The Kings tonight held a 90-minute “teleconference” in which season-ticket holders were allowed to call in and ask questions of Dean Lombardi, Terry Murray, Luc Robitaille, Ron Hextall, Chris McGowan and Jeff Solomon. According to Nick Nickson, who moderated the event, more than 1,300 people called in, and the Kings allowed me to be one of them. There were some technical issues that made it a bit difficult to hear at times, and I wasn’t attempting to get a full transcript anyway, but I’ll give a rundown of each of the questions and answers.
Here it goes…
— First question was about why the Kings didn’t acquire a “big-name left wing” at the trade deadline. Lombardi said a number of players fit that description, but none of them were available at the deadline. He said they made a serious run at one player but that none of those type of players ended up getting moved. “It just wasn’t there,” Lombardi said. “You don’t want to end up bidding against yourself and paying too much.”
— Next question was about the Kings’ greatest need for next season. Lombardi talked about 5-on-5 scoring needing to improve. He talked about the young “back end” (defensemen and goalies) and how that needs to continue to develop, but stressed the need for 5-on-5 scoring and for players with greater size. How do accomplish that? Lombardi downplayed the idea of the draft bringing immediate help but said he now has “the cards to trade for that player. … We can even talk about trading our first-round pick if it’s (for) the right player. We couldn’t talk about that in years before.” As far as free agency, Lombardi talked about not “carpet-bombing” for free agents, the way he has in the past, and focusing on the correct fit. “Hopefully this cap will kick in and give us an advantage,” Lombardi said.
Murray also addressed the offense, and said that the emphasis this season has been to strengthen the defense, “and we saw a dramatic improvement in that. When you push that every day and your focus is on that part of the game, there’s clearly a change in focus on the part of the offensive-minded guys, because they want this to be a team that improves quickly. … I guess I’ll take responsibility for the lack of offense early in the year. Now we’re starting to see more creativity and more ability to generate shots. … It’s important that the players grab a hold of the concept of the whole game. The offense will come. It will be there for us, as long as we keep the structure of the defensive part of the game. The other side will come and the chemistry will build.”
— The next question was about how to improve the schedule. Lombardi talked about how the Kings’ decision to move all of their business-side people to El Segundo will help, because they will be able to “fight for” the Kings in terms of securing better dates at Staples Center. He talked about being on the road with the team and seeing first-hand how difficult the schedule is, “and I don’t have to play,” he said. Lombardi praised the players and coaches for never complaining and said that Robitaille and Solomon are working toward getting a more favorable schedule next season.
Robitaille also addressed the schedule and said he didn’t like it and also didn’t like the number of Monday night home games the Kings had. Of the schedule, Robitaille said “the building has been working with us to make sure it won’t happen again.”
— The next question was about the trade of Patrick O’Sullivan and whether it was “the end of the playoff hopes.” Lombardi said that wasn’t the intention and said he saw an opportunity to get a proven 30-goal scorer. He said it wasn’t just about getting a 30-goal scorer, but about getting a guy who had done it on a good team. He talked about the importance of getting guys who had been in the Stanley Cup Finals and about getting a guy such as Williams who is still relatively young and fits with the long-term plans. “The hockey people agreed, even on the other side, that we were getting the best player,” Lombardi said. “We thought we could hold the fort with Oscar Moller until Williams got healthy. The idea of getting a player who was a proven winner and could fit in with our play, we felt we had to make the move.”
— The next question was about incentives for those fans who buy 22-game packages. McGowan said the Kings would consider things such as price reductions and different payment plans.
— The next question was about why the Kings didn’t sign Brendan Shanahan or Mats Sundin. Hextall said the Kings talked about both players but that both players had made it clear that they wanted to play for Stanley Cup contenders. He also talked about not wanting to take ice time away from young players. Lombardi added, “Let’s be honest. If you get a player of that age, they are clearly toward the end. They are picking contenders and, quite frankly, we weren’t there yet. … The other thing is, we have to start establishing an identity with players who come from within our organization.”
— The next question was about Murray’s process for selecting participants in the shootout. Murray joked that he puts “names in a hat and I pick them out.” Murray talked about how he and his assistant coaches discuss which players have played well in the game and what they have shown in the offensive zone. He said that during the season, they gravitate toward players who have had success. He singled out Jack Johnson as a player who has had particular success in the second spot. Murray said he can choose from between 10 to 12 players every time but “nobody has really grabbed the ball and taken off on the goal-scoring side of it. We’re looking at young players who are playing in the National Hockey League for the first time and giving them a chance to show what they can do in those situations.”
— The next question was about what Murray thought went wrong for the Kings in their playoff pursuit. He said the team had exceeded his expectations, even though he wanted to make the playoffs this season. He talked about the growth in the locker room, in terms of the players enjoying hanging out with each other and going to dinner, etc. Murray theorized that the Kings didn’t respond as well to the post-All-Star break style of hockey, which features tighter checking and tighter defense. “Me, as a coach talking about in a team meeting, it means something but you have to go through it as a player,” Murray said. He talked about how the team initially “climbed a mountain,” then “hit a valley” and now has started to climb again. He talked about the importance of playing well in these late-season games in order to start taking momentum into next season’s training camp.
— The next question was about Ron Hextall’s work with the young goalies. Hextall said that Bill Ranford spends time with all the young goalies and that Hextall tries to help out on the mental side. Hextall said, “For example, Bernier has never been challenged. When he had a bad game, he went right back in. It’s been different for him this year. He had to fight for ice time. He’s going through a process that he’s never been through before, and when he gets through it, he’s going to be a much better player.” Hextall talked about the young players in Manchester and singled out Voinov, Martinez, Drewiske, Campbell, Piskula, Bernier, Westgarth, Lewis, Clune, Parse, Meckler and Cliche. “Overall, I’m happy with where the club is,” Hextall said, “but I’d really like to make a push for the playoffs.”
— The next question was for Lombardi, about whether he feels the Kings are ahead of schedule or behind schedule. “Quite frankly, I think we’re ahead of schedule,” Lombardi said. “I didn’t anticipate being this young this quickly. When I came here, I talked about the dearth of young players on the back end. We not only addressed that, but they’re already playing. When you look at our defense two years ago, we had Blake, Norstrom, Miller, Sopel and Modry. That would have been a great defense 10 years ago, but obviously it didn’t have a lot of upside. That was a problem. Within 24 months, we got Doughty, Greene, Quincey, Johnson and Drewiske here. That’s a radical change and that’s a lot quicker than I anticipated being able to do it, with (young players). … With goatending, my experience (with the Sharks) is that it takes a minimum of two years in the minors. When we went with Quick, I had my fingers crossed. … This team went young quick and became a better team. It has upside and hope. The team the last couple years didn’t have a lot of hope. They were as good as they were going to be.” Lombardi again talked about being pleased with the chemistry and with the surprisingly strong play of Moller and Simmonds.
— The next question was more of a complaint, about fans who sneak into different sections and stand at inappropriate times. McGowan and Robitaille urged fans to let them know about issues they can discuss with arena officials.
— The next question was about whether the Williams trade “signified that the rebuilding was over” and asked about Jack Johnson’s contract status. Lombardi stressed that he had not shifted focus and that, at age 27, Williams is “arguably still not in his prime. So now, that’s not the end of the building process … but we are starting to fine-tune what we’re looking for.” Solomon talked about Johnson’s contract and compared it to the questions he got last summer about O’Sullivan. Solomon talked about the need to not only get a contract done, but have it fit within the salary structure of the entire team. “We consider Jack Johnson to be a part of our core group, but he has to fit in the overall picture.” Solomon explained that contract talks started last summer but stalled, in part, because Johnson changed agents. “It’s an ongoing process and we have had discussions,” Solomon said, and added that Johnson’s injury this season “did play a part in putting the discussions on hold.”
— The next question was about whether to keep Quick and Ersberg together or trade Ersberg. Hextall talked about how it’s ideal for a young goalie to spend two seasons in the minors but said “Quick has come up and started to make everyone think he might be our guy. Erik has done a good job as well. A couple years ago, we were in a situation with Brust and Fukufuji. Compared to that, I feel very good with where we are. We can let our goalies develop the way they should, rather than fast-track a guy, the way we sort of did with Quick. … It worked out but, again, we don’t like taking those risks. If Jon Bernier proves he can be a NHL goalie, we will bring him up. Quite honestly, to this point he hasn’t proved that he’s a NHL goalie. … We’re happy with where Jon is, but in a perfect world we would start with Quick and Ersberg next year. But we all know those things can change in a hurry.”
— The next question was about the Kings’ propensity toward “backhand passes without any smoke…that teams seem to anticipate.” Murray pointed out that the Kings rank high in statistics such as turnovers and giveways, and talked about the basic need to get the puck to the net more. He pointed out that Dustin Brown leads the Kings with 278 shots on goal, while Alexander Ovechkin leads the NHL with 482 shots. “Putting the puck to the net is never a wrong decision,” Murray said.
— The next question was about Alexander Frolov and if the Kings are likely to re-sign him. Solomon said, “If you look at how thin the unrestricted free-agent market is for scoring wingers, that in and of itself would tell you that it’s something we have to look at very closely and talk to Fro and his agent about coming back.” Solomon talked about the salary cap and how the Kings should be in good position if, as expected, the cap drops in the next two years. Solomon said, “When we look at a contract for one guy, we have to look at all 23 guys.” Solomon also pointed out that the Kings cannot start talking to Frolov about an extension until July 1.
— The next question was actually about a half-dozen questions for Luc Robitaille, who responded by saying that he doesn’t “miss getting out of bed, but you always miss playing,” and singled out Doughty, Quick and Simmonds as three rookies who have impressed him this season.
— The next question was about the Kings’ plans for summer player development. Murray talked about how the summer is an important time for young players to develop more strength, particularly in the core areas (abdominals, back, quads, hips, etc.) He said the Kings’ strength and conditioning coaches will spend a lot of time with programs for young players this summer.
— The next question was about adding a goalie from outside the organization. Hextall said, “I don’t see us bringing anybody in. There is enough upside for us to continue with the young players. The one thing with Jon QUick is, he didn’t have a veteran guy behind him. I’m not sure I can emphasize the pressure that puts on a young player. It’s something we felt like we had to do, because we were out of options when we traded LaBarbera. The way Jon responded to that said something about his character and the poise he has. … That’s one sign that he has passed the test and has the potential to be a very good NHL No. 1 goaltender. This doesn’t mean he is proven and comes in next year and plays 65 games. He’s got to come in next year and essentially prove what he did this year. He has the inside track but I don’t think (Murray) would say he’s the No. 1 guy under any circumstances.”
— The next question was about the Kings’ perceived tendency to play a “prevent defense” with the lead near the end of games. Murray refuted the idea but noting that the Kings’ record when leading after two periods “is pretty impressive. It’s not like we’re sitting back and preventing. That has never been something that our coaching staff has ever talked about. In fact, we push it the other way. `Let’s stay on the forecheck.’ We feel the best defense is the one that pressures in the offensive zone with the forecheck.” Murray went in-depth about why the Kings deep a forward high, and why it helps them with their checking philosophy and also with their ability to break the puck out of their own end. Murray said, “We always want to be an aggressive, on-the-move team. We want to be cycling, we want to stay on the hunt and we want to put pucks to the net and build on the lead. Sometimes, as you go through games, there is a step back in the understanding of a young hockey team, but overall I’ve been proud of the way we’ve been able to shut teams down. Our goals-against numbers, broken down period-by-period, are almost identical.”
With that, the Kings wrapped up the call…