A huge turnout this morning in El Segundo. A team official said they were planning for around 500 people but got upwards of 200 more than they counted on. The panel featured GM Dean Lombardi, coach Terry Murray, assistant GM Ron Hextall and director of hockey operations Jeff Solomon, and Bob Miller served as emcee. The questions were wide-ranging, the topics familiar to anyone who reads this blog regularly. I told Lombardi a couple days ago that he would get a question about the Kings “moving to Kansas City.” Sure enough…
I have a lot of stuff to expand upon today and tomorrow, but a brief summary of some of the topics…
— Goalies/defense. Lombardi said there was no pre-determined plan about goalies going into training camp and that they would let the situation play out. On the topic of defensive toughness, Lombardi noted that the younger guys, specifically Teubert, will take care of that need, and noted that Jack Johnson has bulked up to 225 pounds this summer.
— On the topic of how to build/improve team morale, Lombardi talked about the importance of home-grown players, players who grow up feeling loyal to the organization. Murray expanded on that and shared his experiences with the Philadelphia Flyers, a team, he said, that struggled with camaraderie after it imported a lot of players and didn’t improve until the young players took ownership of the team. Murray also discussed the need for structure and a defense-based system. Hextall related his experiences as a Flyer and said he always felt loyalty to that team, and described how a player such as Dustin Brown will feel like a King for life.
— Murray was asked about the difficult schedule and said he wouldn’t worry about it. He made an interesting point, that the teams with the worst records always get the short end of the scheduling stick the next season. I’ve never seen that studied. It would be interesting to look at.
— Murray was asked about the importance of young players not always deferring to veterans. He agreed that there sometimes was a tendency for young players “not to break through,” which sometimes is accompanied by veterans not willing to let the kids step into leadership roles. He talked about the importance of having a strong leadership group and helping the young players grow as team leaders.
— Solomon was asked about Patrick O’Sullivan (surprise, surprise) and said “discussions are ongoing.” Solmon sought to explain the long negotiating period by explaining that, from the Kings’ perspective, O’Sullivan’s contract is just one of 20 that need to fit together. He discussed the importance of a multi-year contract and said talks have involved contracts ranging from two to five years. He also mentioned how an agent’s strategy is also to try to wait until the last minute. Lombardi brought up his threat to other GMs, that the Kings wouldn’t hesitate to start handing out offer sheets if teams tried to grab their restricted free agents. In his words, “Go ahead and make my day.”
— Lombardi was asked about the Visnovsky trade. He pulled his first favorite charts for all to see and explained why he thought the trade made sense. He said it “was not an indictment of the player” and explained that Visnovsky’s salary over the next two or three years could have been problematic to the Kings’ plans. He also went over the age-distribution chart and explained the Kings’ attempt to get younger on the blue line. Hextall added that while he likes Visnovsky, he’s not a big defenseman, and the trade helped reshape the defense a bit.
— A question was asked about front-ending contracts, and if they took motivation away from players. Both Lombardi and Hextall said it wasn’t a problem. Lombardi said players don’t care about something like that and explained why it’s important for the Kings to do sometimes, in order to keep financial stability down the road. Hextall added that the Kings wouldn’t sign a player such as Jarret Stoll if they thought he was only interested in money.
— Lombardi got asked about everyone’s favorite rumors. No, he wasn’t talking to Chicago about Kopitar. No, they aren’t moving to Kansas City. Is there any chance we can put these to rest now?
— Lombardi got asked a series of questions that required him to evaluate himself. Personally, I thought the answer was fascinating, and it will definitely be something I go deeper into in the next day or so. He talked at length about building the right way and how, for a while, he was at risk of getting away from his own strategy. He says he’s now on the right path and gave a number of reasons why he thinks the Kings are doing things the right way, most of which centered on the acquisition and development of draft picks.
— Hextall talked about the young defensemen and noted that they will have two strong tutors in Murray and Mark Hardy, both former NHL defensemen. Murray echoed those sentiments and noted that once these prospects are deemed ready to compete for a NHL job, it’s up to the coaches to develop them into NHL players.
— Lombardi was asked about signing “bridge” players, and if sticking them with such a designation made them feel less important. Lombardi said he didn’t think anyone on the team fit that category right now. He said he believes it’s important for veteran additions to understand their role and understand that they’re no longer the focus of the team. He said older players can be very valuable if they understand their roles.
— Murray was asked about his preferred style of play, and didn’t get into specifics but gave a broad overview. He stressed the importance of lowering the Kings’ goals-against average. He talked about solid defensive-zone coverage and the importance of getting players to “buy in” to the importance of checking. He said he wanted the Kings to be one of the NHL’s top five teams in terms of 5-on-5 scoring. He talked about the need to go hard to the net and score “garbage goals” with hard work and he talked about the importance of forechecking.
— Finally, Lombardi took the fans on a guided tour of the Kings’ draft history, a grim tour. He sought to illustrate that while previous regimes might have talked about building from within, nobody had truly tried to before. He went, decade by decade, through the draft history and pointed out all the players the Kings lost because they traded draft picks. His final message was a request for patience and he told fans, “Don’t jump off too early.”
I hope that’s a good overview. As I said, I have much more specific quotes from all of these guys that I’ll get to as soon as possible.