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2018-19 Season in Review: Kyle Clifford, The King of Intangibles

“As long as I’m playing hockey, this is where I want to play.” - Kyle Clifford

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Arizona Coyotes Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2018-19 NHL season firmly in the rear view mirror, it’s time to look back at what we learned about the players of the Los Angeles Kings. How did they fare in a down season? What’s next for each of them? Who will still be here on opening day? Join us as we take a look back at the season, try to figure out what went wrong, and see where we go from here. Today we look at Kyle Clifford, the King of Intangibles...

2018-19 Season: 72 games, 21 points (11G, 10A), 96 PIM, +4, 115 shots, 195 total shots attempted, 9.6 shooting percentage, 100.3 PDO, 10:29 time on ice.

Kyle Clifford just finished his best season of hockey in the NHL. Career highs in points, goals, assists, and points-per-game (0.29) were sure nice. His 11 goals were only two shy of both Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli despite the fact both players were on ice for six to seven minutes more per night. He stood tall as the one of the last few plus players in the defensive zone (only Jake Muzzin [traded], Nate Thompson [traded], and Austin Wagner joining Clifford in the plus category last season.) Looking back, it was his presence after the games, letting us know that the guys in the room were taking the losing seriously, that underscored his value. Take this quote—typical 2018-19 Kyle Clifford fare—after the game 45 debacle vs. the Ottawa Senators:

“Lack of emotion. Lack of, you know, just everybody on the bench is to blame. It’s awful. It’s just embarrassing, to be honest. Not much more to say than that.”

As the Kings dropped to last place in the league, this kind of talk was especially refreshing after hearing interim coach Willie Desjardins’ hot take on the game:

“Coming in here, they [Ottawa] played last night, so you think we might have an advantage, so maybe the guys relaxed a little bit, and that’s usually one problem that we have sometimes is for whatever reason, we relax, we think it’s going to happen. We just didn’t get enough out of everybody. We just didn’t get enough out of all the lines, and to say ‘you see it,’ if you see it coming, then you’d change something so it wouldn’t come.”

This was the story all year with the Los Angeles Kings. You’d see one thing and the coach would ramble and beat around the bush until you literally fell asleep into a mental coma trying to process the double talk. Meanwhile, Clifford put on full display just how he evolved into the captain without a letter on his uniform, day in and day out.

After game 45, I was flipping around the cable guide and stumbled on The Sandlot, the 1993 coming-of-age movie about a group of young baseball players during the summer of 1962. In the movie the Ghost of Babe Ruth makes an appearance and says one of the iconic lines in sports movie history:

”Remember kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die.”

This one quote fully summed up Clifford as he continues to build on the legend he’s creating in Los Angeles. That says a lot about a guy with 115 points in 607 career games while averaging 10:09 time on ice. He’s going to go down as a Kings legend when it’s all said and done.

How’s that even possible?

Quite simply, Clifford is the King of Intangibles.

He’s a player beloved in the locker room. His hockey IQ is through the roof , which is a huge reason he is still a King while other role players/fourth liner given a good deal of credit [read Jordan Nolan and Dwight King] are no longer in Los Angeles. He knows when to stand up for a teammate and when to jump into the offensive zone. He always seems to make the right play and maximize his ten minutes on ice. Lest we forget it was he who centered Alec Martinez’s pass in double overtime of game five versus the Rangers and instead of driving to the net (a play 90 per cent of players would choose), he elected to give up the puck to the stronger shot of Toffoli who set up the juicy rebound that invented “jazz hands.”

The Romans had a saying, “facta, non veba,” which means “deeds, not words.” People say, even promise, all sorts of things but often don’t actually deliver. The selfless Clifford, who showed quite a nice scoring touch during the 2018-19 campaign delivers. He sacrifices nearly every bit of glory to do the real dirty work...grinding on every shift, crashing the net on breakaways, going into the corners to dig out pucks, fighting whenever a teammate has been put in peril, speaking out after games when coaches won’t. It’s that collection of altruistic substance that guarantees that he already is a Kings legend. He’s a guy your kids will tell theirs to ignore the lifetime stats and spin a tale about that time where he absolutely worked Lawson Crouse in an April game where the Kings had nothing to play for because after 5:53 in the first period, Cliffy had seen enough from the Coyotes cheap-shot artist.

His value to his teammate was reflected in Clifford earning the Ace Bailey Memorial Award for Most Inspirational (shared with Dustin Brown and voted by the players themselves).

In June, Clifford penned a “Dear LA” letter where he chronicled where his came from and why he wanted to be a King when the 2009 NHL Draft rolled around. What struck me were his final thirty words:

“I’m privileged to be a part of the Kings, and mostly, I’m excited for what’s to come. As long as I’m playing hockey, this is where I want to play.”

As long a Kyle Clifford keeps playing his game, I speak for us all when I say Los Angeles is where we all want you to play too.


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