Hockey Fest 2009: Part II - Staying On Target

The final day of Hockey Fest 09 proved that the Los Angeles Kings remain on the path Dean Lombardi set out since he arrived on the scene, which was to strip down the roster and organization and build it back up by getting to the draft table. Since then the Kings have had more picks than I can remember (273?) and have built a franchise full of young potential studs.

From the weekend festivities I felt the main message for fans to take with them was that the Kings are still moving in the same direction toward the same goal. The management team hasn’t deviated from its original end goal and there’s no reason to think it might happen this year. If anything, the fruits of this plan should be showing itself with more goals from the forwards, continued solid defensive support, reliable goaltending, and an elevated consistency across the board. The team has been working towards this ideal, and I think they will finally make something of their potential this season. This doesn’t mean it will happen automatically; the steps to the finish line will be siphoning more blood and sweat from the players with rabid fans looking on.

Day 3 of Hockey Fest had three panels with the first consisting of current management. Dean Lombardi, Ron Hextall, and Terry Murray expressed the commitment of further improvements from the roster. As I said in my first recap, no one reinvented the wheel this past weekend; everything has been said before and other things seemed more common sense than anything else. For example, Lombardi stated that the Kings did not market Drew Doughty like the Tampa Bay Lightening did with Steven Stamkos. They let him come in and earn the respect of his teammates. Essentially if Doughty did not live up to any marketing hype, "the veterans would resent him."

Any sort of resentment would not have been the product of unsuccessful marketing; rather, the resentment would have stemmed from the expectations of an 18-year-old kid leading this team into the playoffs. Lombardi also mentioned Doughty has been rounding out his nutrition and shedding his baby fat and was now developing into an athlete with more upside than one with minimal bodyfat coming in. This obviously has been a topic that has generated enough attention since the summer before he was drafted, which is why I made sure to ask Doughty about what steps he had been taking in regards to his nutrition.

Lombardi fielded a question specifically about Dany Heatley from the audience and I’m glad this shut down any of those still thinking his coming here was a possibility. Right after the question was asked, Lombardi spoke about two things:

  1. The most important things for the team are for Anze Kopitar to step up his game and for Doughty and Jonathan Quick to keep progressing.
  2. The second is to look at San Jose’s progression; they have improved six years in a row with the average age dropping each year. The Kings are on the path to now be able to find players who can be added to fit specifically into the system. He would "like this group to reach its potential before looking outside of the club." It would be too risky of a move to take a chance on Heatley right now while the core is still forming. Basically, he doesn’t want to guess if he doesn’t have to.

If anyone is surprised by this, you should go back and read everything Lombardi has preached since he’s arrived. He wants to be sure that any big move the Kings make takes "the team to the top." Getting Heatley could potentially do more harm than good, which would move the team backwards effectively stunting its growth. If he ends up a bust, he’ll add a negativity to the forming core while taking up the most dollars on the salary cap, which I’m sure no one else would want to deal with. The improvement of Kopitar is the key to this team making a jump. Lombardi emphatically said to look to Kopi for "that dynamic goal"and that "great things start to happen off the fundamentals of the game."



Preaching to the choir.



DL also addressed Teddy Purcell's roster spot saying that college players have no clue how to play in tight corners and that "he's not going to play unless he pays the price."



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It's no surprise that the ex-goalie of the management group is the one to take goalie-related questions, right? Of course!

During the Q&A, Hextall said he considered Quick to be the number one goalie with Erik Ersberg as the backup, and Jonathan Bernier would be best served going back to the Manchester Monarchs. I'm sure the knowledge of Bernier's impatience of getting to Los Angeles isn't foreign, so I won't feel too badly in completely agreeing with Hextall. Bernier's cocky confidence is felt 3,000 miles away and I'm in the mood to keep him at arm's length from the roster. The unknown for Hextall is definitely Ersberg. He's a solid goalie but isn't sure if he has the physical ability to play 60-65 games a season due to his size. To add to the bottom line, Hextall stated that there were no plans to move Ersberg. That being the case, anything can happen during the season. It appears the goalie situation hasn't deviated from the end of last season up until now, which makes me a whole lot more comfortable than this time last year.

I got a rare insight into Quick from Dustin Brown that I'm sure the everyday fan is unaware of; the fact that he has a cocky attitude both on and off the ice. You'd never know it from watching the way he plays, but Brownie spoke very highly of him when we lobbed a few questions his way. Of Quick: "He's cocky in a way that you actually like him," and he ended that by saying, "You can have an average team in front of you. If you're a good goalie, you have a good team."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Terry Murray said what Terry Murray usually says; the Kings don't want to lose sight of last year and will focus on getting more pucks IN the net starting at training camp. He would like the team to be an aggressive forechecking team, which I am completely on board with. He also mentioned that his lines were already down on paper so he'll have set lines to try out at training camp. The definite lines he said out loud were the first line (Ryan Smyth - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams) and the first two defensive pairings (1 - Drew Doughty - Sean O'Donnell; 2 - Rob Scuderi - Jack Johnson). The only line up in the air for TM is the 4th line. Who could it be?

Raitis Ivanans - John Zeiler - Peter Harrold? (Whoa... I just threw up in my mouth a bit.)

Other than this little tidbit, there weren't any earth-shattering bits of insight. But one thing I asked specifically was if he had a surprise rookie forward in mind who could make a statement out of training camp. He responded by saying he wasn't 100% sure on anyone but that Richard Clune might make a name for himself. Regarding the playoffs, he said if they didn't make the top 8 spots in the West, it wouldn't be a huge disappointment but that they had to show improvement. This was a bit different than what Lombardi said earlierabout the playoffs. If the Kings didn't make it, according to DL, it "would not be a major disaster but would be a major disappointment."

I honestly can't disagree with anything said during the weekend. Everything was inline with how the Kings are being built up and, in the end, I'm happy with how everything went. The venue was very nice, clean, and sent the message that the Kings were continuing to move forward in the players' development. From the fan perspective I was pretty pleased at how everything was presented although the area could have used a bit more signage on the exterior to showcase what was going on and where to go. The heat was killer but that didn't stop the street hockey tournament even on the black asphalt. Much thanks to the Kings for providing this opportunity

Make sure to check out all the news on the event on KingsCast, Frozen Royalty, The Examiner, and the Press Box Perspective!

Next stop: the playoffs! (...or not...)
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