Resuming the quotes from the meeting last week… Maybe the most interesting thing, at the beginning, is Robitaille’s quote about the Kings drafting a defenseman. That’s certainly no shock to anyone, but it’s the first time anyone in the organization has outright said that a defenseman is on the way. Beyond that, there’s some talk about how to market this team, as it develops, and about the proper way to bring along the top prospects.
Someone asked, in a comment, about a follow-up question regarding the Kings losing money. That’s coming, in the next and final installment of these quotes. For now, here’s some stuff on the young talent…
Question: How do you market this team, while it’s in transition? Some young guys are being blended in, others are still on the horizon…
(Robitaille:) “For me, it’s very simple. We’ve got everyone in the entire NHL loving a kid like Kopitar and Jack Johnson and Dustin Brown. Those are our guys. This is our future. We’re so fortunate to have those young guys, even Jonathan Bernier and Quick and Zatkoff. Now we’ve got this kid Hickey and we’ve got the second pick. We’re going to get one of the best 18-year-old defensemen in the world. That’s how we market the team. We’re young and we’re upcoming. There are a lot of teams that are getting old and going down. We’re going up.”
(McGowan:) “It’s a couple other things as well. Creating a good experience at Kings games, we always have to keep that in mind as well. We want people to have a great time, so you market that. Also, we have to tie into the optimism we’re hearing in our focus groups and from talking to fans, that we’re on the verge of something great. It’s about to happen, and I think you tie into that. It’s what our fans are thinking, so it’s authentic. So it’s Staples Center and it’s what’s going to happen.
(Altieri:) “It’s all about what happens ahead. We don’t know. We really don’t know, but we’re hopeful and from what we’ve seen thus far, we’re very excited about it.”
Question: I wonder about the balance here. Dean talks about the long-term build, and getting it right for good, but there must be some need, on the marketing side, for results now, so that you’re not just always saying, “Well, we’re going to be good.” Where is that balance?
(Robitaille:) “Our fans, they communicate to us that they understand where we’re going. I was really shocked to see that our fans understood the vision of where we’re going. That was a great surprise to us. We need to communicate with them more, but at the end of the day, when they see those young guys going out and battling, even if they make mistakes, they love it. Because now they see something. They’re seeing an organization that’s not just patching up holes and saying, `Oh my God, let’s just do something today,’ because we’re reacting. I think that’s the most important thing. We need to stick to the plan.”
Question: I’m curious for you, Luc, specifically, having been here for so long and having been through so many regimes… What do you tell people to convince them that this is different? I mean, fans have been through this before, for the last 40 years…
(Robitaille:) “Why is this different? The first thing Dean did was build the infrastructure. When you build the infrastructure, it’s like a foundation. He did that first. Not speaking on anyone, but I think in the past, there wasn’t the same communication between business and hockey. Something would happen and fans would become really loud, and then there would be a reaction. Now, we’re all sitting in the same room and we’re finding our vision together. We have all these young guys coming up. We have all these prospects coming up. There’s a lot of value there, and we’re not reacting anymore. We never want to lose, but it’s not going to be like, `Oh my God, we lost two or three games so we need to trade these guys.’ Kopitar is getting better. Johnson is getting better. Simmonds is coming in. Boyle had a good year. Purcell had a good year. All these young kids. From a business point of view, we’re sticking with that plan.
“What’s great about it is, our diehard fans — I’m not going to say every one of them — but our diehard fans have told us that they like that plan. They like to see all those young guys. They even loved it when — and I don’t know if it was even the right thing to do, to be honest with you — but they loved the fact that Boyle came and played great and the next thing you know, they saw Purcell the next week. Then they saw Moulson. They loved the fact that they saw all those guys. It’s the first time, really, that we’re going this route and we’re going to stick with it.”
(Lombardi:) “I always have the thing about homegrown players. I think when a kid breaks in with you, he has the logo tatooed on his ass. Even (Patrick O’Sullivan) would fall into that category. Luc was a Kings draft pick. How many times, in the Kings’ history, have they developed guys at critical positions, like Johnson and Kopitar? Just start there. Let alone the emergence of Brown. You never say for sure, but the kid we’re going to get this year, there’s a good chance he’s going to be an impact player. And if one of our goalies hits… When’s the last time the Kings had, in their system, two or three kids like Quick, Bernier and Zatkoff? Maybe it was Storr or somebody else. But when you look at the history, I don’t know if the Kings have ever had a No. 1 center who came from within. Bernie Nicholls was probably the only one, right?”
(Robitaille:) “It could have been Jimmy Carson but he was only here two years.”
(Lombardi:) “And the last great defenseman was Blake, and that was 15 years ago.”
(Altieri:) “And never at the same time. And I think our fans embrace the idea of watching these homegrown players develop as Kings. They become their players. That’s how we market to them.”
(Lombardi:) “As a player, I tell you that’s the truth. When you start somewhere, that’s your team. It doesn’t matter where you go after that, that’s always your team. We want that. We want our guys to feel that. We want them to know that when they turn it around here, they’re going to have something special. You cannot buy that.”
Question: Knowing that, how much separation does there have to be? For instance, everyone is excited about Wayne Simmonds and Bernier. A large segment of your fans would love to see them here in October. If Dean doesn’t think they’re ready, or Crawford doesn’t think they’re ready, is there any push and pull there?
(Altieri:) “There can’t be. What we do shouldn’t dictate what (Lombardi) does. He should make every decision that he thinks needs to be made. We’ve got to be able to be in sync with him. It’s like, our raising ticket prices shouldn’t equate to whether we won or lost. It should be because it’s the right thing for our business. We’re going to market the team that he’s building. It’s like when a player like Boyle comes up. Our fans see him and they’re excited, but we have to wait a little bit. Let’s make sure Dean is comfortable with when he establishes himself. What we found is that for him, it was seven games and he was back to Manchester. We were like, `OK, that’s part of the plan, part of the process.’ We won’t go overboard in terms of pushing him out there.”
(Lombardi:) “There’s a temptation. You’ve come this far and you’ve got to stick with it. That’s a classic example. Boyle could have played here, but it was the best thing for him to be there. You have to suck it up because you’re going to get a bigger payoff 24 months from now. I firmly believe that. That’s the other thing, in terms of, `Why is this different?’ Last year’s (Manchester) team won and went to the (Calder Cup) finals, but there were only two or three guys to look at. When you’re a personnel guy, you go down there now and there’s guys, every shift — to varying degrees, because they’re not all going to pan out — but that’s a young team. I was with them for a two-and-a-half weeks down there. They lost three games in a row to the best team in the league (in the first round of the playoffs). But I never had a group like that in San Jose. We slowly were able to do it, six years in a row, and put that nucleus together.
“We’re trying to bridge that gap, between playing young players and winning. You have the (AHL) Chicago Wolves, who just go out and get a bunch of old guys and win every year. But that (Manchester) team, what I liked about it — with Boyle and Purcell and those guys — is they learn how to win. They battled in those last three weeks (of the regular season). They were under the gun and they were playing four (games) in five nights. That’s part of their training. `Hey, Brian, some day you’re going to have to do this up top (in the NHL). That’s why you’re down here.’ That gets me excited, when I see that.”
(Robitaille:) “That’s the model in places like San Jose and Pittsburgh and Ottawa. These teams have been good for a long time. Even Detroit. They were awful in the 80s but they got their homegrown guys and now they’ve been good for a long time. That’s what we want.”
(Lombardi:) “That’s why, when you ask the question, `Why is this different?’ There are some tangible things. And again, they’re things that only certain people can see right now, but as it grows and those kids come in, you get more people. More people start to say, `OK, now I can see what these idiots are doing.’ That’s the reaction.