2024 Exit Interviews – President Luc Robitaille & General Manager Rob Blake

The big one today, Insiders, as Kings President Luc Robitaille and General Manager Rob Blake addressed the media for their end of season interview.

A wide array of topics were covered throughout nearly 30 minutes of interviews. The good, the bad and the ugly. Embedding the video below for full transparency and sharing a few takeaways from the availability as well, as is typically the format here from exit interviews.

Rob Blake & Luc Robitaille

First things first, sharing what were essentially opening statements from both Robitaille and Blake.

Blake opened the press conference with essentially his own State of the Union address. He spoke about a “difficult” season, filled with “disappointment” in the playoffs. His full statement below –

I’ll start with just a very difficult end to the season. A lot of disappointment, a lot of frustration, a lot of anger. I think the disappointment came in the form of special teams, I don’t think we performed nearly to the level we needed to, to have success in the playoffs. The frustration, just understanding the gameplan that was in place but not executing and I think the anger, at the end of the day, just not a consistent enough style of play to have success. There was a couple games during the playoffs that it occurred but not consistent enough, so that can be felt in our room, even today. Our process here today, we started with meetings with the players, individuals are going on right now, but I get that sense from them too, which is a much stronger sense than it was the past season. So, that being said, you take a step back now, the season as a whole, we still believe this group has made progress in a lot of different areas. We have to find a way to get that to translate into the playoffs. That starts with these meetings right now and going forward, but that’s kind of where we’re at right now.

Robitaille was then asked what his message to the fanbase was, considering his perspective as the team’s President both on the business side and the hockey side –

Regarding our fans and so forth, regarding this season, I go back to, most of you guys have been in our office on the other side, and saw our core values on the wall. There’s word[s] there – integrity and passion. Over the last few days, obviously we’re very disappointed but we’ve talked to our ownership group and so forth and the integrity of this organization is very important and the people that work around it. For me personally and Mr. Anschutz and Dan [Beckerman], Rob is one of the people with the most integrity I know and then it goes all the way down to our staff that works with our team and so forth. It’s important. Then, the next word is passion and we all have an extreme amount of passion towards this organization and taking it to the next level. I won’t keep going with all the words, but then there’s the word family and we’re always talking about family, we treat people, the way we treat our staff, their families coming around, everybody around and part of this family is our fans. We’re all part of one big group and sometimes when you’re family, you get disappointed, you get mad at each other and then you resolve your problems and so forth. We hear the fans loud and clear right now. We know they’re disappointed. We know they want to get to the next level. We build this team moving forward and we still know there’s different steps to take, but it’s not about winning one series, beating one team, it’s about getting us to that we can win the last game of the season and that’s the Stanley Cup. It’s about building a team doing that and in the process that we’re going through, whether it’s today or this weekend or the next summer, the last few years, it’s about going towards that goal and that’s why, right now like a lot of fans, we understand our family, we understand they’re not happy, but we keep plugging in and doing the right thing for the good of this organization.

Coaching & Management
Blake offered the following status update on Jim Hiller –

“That process is underway here for the next few days, just going over. I’ll take us back to the mandate with Jimmy when he took over which was get us in the playoffs. There was going to be some change but it wasn’t dramatic or drastic. There’s some things he wants to implement in this team, we want meet with him to do that. We’re confident in his presence and his passion that he brings, confident in the message he gives, his communication skills and all that but that’s a process here that Luc and I and some of the hockey staff will meet with him and just go over exact changes that he would feel would go into place before we get into it.”

Hiller concluded the season with the interim tag that was placed on him back in February. The above from Blake says that the Kings aren’t going to rush into making a final decision with regards to the Head Coaching position.

I think back to what Adrian Kempe said on Saturday, in that if the Kings had made drastic changes during the season they might have missed the playoffs. Blake confirmed today that Hiller has ideas the team perhaps did not have the time to implement, considering there were two practices before the start of a playoff mandate. The Kings like a lot about what Hiller brought, a lot about who he is as a person and a coach. Sounds like he has ideas of what to do differently. There are a lot of options, though and although the Kings hit the playoff mandate, losing in five games in Round 1 is an organizational disappointment, as Blake said.

We’ll see how that process plays out.

In terms of a timeline, the Kings are holding exit meetings with players early this week, which will last a few days, and then they will plan to meet with Hiller after getting player feedback and conversations done first. Blake said that the team will meet with Hiller first in the coaching process to get a full understanding of the changes he would look to make to the team going forward before potentially looking at other candidates.

With regards to decisions, whether it be that of the coaching staff or personnel, it remains a group conversation between Robitaille, Blake and others, but Robitaille indicated today that Blake has final call on personnel moves with regards to those decisions to be made, though he emphasized the importance the group has on internal communication when it comes to decision making.

“We always work together but decisions are always Rob. We’ve got a great team…..I shouldn’t say that, because we always talk, we talk constantly, but we believe that as an organization you’ve got to make some hard decisions so forth and the structure, the way we work, when it comes to hockey ops, we have like a lot of great people……that’s the way our structure is.”

Ultimately, Blake has the final decision on the difficult decisions that need to be made, though it’s a collaborative thought process to get to that point.

Player Personnel
The team that played Game 5 obviously won’t be the team that we see in October, to a man.

The vibes from today, though, do not look to be that of substantial roster shakeup.

The core is in place for the Kings. The team has nine of its highest-paid players from the 2023-24 season under contract for next season.

With regards to unrestricted free agents, the most expensive decisions are that of forward Viktor Arvidsson and defenseman Matt Roy. Roy is likely in line for a longer-term contract while Arvidsson has remained an extremely productive player despite missing a lot of time with an injury. Add in veteran Trevor Lewis and each of the team’s three goaltenders and the Kings have a number of decisions to be made.

“The message with those UFA guys was we’ll talk at Christmas, we’ll talk at the deadline,” Blake said. “With Arvidsson’s situation, there wasn’t a lot we could do there. It’s still that way going forward. They can help us and they help us in certain ways, I get it. They’ve got different restrictions now and they have different things they can do but you know what, when we’ve finalized the direction that we’re going to go, the players that we feel are going to be in that lineup, what we have left in space and different things, those conversations with those UFA’s will continue.”

Regarding the team’s restricted free agents, there are several, but the biggest question comes down to Quinton Byfield.

Byfield had his breakout season, he’s a top-six player for the Kings and has the ceiling of a player you want to keep around for a long time. When it comes to contract negotiations, there’s two sides to consider – what the team wants and what the player wants. Byfield admitted on Saturday he really has not thought about his contract situation yet. He’ll leave that to his agent for now. For Blake, he noted the first step is to get a sense of where Byfield’s camp is at in terms of what they’re looking for. He said a bridge deal or a longer-term deal are both options.

“As far as Quinton’s negotiations, that’ll be early discussions that take place with the agent to see where they’re at, first of all, and understand that.”

As far as what he prefers, Blake wasn’t tipping his hand.

Not something you generally do through the media.

“I don’t think I can come out right now with that goal, it’ll play itself out. Both scenarios are frequently looked at and we’ll have to decide on it.”

Byfield is a player the Kings love and obviously want to lock up. Whether it’s a bridge deal that ends with another restricted free agency in a couple of seasons or a long-term commitment that secures Byfield’s place as a part of the team’s core of players, we’ll see how it plays out.

With regards to the rest of the group, Blake indicated the team is working on a plan for forward Pierre-Luc Dubois. The focus, as Dubois noted on Saturday, is to rediscover his game over the summer. Everyone involved understands that this season wasn’t good enough. There’s commitment to turning that over for next season.

“Starting with Dubois, we need to make him better,” Blake said. “He’s had a consistent performance over his career so far and deviated from that this year. So, it’s up to us as a staff, coaches and management here to help him become more productive to us.”

Regarding forward Arthur Kaliyev, Blake said it’s too early right now to discuss his future. He’s an RFA, though he did not play a ton down the stretch, as Blake noted.

Blake also highlighted three younger players who he hopes can take the next step heading into next season – Brandt Clarke, Akil Thomas and Alex Turcotte.

“The three of them that we saw up here at times, Clarke, Turcotte and Thomas they’ve continued to push and make strides there and I think they can come in and help this team.”

Blake feels all three, among others, have taken strides this season. He also highlighted goaltender Erik Portillo as having a very strong rookie season in AHL-Ontario, but preached patience at the goaltending position. It takes a bit longer for the goalies, so doesn’t sound like we’ll see Portillo tomorrow with the Kings, but the organization is very happy with his development and they’ll look to keep that going, with an eye on potentially being the long-term, down the road, solution in goal.

Other Notables
– Blake feels the group has continued to make progress.

From the standpoint of results, the Kings have lost in the first round each season, which indicates static progress on that front. Overall, Blake feels the team has still taken strides forward

“I think we were making progress, but the progress has not shown in the playoffs and that’s up to us to keep driving this home with this group right now,” he said. “We’ve got to take that next step and like I said that’s a very difficult end to this season, based off of where we need to get to and it’s up to us. Whether it’s the style of play, the incorporation of some younger players and how we make those strides, we’ve got to continue to keep on that.”

When pushed on areas of success, Blake pointed to a point total that remained generally consistent from season to season, while indicating that the time spent under Jim Hiller was more or less equivalent from a points percentage perspective as the games before the team’s midseason slump. Regular-season progress, he feels has been made. Playoff progress has not.

“I think when when Jim took over, the 34 games matched the first 34 games,” Blake said. “Third [fewest] amount of goals against in the league, very good on that aspect defensively, offense increased from the years before. The three-year average of the team’s win/loss records over the regular season has been at a high level in this organization. There has been progress, there has not been progress in the playoffs and that’s what we got to get to.”

The challenge now is first determining why there has not been progress in the playoffs, why regular-season play hasn’t translated into the playoffs. The second step is actually changing it.

With regards to questions about the 1-3-1 and other systems, Blake indicated that the Kings will have a “deep discussion” into the systems the teams are running.

The plan on that front is simple. The Kings were a top defensive team and they like that. They don’t want to lose that. They also understand they have to make changes in order to score more goals and ultimately get over the hump in the postseason. It certainly feels like the Kings will implement changes, though a lot of that will depend on what develops on the coaching front. Lots to come, for sure.

“Systematic changes will be discussed in different ways too,” Blake said. “If you look at it, we gave up the third least amount of goals against, so that pattern is good, you don’t want to deviate too far from that. On the offensive side, we’ve gotten better but we’re still at league average. So there’s different ways to do that, whether it’s off the rush, whether it’s plays to the slot, chances from the slot, but we’ve got to increase that also.”

There are a lot of different areas, clearly.

Now, it’s about doing it.

Hopefully a good representation here of today’s availability, but as noted, the entire video is shown above for full transparency. Finishing up the exit interview recap process with the pending UFA’s tomorrow – Viktor Arvidsson, Matt Roy and Cam Talbot. Then a few articles to look ahead into the offseason and away we go. Thanks as always for reading, Insiders.

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