2024 Exit Interviews – Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Phillip Danault

Starting off exit interviews this season with the captains – Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Phillip Danault.

Three players who remain critically important, three players in different stages of their career, but with the same mindset. On the backside of 30 years old, all three players are here to win and here to do whatever it takes to push forward. Their full remarks embedded below, with a few key themes from each player spelled out.

Anze Kopitar

Winning Culture
Anze Kopitar is a winner. Individually, team-wide, he’s a winner and he’s been a winner.

Fact of the matter is, though, it has been a bit since he and the Kings have been able to win on a team level and that was clearly frustrating for Kopitar as he spoke yesterday. He and Drew Doughty are the only mainstays from the winning culture the Kings built now 10 years ago, of players who have been here the entire time. With the way the Kings rebuilt, they did so around continuing to build around those two players, as opposed to the full-on rebuilding job many other organizations have done.

Part of that reason was having two guys who want to be Kings for life, who want to spend their entire careers in Los Angeles. Those two guys can’t be questioned for knowing how to win, but it’s a different group now. Kopitar believes this team has to pave its own way, as opposed to trying to rely on what was here in the past.

“You’ve got to build a culture, for sure, and obviously the turnaround of players now, completely different team than it was 10 years ago, so it’s about building it,” Kopitar said. “We had to build it 15 years ago and we’re going to have to build it now.”

As a guy who did build it way back when, Kopitar said it starts with a mindset.

A winning mindset.

I do think there is something to be said for a team needing to first learn how to lose a playoff series, gain that experience, before ultimately being able to build forward. That was a part of the process when the Kings were at their most successful and off three consecutive Round 1 exits, it has to be a part of the process now.

“That’s a mindset. It’s up to each and every individual and there’s an aspect of the team culture to which every individual contributes and you paint the big picture.”

It’s interesting, the concept, but it’s clear that this group needs to find its own way. With Kopitar having perhaps just two years left with the Kings – more on that below – there’s no time to waste.

What Needs To Change
The culture is perhaps step one, but team leaders will always be asked what needs to change to help the group get there.

For Kopitar, perhaps the question was a bit early.

“It’s Day 2 of the offseason,” he admitted.

He also isn’t the general manager nor does he claim to be. I’m sure deep down he’s got his own thoughts. He might even be consulted in the process. But he’s not pulling the trigger on the team’s offseason plan. He acknowledged the group we saw in Game 5 probably won’t be the group we see in October on Opening Night. How similar, or different, it is, remains to be seen.

“I don’t know how much, or what’s going to go down and how it’s going to go down,” Kopitar said. “Each and every year there’s some changes and I’m sure that there will be some but your guess is as good as mine.”

On thing he did make clear, though, is that he doesn’t have time for retooling. Certainly not rebuilding.

Retooling is an interesting word. It’s not a reset, but typically does mean key pieces moving out with a directional shift, but not a blowup. The Kings could retool in a competitive way. Whatever moves are made, Kopitar is at a place in his career where he wants to move forward and continuing to push to win, whatever that might entail.

“I don’t think I have time for retooling now,” he added. “Like I said, it’s another two years so if we’re going into a full rebuild, it’s not something that I want and I think there’s some pieces that are obviously very useful here. We’ve got to build on that and build around that, getting that culture back, that mentality and yes, push forward.”

Two More Years?
Kopitar has generally kept conversation about his future in the moment. He’s allowed himself to reflect, throughout his many milestones this season, but when he signed his two-year contract extension last summer, an extension that runs through 2026, it was not necessarily painted as a finale. Just the next deal. Perhaps until yesterday.

“I haven’t thought about it that far along, but yeah, at 39, I think it would be a pretty good age to maybe think about the end.”

Certainly not committal, but an acknowledgement of where he’ll be at in his life and in his career in two years’ time.

For Kopitar, he doesn’t want a swan song. He doesn’t want to fade into the sunset. He wants to win and he wants to contribute towards winning by continuing to be an influential player who is relied upon the way he always has been. His age-35 and age-36 seasons suggest he still is that player, as he posted 70 points in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2010-11 and 2011-12.

As long as he’s at that level, he wants it all. The matchups, the usage, the important moments.

“I want to have the responsibility, if I didn’t want it, I wouldn’t be playing anymore,” he said. “Yeah, I’m getting up there and I realize that and sometimes feel that too, but if I didn’t want to be used and be relied on in every situation, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

It’s good to hear the captain still has that drive. The Kings still need that level rom him, with hopes of the proper jumps around him.

“I’m very happy,” he emphasized. “If I didn’t want to do this, I wouldn’t be signing that extension last year already. I’m excited to still be here a couple more years and see where that takes us.”

Drew Doughty

What’s Next?
Doughty’s 2021 exit interview was one that……Drew……more attention than most.

Coming off the team’s third consecutive season outside of the playoffs, Doughty was asked what he wanted added to the team and he made it clear that he wanted veteran, impact players brought in to expedite the rebuild.

Added that summer were Danault, Viktor Arvidsson and Alex Edler, followed by Kevin Fiala and Vladislav Gavrikov the following year and Dubois this past summer. Whether each of those moves proved to the right ones is a conversation for a different thread, but Doughty asked and received.

This year?

“I have no idea what’s going to happen there, I really don’t,” he admitted yesterday. “We have some guys that are up for contracts said we’d love to keep everyone for sure, but I don’t know if that’s going to be able to happen. I’m just going to worry about myself for the most part and be ready to go next season and whatever happens, happens.”

With the cap situation being what it is for the Kings, there isn’t really the space to go out and add multiple impact players without subtracting in other areas. Just can’t be done, with the way the Kings are currently structured and many of the team’s players who would create room are guy who you don’t have any interest in moving.

Doughty added that he does believe in the core group of players here with the Kings right now. Adding onto that, with supporting depth, is where he’s currently at.

“I think it’s more of a depth thing, rather than an impact guy,” Doughty said. “I think the guys gelled well with the team, they’re great guys in the room, great guys off the ice. We just need the whole team to perform better, we’re not putting any blame on anyone here. It’s the whole team altogether. I think that we do have the right pieces to do something and unfortunately we weren’t able to this year.”

It’s tricky to analyze two days after being eliminated. With management/player exit meetings to come this week, I am sure that Doughty, like Kopitar, will have the conversation.

A Good Year, Personally
Doughty, individually, had one of his most productive seasons as a professional.

His 15 goals were one shy of a career high and he added two more from five playoff games. Good season for number 8.

“I expect it out of myself,” Doughty said. “I know I have more and I expect to do it again next year and the year after that and I’ll never be satisfied with going backwards. I know at one point that’s going to have to happen because I’m getting old, but I’m happy with my production this year and I want to grow even more next year.”

From a health standpoint, Doughty played all 82 games for the first time since the 2018-19 season. Last year he played 81, missing just one game with a minor injury, and the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons were outside of his control, as shortened seasons, but for a player who played 82 games in five consecutive seasons before that, he takes pride in the health and durability aspect of the game.

“I actually feel pretty good, this is probably the best I’ve felt coming out of a season ever, honestly,” Doughty said. “I didn’t really have any injuries I was playing with in the playoffs or anything like that. I feel really, really good.”

Doughty plans to spend the bulk of his summer in Los Angeles, as he did last year, when he felt his offseason training took a step forward. He’ll do his work in the gym and on the ice, for the most part, in California and looks to take that feeling into next season.

Mentorship, Engage
If there’s perhaps a biggest area of career growth for Doughty it’s been in the mentorship department.

Doughty wasn’t always that guy. He was, at first, the recipient of good coaching and mentorship and it took him a long way in his own career. Now, at 34 years old, he’s trying his best to give it back.

The prime target is young defenseman Brandt Clarke. Clarke had an extended run with the Kings in a depth role but was ultimately assigned back to the AHL to log top pairing minutes with the Ontario Reign on their respective playoff journey, which presently has them in the second round in the Pacific Division.

Clarke has offensive gifts that few others do. Doughty admitted he’s reminded a bit of a younger version of himself, saying the two “see the ice” the same way. It’s on the other side of the puck that Clarke has been working on improving and if the situation is there, Doughty is not just willing, but eager, to help Clarke grow and develop.

“I can help him a lot with that,” Doughty said. “I had some very, very good coaches over my time in LA, defense coaches who taught me a lot and I mean, I can give him many, many things on it and I would love to, even almost break down video with him, I don’t know if that’s a little much but I could help him a ton with that. I know how good of a player he’s going to be.”

With the growth of Clarke comes growth for the team, but it could also mean internal competition.

The way Doughty approached that situation is a sign of his own leadership growth.

If all goes according to plan, Clarke will run the top power-play unit in Los Angeles one day. Does it happen while Doughty is still here, or later on? That remains to be seen. That’s Clarke’s makeup though and that’s his skillset. His offensive gifts have to be allowed to flourish for Clarke to be the best version of himself and Doughty recognizes that.

“I know how talented Clarkie is and how good he is on the power play and stuff like that,” Doughty said. “It pushed me to keep my spot, I guess you could say, and I thought I did a pretty good job at it. It’s a good, healthy battle. I will not be upset if he – I’ll be a little upset I guess, if he takes my spot – but I will be there to support him and be a good teammate and help him with anything I can do. I’m sure that time is going to come.”

The bottom line seems to be that if Clarke can help the Kings win, Doughty wants him in whatever role that is. Because, at the end of the day, the thing Doughty wants more than anything is a third Stanley Cup.

Phillip Danault

Playing Injured
Danault was the biggest injury revelation from exit interview day.

He was playing with not one, but two broken fingers during Game 5 on Wednesday. Danault broke the pointer finger on his right hand on March 28 in Edmonton, an injury that kept him out for the remainder of that trip. He then broke the same finger on his left hand during the Kings win in Game 2.

For Danault, his individual metrics were down from his past two playoff campaigns. His shot attempts, scoring chances and high-danger chances on an individual basis than either of the last two playoff series, as he admitted the fingers impacted his shot a bit. He won 45.6 percent of his faceoffs, which is below his regular-season average, but it was nearly identical to last season’s series. Another area he noted was impacted. Obviously, right? Two broken fingers would impact just about anybody there.

“Shooting was hard, battles, sometimes it just felt like they were dislocating every time, so it was a little scary sometimes, definitely faceoffs a little bit too,” he said. “Just the little details were harder for me, but no excuse, really.”

Danault isn’t an excuses guy. Never has been. He held up admirably against difficult matchups in 5-on-5 situations, with Edmonton’s big guns doing the bulk of their damage on the power play.

It wasn’t clear he was hampered at all until he said it. That’s the sign of a professional.

Danault added that he won’t need surgery to repair the fingers. Just rest, recovery and they’ll heal, without impacting his summer training plans.

“No surgery,” he said. “Unless I would’ve gotten another shot, then I would have had a displacement maybe, but I got lucky. No surgery, just time.”

The Next Step
“We have to take another step. We have to get out of the first round.”

Danault was clear in his statements.

He’s not going to accept losing in the first round. He’s played in the Stanley Cup Finals and wants to get back. He wants to do it with the group, but he also understands that changes might need to be made in order to get there. He shared similar sentiments to Kopitar in Doughty in that he isn’t the person making the moves. But he’s also got common sense and he’s expecting changes to come, as the group looks to take that elusive next step forward.

What he offered up was a long, extended answer of what he feels the team needs.

He didn’t say it from the standpoint of personnel, but rather from the team as a whole, regardless of who is here. Perhaps ties into that culture Kopitar spoke of. Pasting the quote in full because of how well he put it.

“I’m not the GM, but we need more, I don’t know, a little more power, offensively as well, but I can’t say though. I can’t point my finger towards what we need exactly, but we definitely need to be stronger mentally. I think the last two games we played, we played so well. It should be like that every time, it should be the same exact way every time. The result is not going to be the same every night and sometimes the schedule gets harder, we get it, but moving into the playoffs, we need to have our consistency better. We have to have the feeling that every time we go to the rink, we know what to expect from each other. We didn’t have that so much towards the end of the season. We had it at the beginning of the year, actually, we had that feeling when you come to the rink, on the road or whatever, you know what you have to do to win. There’s ups and downs in the season, don’t get me wrong, but just our consistency needs to get a little better.”

If you want my personal opinion, I couldn’t agree more with his assessment. The best of this team was so good. The consistency, though, was not there to the point it needed to be. I think Danault hit the nail on the head there.

Now, it’s about finding it. Identifying the problem is always the easier step. Fixing it, the harder and more important step two.

Love For The Linemates
As always, Danault showed plenty of love for his linemates.

He and Trevor Moore were attached at the hip for pretty much the entirety of the season. They’ve been together really for three seasons. While the production dried up in the postseason, Moore deserves his praise for his first 30-goal season in the NHL. Danault was there to provide it.

“He had more confidence,” Danault said of Moore. “We’ve gotten to know each other on the ice for the last three years, he had more confidence. He had a baby, maybe that helped. He’s confident, he works hard, he has a good shot, a very good shot. I think he got that confidence back in his game and I’m not surprised. Not surprised for Trevor.”

Moore and Danault both remain under contract with the Kings, so that partnership feels likely to continue.

The third regular on that line, Viktor Arvidsson, is a free agent.

Arvidsson missed the bulk of the season due to injury, but had an impact when he did return, with 15 points from 18 games played. Danault always spoke glowingly about his “little righty” and how much he liked having him back in the lineup. While that line didn’t quite replicate their best from the last two years, Danault loves having Arvidsson in the fold, as he does with Moore.

“He was a key, he’s a key player for us,” Danault said of Arvidsson. “When he wasn’t in the lineup, we missed our little righty for us, that offensive touch that he has and the dedication. He had it tough, but he’s definitely a key, he’s a key righty.”

Danault said he’d love to keep playing with Arvidsson, though he also knows it’s not his call on that front. The admiration, though, remains regardless.

3,200+ words, but plenty more to come. A look at secondary core players Adrian Kempe, Kevin Fiala, Trevor Moore and Mikey Anderson up tomorrow. Then we’ll dive into the rest on Monday and Tuesday to close out exit interview season.

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