Garon and free agency

Had a chance to talk to Mathieu Garon, who will be a free agent for the first time in his career at age 29. Pro athletes are very hesitant to discuss their future plans while the season is still going on, but I asked Garon about his thoughts, in a general sense, about being on the market this summer.

“I’ve started to think about it, but not really about what team I would go to,” Garon said. “Of course I’ve looked at the teams and thought about which ones might need goalies, but there’s nothing I can do until July 1 so I’m not going to worry about it right now. I can’t really worry about it. … Even if I think I want to sign with a team, they still have to want me. It’s not like I can just choose.”

I asked Garon about the Kings, since the goaltending situation in Los Angeles is far from stable. Cloutier will be coming back from hip surgery and beyond that, who knows?

“It’s really none of my business,” Garon said. “I’m not the one making the decisions.”

I followed up and asked him, flat out, if he would want to return to the Kings.

Garon said, “We’ll see. It’s tough to say. I haven’t talked to anyone yet.”

Read into that whatever you will. It hasn’t been easy for Garon here. He arrived after the lockout and Dave Taylor pretty much pronounced him to be the No. 1 goalie before training camp. Then he got locked into Andy Murray’s rotating system (with Jason LaBarbera), went through an inconsistent season and then the Kings brought in Dan Cloutier. After two seasons, I’m still not sure what to make of Garon’s game. It seems as though he’s done his best work as a “1A” type goalie or a backup. Some guys are just better suited to that role. Garon would probably argue that he just deserves a chance to be a full-time No. 1, and maybe he will get that chance next season, somewhere.

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Saturday practice notes

Not too much came out of today’s practice. Rob Blake’s equipment remained in his locker stall, so he won’t play Sunday at San Jose and I’d have to consider him doubtful for Tuesday as well. Blake has a neck strain. With only four games left, there’s no sense in pushing it, but it’s disappointing in the sense that the Kings would like to get a look at the Blake-Jack Johnson pairing and get the two of them comfortable with each other.

I got an e-mail asking about Joe Piskula and why he didn’t play the other night. There’s nothing wrong with him, but just remember that Johnson was making his NHL debut. It would be a little rough to have two defensemen in the lineup who were college kids mere weeks ago. That doesn’t mean we won’t see them both in the lineup together, especially since Johnson fared well in his debut and Blake is still out.

The chatter coming off the ice today was about the job the defensemen did on the forwards. In particular, Aaron Miller and Jamie Heward drew praise for their work.

Spent some time talking to Mathieu Garon about his future and I’ll have some of that up later. For now, here are some articles about three Kings prospects that might be of interest. There’s been a lot of talk about Scott Parse recently, and in the Omaha World-Herald he discusses his future.

Scott Parse
Jon Quick
David Meckler

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Mature rookie

I asked Anze Kopitar about his motivation. It seemed obvious to me that as a rookie, his motivation was to make the NHL and show people that he could play at this level, which he certainly accomplished. So I wanted to know about next season, and what would drive him during the summer. Being known as a No. 1 center? Leading the team in scoring? Instead, he gave me an answer that was relatively bland but said a lot about his maturity as a 19 year old.

“The next step is just helping the team make the playoffs,” Kopitar said. “That’s the only thing I’m looking for next year.”

As a center, Kopitar has played with just about every winger on the roster this season. Marc Crawford certainly isn’t shy about moving guys around. I asked Kopitar specifically about his pairing with Dustin Brown, since that connection seems to be working well in the last few games.

“He’s a guy who can make plays and hit hard,” Kopitar said. “When he’s out there, he creates more space for me and everyone beause people are aware of him and he makes plays and hits that give you a couple extra seconds when you have the puck. He’s just overall really good.”

More from practice later.

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Deconstructing Dustin Brown

Since I’ve started covering the Kings, Dustin Brown has been one of the most interesting players for me to watch develop. He made his name early as a massive hitter, but he really attracted my attention when he had a big offensive year in Manchester during the lockout. It made me think a lot about him, and about how great of an overall player he could be if he put pucks in net more consistently. He’s done a better job this year, with a career-best 16 goals, but today I got a chance to ask Marc Crawford about Brown’s offensive potential.

Almost before I could finish the question, Crawford said, “30 goals. I think he can be a 30-goal scorer but he has to do it consistently. The biggest thing is whether he wants to be.”

That was an interesting point on Crawford’s part. It seems to me that Brown is so focused on being a big hitter and a responsible defender that sometimes he’s not as aggressive when it comes to shooting or creating offensive chances for himself. Crawford contrasted Brown to a guy like Michael Cammalleri, who always seems hungry to put the puck in the net.

“When you talk about Mike Cammalleri, there’s no doubt that he wants to score goals,” Crawford said. “He gets a lot of pleasure and self value out of it. Dustin needs to get the same value out of scoring goals. He’s been dedicated to his work on the power play and the penalty kill, but in five-on-five he needs to have the same desire that we see from guys like Cammalleri and Frolov.”

With some guys, it’s just not in their nature to seek the puck, but in Dustin’s case, that NEEDS to happen. He has the talent, and he’s on the verge of being a major threat as a top-six forward. But as Crawford pointed out, it’s easy to forget that Brown is only 22 years old.

“Luc (Robitaille) is always getting on him and saying, `Don’t you know that the goal scorers are the guys who get paid?”’ Crawford said with a laugh. “Dustin takes pride in his physical game but he needs to take pride in scoring as well. He can score 30 goals by accident one year, but he needs to do it consistently, and he can.”

Brown said he realizes that he needs to take the next step in terms of becoming a top-level scorer, and said the challenge is to maintain his physical play.

“Obviously everyone likes to score,” Brown said. “I need to score like I have been (recently). It’s a key part of my game, but if I’m struggling a little, or not scoring, there are other things I can focus on. My role this year is similar to one I had (in Manchester during the lockout). The one thing that’s different is the goaltending, because it’s much better. At this level it takes time to adjust and you have to work hard.”

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One more thing

Forgot to mention…Crawford said that a couple players from Manchester might be on the way up to the Kings to get a look in the final couple games. The one name Crawford specifically mentioned was Lauri Tukonen, who had a brief stint with the Kings in February and played one game. Tukonen has 12 goals and 17 assists in 54 games with the Monarchs this season.

By the way, for anyone who has the sports package on a satellite dish, the Monarchs’ game against Hartford tomorrow night will be televised on FSN New England.

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Friday practice notes

— The Kings have signed goalie Jon Quick to an entry-level contract. This is a guy the Kings will be watching closely. Jonathan Bernier is still considered the top goalie prospect in the system but Quick took a big step forward this season at UMass. I remember Lombardi bringing up his name during an unrelated conversation a while back, but I didn’t think too much of it at the time. It would be a real stretch to say Quick is NHL-ready at this point, but with proper development he could be around sooner rather than later.

— I haven’t heard officially, but I’ve been told that Noah Clarke is headed back to Manchester. That’s not a surprise, and it’s better for him to get minutes down there now that Armstrong is back.

— Speaking of backs, I asked Anze Kopitar about his today and he said he’s pain free.

— Rob Blake’s neck injury continues to be an issue, according to Marc Crawford. Blake might not play Sunday at San Jose but they’re pointing toward Tuesday for a return.

— Crawford confirmed what most have assumed for the last week or so, that Lubomir Visnovsky is done for the season with a broken bone in his foot.

— I asked Crawford about Jack Johnson and who, if the entire defensive corps was healthy, he would prefer to have Johnson playing with. Crawford initially said Blake, then added Aaron Miller’s name in there. Those would have been my two choices as well, for the same reason that Crawford offered. As a young guy, Johnson is going to have a tendency to want to do too much, and he needs a calm veteran back there with him to settle him down and to stabilize the team in general. “He’s not a shy young man out there,” Crawford said of Johnson.

I spent a lot of time talking to Dustin Brown, and to Crawford about Brown, so I’ll have some of that later.

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The rage in baseball for the last couple years has been for general managers to try to find players who might be undervalued. Actualy that’s always the goal, but recently they’ve been relying on statistics a bit more. You might be familiar with the “Moneyball” thing, with Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s and their system.

Dean Lombardi is very interested in this. I talked to him a lot about it before the season but he didn’t want to go into too many details. As he said, half joking, “I’ve had too many of my ideas stolen over the years.” But Dean does believe that the “Moneyball” ideas translate to hockey, in some form.

Along those lines, I stumbled across this on the website. The operators of that site have used stats to analyze the offensive and defensive production of NHL players. Their system is complicated and based, it seems, on how many goals a player is responsible for, as compared to the league average. It’s kind of like a more in-depth plus-minus rating. Read more about it here.

Take it for what it’s worth, but I thought fans might be interested to see how the Kings stack up. The “average” player is supposed to have a 1.00 rating, and only players with at least 350 minutes of ice time this season are included. These numbers are through March 13. Players have their FULL seasons analyzed, not just their time with the Kings (Modry, Heward, Lundmark, etc.)

Cammalleri 1.42
Visnovsky 1.38
Armstrong 1.34
Frolov 1.30
Heward 1.26
Kopitar 1.22
Kostopolous 1.05
Modry 1.00
Blake 0.99
Brown 0.97
Willsie 0.96
Dallman 0.93
Thornton 0.89
Miller 0.89
Lundmark 0.74

Modry 1.37
Armstrong 1.10
Kostopoulos 1.09
Lundmark 1.05
Heward 1.03
Cammalleri 0.99
Miller 0.93
Visnovsky 0.92
Frolov 0.90
Blake 0.89
Kopitar 0.89
Brown 0.81
Dallman 0.80
Willsie 0.79
Thornton 0.76

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About this blog

First of all, I owe a huge thank you to everyone who has taken the time, in the last couple days, to send some very nice e-mails. I try to personally answer all the notes I get, even the ones with creatively used four-letter words, but quite frankly the volume of them has been overwhelming, more than I ever thought possible. I’ll get back to all of you, eventually.

At the risk of sounding self-indulgent, this blog has become a huge hit in the last few days, and for that I thank all of you. When the Jack Johnson stuff went down, my editor called and we agreed to just blog the you-know-what out of the story. Somehow, word spread and all of you found it. The Internet is a crazy friggin’ thing. I owe a huge thanks to those who operate the websites and message boards. I don’t want to name names, because I’ll forget someone, but you know who you are, and I greatly appreciate the way you’ve been linking to the blog on your well-run sites. If your site doesn’t already have a link on this page, e-mail me and I’ll have it added.

Anyway, the point of this is that we want to keep it going, and make it bigger and better, but we need your help. We need to know what you want to see. Unfortunately, given the climate in the newspaper industry today, the NHL doesn’t get a lot of attention in print. We can go around and around as to the reasons for that, but it’s an unfortunate reality. The Internet, however, is ripe for giving information in a forum like this, and it’s a good way to communicate directly with readers. I can tell you this: the blog has gotten so many hits in the last couple days that the Daily News editor made note of it in his staff meeting yesterday. That’s the editor of the entire paper, not just the sports editor. This is a good way to show him that people in Southern California do indeed care about hockey, so please keep visiting, reading and commenting.

So the question is: what do you want to see on here? We’re providing you, to the best of our ability, with breaking news, practice reports and little notes here and there. But things are coming up during the summer, such as the draft and free agency. What type of things would you like to see here? I have my own ideas, but I’d like to hear yours. Same goes for things we could do once next season begins. I’d love to hear any and all ideas.

Thanks again for all the support.

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Inside the box score

So, what did everyone think? Actually, that’s a dangerous question, because it’s not fair to evaluate Jack Johnson, or anyone for that matter, after one game. He had so much to deal with, not just in terms of playing with an entirely new group of teammates but simply just in living his dream, for goodness sake. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to dress for your first NHL game. That said, I think Johnson, and the Kings, will be happy with his game as far as a first effort. He played 18 minutes, 45 seconds, a solid total, and got much more power-play time than I expected. He only took one shot, which probably disappointed a lot of people, but that will come.

How about Bulis going after Johnson in the second period? And Thornton going after Bulis? If you don’t think that speaks volumes, you don’t know anything about team sports. There was a thought in the back of my mind about Johnson. I wondered if any of the Kings might harbor a slight bit of jealousy over all the attention that has come Johnson’s way. Thornton’s actions negate any thoughts I might have had on that subject.

Derek Armstrong returned to the lineup and played almost 15 minutes, but Rob Blake missed the game with the same neck issue that cost him a game last week. I’ll have to check tomorrow and see how much of an issue that is. Seems like Johnson played most of the game in a pairing with Heward. I’d have to assume that Blake would be his regular partner, but I’ll also find that out tomorrow.

Sean Burke’s ever-growing goals-against average took another hit, although not a big one because his GAA is already close to 3.00. Burke has allowed at least three goals in each of his last 11 full games. I long ago stopped putting too much thought into how many “bad goals” a goalie allowed, because I think the defense is often a huge factor, but numbers do mean SOMETHING, and Burke’s aren’t good, especially since he only faced 21 shots.

Dustin Brown continues to impress. I’ve always felt that if he could find a way to put pucks in net on a regular basis, he’d be a very valuable all-around player. Seems like he’s closer to that than ever.

Kopitar got back on the board with a goal, his first since Feb. 24. I think he’s been a bit gun-shy because of his recent back problems, which is to be expected, so maybe this goal will get him going again.

I’ve got nothing too insightful tonight, folks. I’m sick and it’s time for NyQuil induced zzzzzzzz’s.

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