda for the conversation, just talking about the situation, today’s availability and what’s got to change moving forward.
Busy day, and a lot more to follow.