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…
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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).”
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.”
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.
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.”