“I expect us to compete really hard for a [playoff] spot like that and shame on any team that’s not approaching the season that way, us included.”
— Los Angeles Kings head coach Todd McLellan
Every bad season disguised in the spin zone of “we should be a contender” double talk is marked by a game like the one we saw on Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks. In case you weren’t paying attention — and few do to the Ducks — they are another bottom-feeding California team that had mustered a grand total of 16 goals in their first 10 games.
Of course, the Kings allowed Anaheim to get the first two goals of the game, a Kings staple since their 2014 Stanley Cup run, and at one point later in the third period, SB Nation NHL mocked their effort (or lackthereof) on Twitter:
The Kings are trying their best. pic.twitter.com/42hYi2OMHa— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) February 3, 2021
All the while Jim Fox was employing the good old “rust” excuse on his Twitter, while Daryl Evans echoed that through the radio play-by-play. We could also go to the COVID-19 protocols that took Blake Lizotte (more on him in a minute) and Andreas Athanasiou out of the lineup. Or maybe that Sean Walker and Matt Roy are both out for extended periods. Perhaps it was that the Kings really don’t play well opposite John Gibson, who has a record of something like 11-5 with a goals against average under 2.00 against the Kings.
Truth remains that rust is not the reason the Kings looked like a team that should have been down 9-1. If not for Cal Petersen and his first star performance in the loss, that surely could have been a fact. I mean, poor Cal, he had little hope when the Corsi stats (unblocked shots and attempts) looked like this:
At least Arthur Kaliyev gave us some tingles with a beautiful debut on his opening night.
But sheesh (!), that was worse than anything I’ve seen in the last two years.
All of this points to an amazing coaching effort by Todd McLellan and his staff. All six losses this season have been one-goal affairs late into each game. This is with the always great Anze Kopitar, a resurgent Drew Doughty, a combo platter of aging core stars and some random pieces that didn’t fit anywhere else. That being said, I have some bones to pick with some of the lines that TMac has thrown out there.
Take a peek at some of the worst lines in the NHL this season and let me know what you see:
Let’s put the Lias Andersson, Gabe Villardi and Dustin Brown line aside. We all know that Andersson and Vilardi are developing and Brown can only play effectively next to Kopitar. But the Athanasiou, Lizotte and Jeff Carter line? Oh dear, that line needs to be broken up, like yesterday.
And while we are at it, it’s time to see Blake Lizotte for who he is: a borderline fourth-line center who has no business between two guys who can actually score goals. Lizotte captured the hearts of many fans and media last year as an under-sized forward who seemed to wreak some havoc on opposing teams with his tenacity and never-say-die attitude. But after watching him create nearly zero scoring plays through eight games as a second-line center, scoring only one true goal (his other was an empty netter) and watching him flub what would have been a game-tying breakaway against the Minnesota Wild, I am done with the Mosquito Experiment. He’s the epitome of great effort and no results.
TMac has long held the reputation of mismanaging lines throughout his career (read the old Sharks and Oilers fan boards if you don’t believe me). So I say this respectfully to Coach McLellan: please take an afternoon off from the ice. Sit with the analytics and watch a little film. Have a session with the everywhere spirit. Mix up a batch of Hockey Chemistry. Move Kaliyev up to the top line. The Triple K Line of Kaliyev, Kopitar and Adrian Kempe will produce. Put the rest of the randomness down the line and let them find a way to cook. Do it now before it’s too late.
You know, one game does not a season break (or make). The same can be said about a great draft or two: good drafting does not make a general manager.
Currently, Blake is one for three on coaching hires. He was given a roster with a championship core that needed some tweaks. He brought in John Stevens to helm the squad and he wound up breaking Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. Stevens’ bright idea was to turn Pearson into another Dustin Brown and bury Toffoli on anything other than the first line. Then he brought in maybe the worst coach in NHL history in the form of Willie Desjardins.
Say what you want about a changing league favoring speed over braun, but a quick fact check shows that a couple of bruising teams won the Stanley Cup in 2018 and 2019 in the form of the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues. Bad hires cost the Kings any semblance of real hope those two years to truly compete.
Sure, I love that the Kings’ farm system is now loaded with future NHL prospects that ranks one, two or three depending on which prospect analysis you put your faith in. But the truth remains that Rob Blake simply does not have the magical “It” factor on roster building.
This year could have been a lot a more competitive. But that trust is being put in Olli Maatta and Mark Alt to shore up the back end and opting for Athanasiou at $1.2 million, not even give Toffoli a sniff at a homecoming (who signed for $4.25 million a season with the Montreal Canadiens) ... well ... there’s a lot a frustration from the fan base and the team. Kopitar, Quick, and Doughty deserve better.
For goodness’ sake, the 2017-18 team finished with 98 points and could’ve avoided the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round if not for a pitiful performance in the last game of the season that dropped the Kings a full playoff spot. A season later, they are a 71-point team? Ridiculous!
Starting two years ago, I started writing open letters to Rob Blake and Luc Robitaille, imploring them to get creative and put a product on the ice (or a coach behind the bench) that wouldn’t be laughed at. When I flippantly announced my campaign to recruit some of the top players in the league, something strange happened: dozens and dozens of e-mails poured in from peeved fans vowing support. Some even said I should take a run at being general manager. “Hey, they couldn’t do worse,” Cam in Temecula said.
Maybe I won everyone over by not wearing the purple-colored glasses the Kings announcers and media keep putting on our collective ears. Maybe describing our plight as “a cross between irrelevance and hell,” or by stating the obvious about not settling for drafting your way back to relevance.
Column after column, the e-mails kept coming. Robert in Monrovia offered to get a petition going before adding, “We need someone with the hunger and vigor to make hockey in Los Angeles relevant again.” Susanna in Inglewood decided, “If you were the GM, I might actually go back to Staples Center to watch a game live.” Lorraine in West Hollywood said, “Your talk is real. And we are tired of smoke being blown at us.”
I lead the league in patience and common sense. I watch as much puck as anyone. I wouldn’t get fooled by incredible upside potential, bad citizens, outlandish contracts, speed over triple threat skills big men or anyone with a poor work ethic. I value chemistry and body language as much as talent and you’d never see me overpay the likes of Kevin Hayes just because he was putting up fantasy numbers on a bad team.
And know this: I would never stop pestering other GMs with trade offers. Traders Jack Adams and Jim Rutherford are my role models. They never met a trade they didn’t like. Our idea of a great trade is getting a couple of second rounders and a juicy prospect from a nearby suburb so our announcers can call him a local boy during the games.
I’m not really trying to campaign for Blake’s job. More importantly, I’m trying to say that I’m still a true fan and that’s the kind of mentality what we need at the top of the Kings organization.
Rob Blake needs to take a step back and remember there are thousands of us out here desperate to feel good about our team. We haven’t felt good in a long stretch. Most of us believe that we could have very easily been pretty good by using a little ingenuity over the last few years instead of regressing at such a rapid pace.
I’m all for going for Owen Power in the next draft, but suffering through another year of coming up short in games and being humiliated by the Ducks isn’t so appetizing.
C’mon Rob, it’s time to start looking at today rather than the draft.