“Roundtable” breakdown, part 1

I’ll do my best here to give the high points (or low points, depending upon how you look at it) of the Kings’ season-ticket-holder “roundtable” event from last night. If you have any follow-up questions, fire away, but I’ll try to give a good summation of the questions and answers from the event. The participants in this event were assistant general manager Ron Hextall, chief marketing officer Chris McGowan and team president Luc Robitaille. Here’s the first part of it…

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First question was about the parking increases. The woman who asked the question said her parking price, in Lot 8, has increased from $20 to $30 per game.

Robitaille said he “praise(d) the passion” of the fan but that parking prices are not totally controlled by the Kings.

McGowan said the Kings have received “a lot of feedback” from fans about the parking increases, but that the prices are now in line with what are charged for Lakers and Clippers games. He said the Kings would “try to relocate people to different lots and make them more comfortable … and try to make sure everything is safe.” He gave no indication that the price increase would be reversed and said that while he’s had more feedback about parking prices than ticket prices, “we don’t have the ultimate say” about parking prices.”

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The next fan asked a wide-ranging question that basically demanded accountability, called Kings ownership “the Donald Sterling of the NHL” and asked when the Kings would get close to the salary cap.

Hextall answered first and explained that the Kings were close to the salary-cap ceiling at the start of the season (I believe they were within about $2-3 million) and then attempted to give a general defense.

Hextall said, “When we came here, our goal was not to win a playoff game. We’re here to win a Stanley Cup. To do that, we have to go through some down time and build a foundation. … We’ve got a foundation for a winning team. … We call it a black hole, when you finish from 10 to 20. You’re not good enough to win and you’re not bad enough to get a high pick.”

McGowan attempted to defend ownership by saying, “Our team is not run by a big corporation now. We talk to Tim (Leiweke) but he lets us do our own thing. This is the first time in a long time it’s been done this way.”

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The next question was about acquiring a goalie, and whether the Kings would do it.

Hextall said, “How many elite goalies are there in the league? Maybe five, and those five aren’t going anywhere. We had our eye on Miikka Kuprusoff a couple years ago, but of course Calgary re-signed him. Our feeling is that we have to develop our own. We’ve got three guys there in Bernier, Quick and Zatkoff. … If we could grab a high-end goalie, we would have done it two years ago. We’ve looked at the environment but it’s not there. If we wanted to trade Bernier and Brown I’m sure we could get a goalie.”

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The next question was about the team losing money and basically came down to, “If you’re losing money, what have the last five years been about?”

Robitaille said, “We were asked that question and we answered it quick. But we answered it honestly. The (ticket-price increase) was not about (losing money). The league average (for ticket prices) is $56 and we need to get somewhere near that. To do what we need to do, going forward, we thought (raising prices) was an important decision.”

McGowan said, “There is a misconception that we raised prices because we’re losing money. That’s not true. … This is something that we don’t really want to talk about going forward, because it’s not important to our fans. What’s important to our fans is that we win and put a good product on the ice. … We’re not OK with losing money, but it’s about what we’re doing on the ice.”

Robitaille mentioned the NHL’s improved marketing strategy and said, “It’s probably not going to happen overnight, but over time it’s going to make a difference.”

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The next question was more of a comment, from a fan who expressed optimism about where the Kings are headed.

Hextall said, “Our best players are our young players. Dustin Brown and Kopitar and Jack Johnson and Frolov and Cammalleri are our best players and they’re also our young players. They aren’t only good players; they are good people who care. … I don’t like making predictions and I’m not going to do that, but as a staff we get excited. … We’re not going to veer off the track we’ve taken since we got here.”

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The next question came from a man who said he’d been a season-ticket holder for 19 years, with “not a lot to show for it.” He brought up the parking issue and also asked about the free-agency issue.

Hextall said, “As far as free agency, you want to get to the point where you’re signing one or two guys to fill holes. Right now we have too many holes. … We could have fast-tracked (some prospects). They could have been in L.A. and it might have looked better for fans, but in two years guys like Boyle and Purcell will be here because they put in that time in the minors.”

Looking ahead to this year’s free-agent situation, Hextall said, “Our biggest concern is our defense. We will actively try to make trades. We won’t try to trade for a 30-year-old defenseman with one year left on his contract. We will try, actively, to trade for a young defenseman between now and the draft.”

Asked a follow-up question about the chances of Thomas Hickey playing in L.A. next season, Hextall said, “Kopitar came in two years ago and we thought that he would probably not be ready, but he earned a spot. Defense is a tougher position to learn but if a defenseman comes in and earns a spot, he will be here.”

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The next fan had wide-ranging criticisms, mostly about the signings of underachieving free agents, and summed up his question by basically asking, “Why should I give you my money now, and not wait two or three years to see how this turns out?”

Hextall said, “I’m not going to try to sell you on the fact that we’re going to win the Stanley Cup next year, because quite frankly I don’t see it happening. We’re trying to build the team. … The guys we signed last year, we didn’t expect them to step in and be star players. Michal Handzus, that was the worst year I’ve seen him have. … You won’t see how good he is until we get to the playoffs and he shuts down a guy like Ryan Getzlaf or Joe Thornton. … (Last year’s signings) were good hockey players but they weren’t going to put us over the top. … Detroit, they were terrible 20 years ago, then they drafted Yzerman and re-signed the right guys. … I would love to make the playoffs, but if you go and lose four straight, what did you accomplish?”

A follow-up question challenged Hextall on the Detroit point, and specifically noted that Detroit helped itself by signing a guy like Brian Rafalski.

Hextall said, “Rafalski was a piece for Detroit. That’s the finishing piece. We have too many holes. If we tried to sign everybody, we would have no room under the cap and no future. We have to protect ourselves from offer sheets (on players such as Johnson and Kopitar).”

Another follow-up criticized the selection of Hickey last year and asked when he would be in L.A.

Hextall said, “If you slotted Hickey this year, he wouldn’t go fourth. Last year, there were 10 or 12 guys who could have gone fourth. … He reminds me a lot of (Lubomir Visnovsky).”

Hextall then referenced Hickey’s recent ankle surgery and said, “He’s not going to be built up like we’d like him to be built up in September (for training camp). There’s an outside chance (he would make the team).”

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The next fan pointed out that Leiweke said the Kings woulnd’t sign players to “retirement contracts,” then complained about the signings of Rob Blake and Scott Thornton. He asked about why he should believe this front-office group when the previous group lied.

Robitaille said, “I’m not going to lie to you. I’m going to do the best job I can do to get us to the next level. … I’m going to make mistakes, just like a did on the ice, but I’m going to give my best effort.”

A follow-up question dealt with a lack of experience at Manchester and if that would be corrected.

Hextall said, “I was impressed by the leadership down there, with guys like Gauthier and Boyle. … The growth of that team, from the start of the year to the end of the year, was phenomenal. It was a much closer team than last year. … As much as we want Manchester to win, we also want Manchester to develop. … Next year is going to be a lot of the same.”

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The next fan, who said he has been a season-ticket holder for 25 years, complained about parking and the fact that he doesn’t get calls returned by his season-ticket representative.

McGowan answered and said fans could expect “more timeliness and programs” from the Kings going forward and said a lack of returned calls was “definitely unacceptable.” McGowan said the Kings had recently hired someone from the Vancouver Canucks to be in charge of their season-ticket-retention department.

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The next fan (who apparently didn’t get the memo) wondered why the Kings don’t seem to care about losing money.

McGowan said, “Certainly we care that we’re losing money. We’re resolving it. We’re not comfortable with our financial results but we’re not talking about it anymore because our fans don’t want to hear about it.”

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  • EncinoMan

    Thanks for the summary, Rich.

    Just curious, at the end of the night, were you satisfied with the answers management gave, to what seemed to be very monotonous questions?

  • Jerry Bruckheimer

    Rich, did anyone ask any of these questions (and what are your thoughts?):

    - if AEG is still losing money in this market after 15 years they are obviously continuing to do something wrong besides just not winning. They own the building, got the salary cap they wanted and still are failures. Are they going to sell the team or give the Kings a higher priority among their stable of assets?

    - Luc may be a sharp guy, but it takes a certain level of business acumen and experience to be the head guy of an organization. Did anyone question his hiring as a PR move to appease the fan base? Yes he is honest, means well and will try hard, but so does my 5-year-old. When Luc talks you can tell by his stock cliches and grand statements that lead nowhere he is obviously just channeling LeisWeekly and that should scare the beejezuz out of everyone.

    - They don’t want to talk about the team losing money for 2 reasons. One, they are only losing money if they allocate every possible expense to the Kings and every possible revenue to AEG. They could come clean and prove they are losing money, but instead they no longer want to talk about it and again shift the blame to the fans so draw your own conclusions there. And two, if they really are losing money it is due to ownership ignorance and management incompetence. Overpaying mediocre free agents is an obvious problem. Not playing Cloutier down the stretch and sitting out a key player or two to have a better chance to land the #1 pick (even if we don’t want Stamkos, Lombardi knows they could trade down, pick up a player or two and still get the defenseman they want) was a mistake, plain and simple. Fans deserve accountability, and this franchise has none.

  • kevin e.

    Rich, thanks for the info.

    The one thing that people forget is that Los Angeles is not Detroit, Philadelphia, or NY Rangers. We aren’t going to get free agents like they do. They have the luxury to throw money around to land the big free agents AND there is more appeal to play with those teams than LA. Remember, the players themselves decide who they want to play for. The Kings can throw as much money as they would like and still not land them.

    Give this team two years and they will be competing for a playoff spot and go deep in the playoffs. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to see them. Since I am moving to Seattle, I hope that Hickey stays in the WHL and I get to see him play.

    As for parking, I park in a lot for 7 dollars. Granted it’s four blocks away, yet it’s very safe. I’ve never had any problems there. Just a half block away, there is a 15 dollar lot. The lot is on the intersection of 9th and Francisco (near the pantry).

    As for getting a ton of free agents, that worked so well for the Rangers. Four or Five years ago, They bought up those guys and still sucked. In the age of the salary cap, It’s not the solution. Teams need to be built from within. Once you acquire some assets, you are able to trade for the necessary pieces.

    Would the Kings be interested in Lukowich or Kuba?

  • kevin e.

    BTW Rich, thanks for keeping us up to date when most non-playoff team writers stopped writing.

  • Cenzo

    Big thank you for the recap… This is a fantastic source fort Kings information and I for one certainly appreciate the fight you’ve put forth to keep it that way.

  • Anonymous

    if DL trades for a good young under 30 d-man, i can’t wait for everyone to start complaining that he overpaid. Especially when the prospect(s), most likey a forward and/or goalie, we trade start putting up good #s in the nhl.

  • petey

    Thanks Rich for this. It’s much appreciated.
    I still find it amusing that some people are still upset with the Hickey pick and they still think they seem to know more than the scouts that watch these players chosen by the Kings numerous times. I hope that Hickey turns out to be the next coming of Scott Niedermayer just to shut those people up. But of course, they would find another player which to think they know more about than the scouting staff.

  • andre norway

    Hi Rich.
    thanks again for a great job. It seems like some of the fans doesnt see the big picture- that you need to build from the inside and then finally add the 1 or 2 missing pieces that brings us the cup. we have so much young talent on our rooster that I cant wait to see, we did see glimpses of that with purcell and boyle this season and just thinking of jj,kopi,brownie,sully with another year on their back, a lubo in 2006/07 form and a healthy blakie (by by anthony). I can understand people complaining on parking but do I complain when I have to pay over 1000 dollars to fly from norway to la to see my favourite team win or loose? I love my kings and I love the direction our team is heading.
    Cant wait to read the next story from you Rich.

  • CBGB

    Not only did you suffer through this like I did, but you also had to listen to it again and dictate it (or type it) like I did – I left out the schnooks – I give you kudos for mentioning everything…. How about that woman that went on and on and on and on and when they finally handed her the mic, the rest of the crowd yelled “nevermind!”

  • Anonymous

    Rich, someone needs to ask this very simple question:

    How come in Year 3 of a rebuilding program there are still so many holes? This is particularly true on defense where the club only has 3 proven NHLers signed, and questionable prospects at the AHL level.

    One could follow up by noting that almost all of the organization’s “best young players” (Hextall’s words) were acquired by the prior regime. Most objective observers would say that the Lombardi regime has acquired only three probable quality players in two years — O’Sullivan, Johnson and Bernier. At that rate, how long does management believe it will take to “fill all the holes”? Three more years? Five? Ten?

  • Brian

    because this season was the FIRST year of the rebuild

  • Anonymous

    Basically Hextall and Robitaille were saying that Rome was not built in a day. And its going to take couple of seasons for this team to turn things around. And I have to say that I respect their determination on staying the course and not changing in mid stream. I can live with that and watch our own draft picks grow and develop into top notch talent in the NHL. And perhaps sometime in the near future win the cup for us.

    Roger

  • Anonymous

    so many holes… that’s how empty it was the season before DL was hired. there was very little there to begin with

    foundational players on the NHL roster-
    Cammy
    Brown
    Frolov
    Lubo

    Vets used to stock up on youth
    Conroy – Jamie Lundmark, round 2 pick in ’08 draft and round 4 pick in ’07 draft (Dwight King)
    Demitra – Sully and 1st round pick ’06 draft (Trvor Lewis)
    Avery – Marc-Andre Cliche and conditional pick in the 2008 draft (additional players not worthwhile to note)
    Belanger & Gleason – Jack Johnson
    Norstrom – round 1 pick in ’08 draft and round 2 pick ’07 draft (oscar moller)
    Sopel – round 2 pick ’07 draft (don’t know what happened to this pick) and round 4 pick ’08 draft

    Others on the team at end of season -
    Corvo
    Robitaille
    Roenick
    TK
    Dempsey
    Cowan
    Weaver
    Parrish
    Miller
    Guiliano
    Parros
    Garon
    Labs

    In the system
    Kopitar
    Tambellini, Grebeshkov traded for Sopel, Parrish
    no other prospects were even close, there are some B level prospects but over 3 years later they haven’t cracked the line up.

    the organization from top to bottom was swiss cheese. there was no sustainable influx of youth available to help fill in those holes. And you sure as heck weren’t getting A level FAs with this team to fill in the holes.