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Crown Conversations: Sucker Punch to the Heart, Pt. 3

The season is half over, so James and Robyn take a numbers-focused look at the Kings to answer the question: are they at least trending in the right direction?

Los Angeles Kings left wing Austin Wagner (27) fights against Vegas Golden Knights right wing Keegan Kolesar (55) during the second period at Staples Center. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With 28 games on the books, it’s time to pull out the spreadsheets and do some math. Or, rather, use a rudimentary understanding of hockey statistics to analyze the Los Angeles Kings’ performance so far this season. The Kings are notoriously streaky (thus, the nickname Cardiac Kings), but sometimes Corsi and Expected Goals (xG) can give a pretty clear overall picture of how a team is doing.

In short: Not bad; not good, but not bad, either. No longer Corsi Kings of the past, this team with a lot of inexperienced young players has seen its share of struggles in attempting to close out close games or even generate offense — despite James’ assertion that Todd McLellan seems to be tailoring his system to fit guys better. However, as the NHL hits the midpoint of this weird, short season, the underlying statistics paint a very different picture than the eye test. That is, the Kings appear to be trending in the right direction.

Plus, the Kings are going to see lots of the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks over the next few weeks, so brace yourselves now and hope the Kings can steal a few games. And then, could the New York Islanders be trade partners with LA?

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BEGIN TRANSCRIPT

INTRO: [Musical interlude plays, then VO] Are you ready for the most informative, well-thought out hockey podcast on the Internet? You are?? Sorry, it’s just Crown Conversations with your hosts, Robyn P. and James Nicholson.

RP: Hello and welcome to Crown Conversations. Once again, James—that’s me—and Robyn—that’s the other guy—we are here to have a conversation with you, our listeners. Before we get started, though, on the Kings. Let’s talk about the baby princes. Three game winning streak. I still don’t think they’re good.

JN: That’s fine. You can think they’re not good as much as you want, because earlier in the year, they were not good. Because, you know, they only won a single game and… Now that they’re on this three-game winning streak, I think we’re seeing guys get comfortable; we’re seeing guys adapt to the pro system. Arthur Kaliyev has been lights out; Quinton Byfield has been great; Turcotte, after having a few games where he didn’t play, has been a beast; that line with Turcotte, Kupari, and Kaliyev has been so much fun. And dear goodness, can we please have that line at the end of this year or next year? And yeah, you’re just telling me about how good that line is right now. And yeah—is that that what you’re holding up that they’ve scored at least one goal in each of the last four games?

RP: Yeah, so according to John Hoven, Mayor, [reading] “AHL STATS CHECK. Since Wrobo put the Turcotte - Kupari - Kaliyev line together four games ago, they’ve scored 7 goals... And at least one goal per game: 2 vs Tuc-son (that’s the only way I remember how to spell Tucson) on 3/12, 1 vs Henderson Silver Knights 3/13, 2 vs Tucson 3/16, 2 vs TUC 3/17.” So they’re starting to get comfortable, that line.

JN: Yeah they really are. And the fourth line with Boko and Brett… Brett Sutter, really fun and productive. Very feisty. As you would imagine any line with Boko Imama being. But… I mean, Quinton Byfield looks a lot more comfortable. Did you get to see the highlight of that shorthanded goal he scored?

RP: No, I have not. I barely have been able to see any Kings highlights lately. Last week was just kind of a mess for me. But no.

JN: Yeah, he… He picks it off—it’s like the start of the third period, too—so it’s like, fresh ice—and he, he reads a lazy pass at the point, you know, going across the blue line, picks it off, sails in all alone and just roofs it for a shorthanded goal. And… It’s really funny, because I think a lot of people talk about—they don’t like that Byfield plays with too short of a stick and… I didn’t realize it, but I think Ryan Getzlaf plays with too short of a stick because that’s what he looked like skating in on that breakaway. And it was a really good play. He’s looking better and better. Because he’s only 18 years old and is only getting better and better. And the defense seems to have calmed down. They’re drawing penalties, they’re not taking as many penalties. Special teams seems to have figured it out. Villalta and Jacob Ingram [note: James misspoke; he meant to say Ingham] are playing well… I’m… I’m pretty happy with the way things are going. And not to become too… optimistic… I don’t know what the AHL playoffs are going to look like this year and I don’t know if they have a shot at making it, but in terms of the Kings’ perspective, you like seeing the development of the players right now.

RP: You know, it’s funny, even though I haven’t published the podcast with him yet, when we spoke with Mark Morris earlier in the year, he mentioned AHL being development and the key focus being more heavily on the development of the players instead, you know, winning.

JN: I mean, obviously you want to develop a winning mentality. You want to teach guys to win. Because, like, just to mention that conversation again, guys get so caught up in individual skills of their game. The coaching is so intense nowadays with kids and how they develop and learning how to shoot better, how to skate better, how to do all these little things so much better that sometimes… The winning, the being able to close out a game, a close game, hang on to a lead, how to scrap back into a game when you’re down a goal or two, those things take some time to learn. And it seems like the most obvious thing, but with the way coaching is in North America these days, across all youth sports... I mean, I think you could look at AAU basketball as a prime example of that. That it’s more about learning how to be a highlight reel player so people notice you more than it is developing other team-oriented things.

RP: Well, I mean… Hockey… You’re never allowed to be the star player. Like, it’s just… Even if you are the star player, you always have to sort of deflect and be humble. And if you’re out there trying to make plays by yourself and make these highlight reel plays, the coach always gets mad at you. Do you remember, back in 2013 in the shortened season, the Kings were playing in Chicago and Drew Doughty just makes the most incredible, single-handed effort to not get a goal. Dwight King ended up with the goal and it was all thanks to Drew Doughty. And at the post game press conference, Darryl Sutter was like “that was great, but you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to beat all five guys on the ice. Just beat one.” That’s just a hockey mentality is all I’m saying, though.

JN: R-right and I think when we look at some of the comments Todd McLellan has made, he is someone who is open to evolving past that mindset. I think with John Rob… Wroblewski [robo-les-ski]—however you pronounce his name, the Ontario Reign head coach—who comes from the US Development National Team, who is really familiar with these guys, especially Alex Turcotte, he understands what the next generation of hockey players is about. I’ve heard Steve dangle talk about this that in like 5 to 10 years, we are going to see the most dazzling plays in history in the NHL. Because all of these players are raised on watching YouTube highlights than they are raised on watching the game. So what they want to learn how to do is to just like get YouTube clicks and and do stuff like Nasher and and Pavel Barber instead of being the consummate pro, so to speak. So we’re going to see something different soon and I think the Kings are prepared for that.

RP: Todd McLellan seems like a good hybrid coach where he’s evolving and he’s learning to kind of take the game in a different way than the Darryl Sutters of the world, where they tend to be a little bit more mired in a “good defense is a good offense” so to speak.

JN: I mean, look at what he’s been doing with Calgary already. They look like a different team. There’s a place for those types of players. Er those types of coaches, I should say. I look at a guy like Peter Laviolette. His thing is “the best defense is a great offense.” Those types of coaches, I think, have a shelf life. Someone like John Tortorella where they can be really great for a few years and turn a team around and do some incredible things. But goodness do they wear out those players.

RP: [interrupting] That’s Sutter, though.

JN: Yeah, exactly, that’s Sutter. Yeah. I’m saying the NHL had a lot of those guys who are uncompromising in their coaching principles. Todd McLellan is not that way. I think… I think Todd McLellan, if you want to draw a sort of baseball analogy, wants to be like a Sparky Anderson. A guy who can coach multiple teams, take them to have great success, and to have longevity with whatever team he’s coaching because he understands the culture change over time and can adapt but does not abandon his principles or a system because I look at a lot of the way the Kings are playing and one of the things that Kings are so good at now that maybe they haven’t been in the past is zone entries on the power play. I mean, the drop pass is still just gutting to watch every time—

RP: [interrupting] Ban the drop pass! Swear to God!

JN: [laughing] Yeah, okay here’s Doughty, he gets to the red line, drop pass. But to be fair, Kempe has looked great making that read-and-react play at the attacking blue line, whether he takes himself passes it to the right side of the left side, or even I think we’re seeing it now kind of... Someone’s circles back behind him, so he can even leave it for someone else behind him and then he toes the blue line to come in. I mean, that’s a hallmark of a Todd McLellan team. I-I see... I’m seeing good things and we can talk about the analytics of this because this is what I really wanted to focus on now that the Kings are halfway through the season there are some really interesting trends analytically with this Kings team.

I know I’m introducing the topic and I’m asking you to elaborate. I don’t know if you’re prepared to do that but I’m more than ready to keep talking if that’s what you need. Podcasting!

RP: [laughs] Well I want—before we dive into the Kings themselves... There’s something that I want to point out first because you were talking about the power play. Power play structures have not changed like at all in the NHL, which is the most hilarious thing to me.

I was watching an old clip with—maybe it’s just the Kings maybe for some reason over there 60 year history things just haven’t changed at all with them—but I was watching an old clip with I think Jari Kurri and I think it was… Gretzky? It was something that the Kings tweeted out a couple days ago, but it’s just I was like, oh my recognized that power play formation. [laughing ]I just thought it was funny.

JN: Well, I mean... you only have so many ideas in terms of structure for different situations right there. I mean, you know, it’s um... There’s a reason for that... You know, you can’t reinvent the wheel necessarily. I mean, you know, the Soviets did you know 50 years ago and made for the best hockey team in the world has ever seen but...

RP: Hey, they lost that one game that one time in 1984.

JN: I thought it was ‘80. Whatever it was, I believe in miracles. [Pause] You know, but… [Brief pause] Speaking of what I’ll just draw that comparison right now the first coach of the Soviet hockey team talked about the soul and the heart that went into it and like the love and the passion and like, he was so influenced by dance, by ballet and in the coaching style in the development of that style’s play and then he gets fired under the Brezhnev era of the Soviet Union and it is literally a cold, calculating scientist who has no heart or humanity in the way he coached.

RP: I love that. [James laughs] It’s ridiculous, but I love it so much.

JN: Yeah and then there’s a bunch of different comparisons to be made about what happens in the communist revolution with that.

RP: All right, well let’s let’s get back to the present, shall we?

JN: Let’s do that, please.

RP: Okay, so the Kings. I was looking on Natural Stat Trick a while ago and um, you know, I wanted to compare Todd McLellan’s Sharks versus the modern day Kings and this is a weird—I shouldn’t say modern day Kings, but I meant present day Kings. This is a weird year, we’re not going to get a complete picture because hilariously, the Kings have the Blues’ number, Minnesota has the Kings’ number... Um, I don’t know what’s going on with Vegas, they’re just a weird team overall in general—

JN: That wins, no matter what. [snickers]

RP: Well, that’s because they play clutch-and-grab. Something I thought we left behind in the ‘80s, but no, no. [James laughs] It’s Vegas, so everything that is old is new again. [Muttering] Hate Vegas.

Anyway. Um, the Sharks were respectable over the years that I looked at the Kings when they were top of the corsi league, the Sharks weren’t far far behind them and I find that very interesting because the teams this year, they’re not very good in the corsi league. And of course, you know, the stats community has evolved far past simple, basic coursi and PDO and whatnot and now expected goals against (xGA) is the apparently more correct or most accurate predictor statistic, but... There... The Kings are not... They’re no longer top of the Corsi league, but I guess they’re getting better...

JN: Well I mean... The best course he came in the league right now is Colorado, which many people believe is the best team in the league.

RP: Their record does not in any way reflect that. But they’ve had a lot of injuries this year.

JN: They have. They have. And I think it’s a testament to Jared Bednar as a coach, who has guys… He’s pushing role players into positions or maybe not comfortable with and they’re doing good jobs, but they’re not—you’re not able to replace Cale Makar, like that’s just plain and simple there’s not—other than Quinn Hughes—there’s not another Cale Makar in the league.

But like other teams that are great in Corsi are Montreal, who are maybe underperforming right now; Carolina... Boston, who’s maybe underperforming right now... Vegas. Florida, who is overperforming and Nashville who’s severely underperforming.

RP: No, Nashville just sucks. They’re not underperforming, James, they just suck.

JN: Well they do, but like they’re seventh in the league in Corsi, so now we’re seeing why Corsi isn’t the best indicator, but it can be good for seeing an overall trend. It’s like plus-minus but better. And the Kings are currently 21st in the league. They are behind Anaheim and Buffalo in Corsi. They are however ahead of teams like St. Louis and Winnipeg and Minnesota and Arizona, so who knows? What we do know is that the Pacific—er the Honda West division is very fun and weird,

RP: And terrible. [laughs]

JN: Yeah, that’s the thing is on any given night any team can be really bad. I mean, same with the North Division in particular.

RP: Yeah, but the North Division defense is optional, goaltending is a mystery, and its offense is a black hole because that’s where everything just gets sucked in and all the light just disappears in the offense.

JN: Right and I mean like in the west there’s good goaltending. I mean, Kähkönen has been great for Minnesota; you know, Binnington’s good. I think we can talk about this later, but maybe not the best goalie on this team right now.

RP: Binnington... I disagree that Binnington… [Sighs] I don’t think Binnington should have gotten a six-by-six contract because he’s been way too streaky.

JN: Right, but like Darcy Kuemper is injured for Arizona. What does their season look like? Antti Raanta has stepped up and maybe played better than anyone expected him to in that absence the Sharks are a disaster in net. And Anaheim is terrible despite John Gibson being the Blessed One in net.

RP: No, no, no, no. John Gibson is the Best Goalie in the World.

JN: Right, yes, of course, how dare I um…

RP: That’s what Darryl Sutter said. [laughs]

JN: I know that was, God, one of the best lines ever.

RP: I do kind of miss Sutterisms.

JN: Yeah, we’ll get them back soon enough from Calgary. But really quickly. If we’re... Can I talk about fancy stats for goalies real quick?

RP: Yes, go.

JN: Thank you. If we are going to look at expected goals against for the goalies... I mean... Yeah man, it’s—

RP: Wait wait wait, sorry. But aren’t goalies goals saved against or above average not goals against?

JN: Goals saved above average? Okay.

RP: Aren’t they different stats though, that’s all I’m…

JN: Yes, they are, yes they are. So, if we’re looking at goals saved above average, so you’re talking about being better than an average goaltender in the league—

RP: [interrupting] Are you gonna bring up Cal?

JN: Well, I don’t think anyone’s gonna be surprised when I say Andre—Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best in the league.

RP: Oh, well, yeah.

JN: I think people will be surprised that Kevin Lankinen in Chicago is second in the league at that. That would really explain why Chicago’s where they are in the standings. And fifth in the league is Cal Petersen.

RP: Aw, he’s dropped a little.

JN: Well yeah, he’s dropped a little bit because Jonathan Bernier had actually been on a really great streak lately until he got hurt last night, which is a shame.

RP: Again?!

JN: Yeah.

RP: Oh, man poor Detroit.

JN: Yeah and obviously teams are looking to trade for him right now. If we are to look at Jonathan Quick’s numbers in that... well, maybe he’s not as great... as I am scrolling, scrolling, scrolling...I’m just gonna do control-F, find me that Quick. He’s 73rd in the league. So he’s five and a half saves per game under the average. But when you look at high danger save percentage... So, that means the team is pretty much going to score a goal... If you look at goalies who have started at least 10 games so far this year, I think that’s a fair number, Cal Petersen’s number two behind Vasilevskiy. Like... He has an .882 high danger save percentage. Like that’s better than Fleury, Kähkönen. Bernier, you know… Antti Raanta...He’s second in the league behind Vasilevskiy. That’s really dang freaking good. And I mean, Quick... Is... We’re seeing him be good in some areas, statistically, and not great in other areas. In terms of the fancy stats.

RP: That’s pretty much in line with his entire career.

JN: Right. Right. I mean. You know, if you know, of course some of these things are buoyed because of—or I should say brought down a little bit because of just the Jonathan Quickism of just every so often allowing a really soft goal. Like once every-other-game allowing a really soft goal. Which, yeah, isn’t super great but like I don’t know like I’m supposedly there’s trade interest in Jonathan Quick. I don’t know how I feel about that because the Kings do need to have a goalie exposed in the expansion draft unless they extend Troy Groesenick and expose him. But that’s a thing for the future to worry about and what I’m trying to say is the Kings,

statistically, are buoyed by Cal Petersen and the number one line of Iafallo-Kopitar-Brown.

RP: James, can you tell me if they’re big or not?

JN: That line? Yeah, they’re big. [Robyn laughs] They have size! They have size and speed and it’s fun to use both. And yeah, and I mean... Going more and more into fancy stats, we see how Kopitar is just the driving force. Like he is, that’s why he’s one of the best players in the league, has been for his whole career.

RP: He’s Selke smooth.

JN: He sure is. And... He is so good at making whoever he’s playing with better and this is my whole thing about analytics. When I was in grad school, I read a book called The Packer Way by Ron Wolfe. And Ron Wolfe was the GM who built the 90s Packers who took them from a forgotten-about-team, a very middling team all throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s into the early ‘90s and his whole thing was I’m going to turn around the franchise by trading first round picks for the third string quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons.

And it was because his system of analytics that he personally had demonstrated that Brett Favre improved the play of the players around him. And ultimately that’s what you want and that’s what we see from Kopitar and you know with a very small sample size that’s what we see from Jaret Anderson-Dolan.

RP: Yesssss! I was waiting for that!

JN: Oh baby. How fun is that line with Trevor Moore and Carl Grundstrom?

RP: Oh my god. It’s... You know, Mayor tweeted about it and I actually agree with him is that JAD makes his line mates better... When the Kings drafted him they were looking for the next Kopitar and I think they found it in... It might be a little premature to say this because he is so young and inexperienced, but really, there’s a lot of shades of Kopitar in his game.

JN: I would say… [Brief pause] I was lucky enough that I got to see him play in a junior game after the Kings had drafted him. I saw him play with the Spokane Chiefs against the Portland Winterhawks and he.. He very much reminds me of Jonathan Toews, where he’s not flashy but man is he hard to play against. And then all the sudden, because he’s working that much harder and thinking a step or two ahead of whoever’s against him in a one-on-one battle, makes a really great play to setup his teammates. And yeah, that’s really what I like from Jaret Anderson-Dolan, um... You know, that-that injury he had in the Arizona game, I’m thrilled to see that he’s back from it, you know, he assisted on two goals in his first game back. They were the secondary assists but that line looks a lot better with him playing on it and… He essentially drags two fourth liners into being productive middle six players. Because of his presence. And I mean—and a testament to-to Trevor Moore and Carl Grundstrom, they work really hard to make that line better too like no one can say those guys are not working their butts off when they’re on the ice because goodness knows they are. And then that just goes into more of my critiques of Kempe and the Vilardi, which we know when I do criticize them, they then explode for a million points and you’re welcome, Kings fans.

RP: Yeah right after you started complaining about Kempe, he’s got a hat trick.

JN: Yeah, a hat trick and then a two goal game after that and yeah, I-I definitely look like a jerk but the entire time as he’s on that scoring tear, I just think well, we’ve seen this from him before and then he disappears for 15 games.

RP: That is true, but he’s

JN: [overlapping] He’s... Now I’m just like, hey don’t disappear for 15 games and make me feel bad for what I say because until that happens, I’m ...I feel okay about what I’m saying about him.

RP: [laughs] He’s just he’s streaky even... I... because I remember tracking his stats when he was in Sweden... Should have been as high a draft pick as he was? Maybe not but it’s all a moot point now. But even in Sweden, like, he’d have really good games where he’d play like 20 minutes and then his, like, you could see his time on ice just slowly decrease as his points just dried up and, then and he-he’d play for 12 minutes and he’d have like four points in a game. I don’t know if he ever had four points in a game but you know, he-he was doing really well and he had highlight reel goals and stuff and he was player of the game so he-he’d start earning ice time back and then it’s with him especially, he’s always been such an ebb and flow player and this was true even when he was with Ontario. And it was... I never thought he would be ready for the NHL because like the same criticism that we had with Austin Strand—er that I think Sarah had with Austin Strand—is that he is so inconsistent at the AHL level. But of course, you know, Austin Strand comes up and makes all look stupid.

JN: Yeah, and if you want to get into fancy stats, they actually are not very good for Austin Strand

RP: His high danger chances-for percentage is second after Anderson-Dolan…

JN: Yeah, so is high danger chances-against. Like, Olli Maatta is better than him in that category somehow.

RP: To be fair, Austin Strand has played seven games.

JN: Right, it’s a small sample size. I think the big thing for me when talking about Adrian Kempe is he doesn’t feel like he’s only 24 years old.

RP: What do you mean?

JN: He’s only 24.

RP: No, I know that.

JN: It seems like he’s been a king for 12 years.

RP: It really feels that way!

JN: Yeah it seems like he’s older than he is... And you know... Maybe this is when everything gets put together for him. I think if you’re to talk about what a lot of scouts see with Adrian Kempe, is someone who frustrates the hell out of scouts. They’re like, oh he has everything he has hands and speed and vision and physicality but goodness knows not all of those things will ever be a part of his game at the same time on any one night in particular. And you know, someone who was streaky and contributed was someone like Marian Gaborik. Marian Gaborik would go through those those goals scoring droughts. But when he was in those droughts, you would see him like go to the front of the net and like try to pester and be in the goalie’s way and then he’d ultimately just get cross-check so heavily in the back by a defenseman a lot... That’s a pretty good indication of why his play dropped off a cliff… But you know, he, uh... You saw the effort and I think sometimes Kempe being a young guy, maybe we don’t see that consistent effort all the time, but maybe as he’s maturing and you know, growing up maybe we are going to see that a little bit more and I’m going to look even dumber for all the things I’ve just said about Adrian Kempe.

RP: You know what’s funny? Adrian Kempe is listed at 6’2”. Austin Wagner is listed at 6’1”. Adrian Kempe plays smaller than Austin Wagner. They have the…

JN: Yeah, that’s true.

RP: They have the same skill set: they’re fast, they—well Austin Wagner probably has less shooting talent than Adrian Kempe and I would dare say Adrian Kempe is probably a little bit smarter hockey wise than Austin Wagner and this is nothing against Wagner just like, you know, JAD is one of the most brilliant forwards on the ice. But just like... And I think that’s one of the things that sort of gets frustrating with Kempe and it’s... I mean, it-it’s such a European way of playing, kind of playing smaller than your stature. I don’t want to say he’s timid or anything because he’s not timid he doesn’t not play timid. But sometimes he just plays like he doesn’t want to get hit and that’s a very European—because hitting they do hit in Europe, they have body checking in European leagues, it’s just not quite as grrr I’m going to smash you and you know, murder your brains out and and try to make you bleed from your ears every night that they they have in North America. It’s-it’s still physical it’s just less... Grotesque violence, I should say.

JN: WelI mean, it’s still there... Didn’t Grundstrom get suspended for a few games—

RP: [overlapping] Well, I’m not like—

JN: — because like he hit someone from behind.. But like I mean Peter Forsberg, I think, is a guy who was way more physical than people remember.

RP: I’m not saying he’s not physical and this is and I’m not saying…

JN: Oh I understand what you’re saying. It’s the difference in styles where North American players are taught straight ahead, be a wrecking ball if you want to make a team whereas European players or maybe like hey we have bigger ice, show us you can take advantage of that bigger ice and then wait for your opportunity to exploit the uhh... You know... Take advantage of your opportunities, that’s what I mean to say. Yes, we’re saying the same thing. I was just bad at saying it compared to you.

RP: No, I think you put it into words better than what I put into words. [laughs] Words are hard.

JN: Yeah and then. Really quickly just talking about everything. In terms of high danger chance-for percentage: Kempe middling, you get to Vilardi and Carter and Athanasiou, they’re all about the same. You know, they’re they’re they’re middling at best.

RP: You know, what I found interesting since you brought up Carter? He’s actually... He leads the team in individual Corsi-for, so he’s generating… I believe the most... Shots... [Pause] Sorry, I was wrong. I said Corsi, I meant chances

JN: Yes. I believe that. Yeah, because especially with that, you know, when he’s playing with those guys, he’s a guy who’s kind of playing smaller than he is right now and when he gets his chance to do something cool, he-he does it. Especially if. you know, one of those guys gets on a breakaway, namely Athanasiou.

RP: Most surprising name on this list, guess. It’s not Dustin Brown, although I am surprised to see him so high.

JN: For individual chances-for…

RP: Don’t look, don’t cheat.

JN: Well, I’m gonna assume Austin Wagner

RP: No. Well. Yeah, no. He’s... He’s 11th.

JN: Okay…

RP: Matt Roy. Matt Roy is... he’s a defenseman. He’s played 23 games. He has played uh... about 60 minutes fewer than Anze Kopitar, cumulatively, on the ice. They are both tied for the same amount of chances-for.

JN: I’m... honestly kind of not that surprised with the way Matt Roy’s play has been five-on-five and the way we have seen him be really smart at the point and I... I think we can look back on a lot of Kempe goals in particular and see where his shot created a chance for Kempe and yeah. I don’t... I’m... It’s a little bit surprising for him to be that high. At the same time, I think with the way his game has been this year, I’m not blown away by it. I’ve really liked his game this year.

RP: I just find it... He’s a defenseman…

JN: Yeah.

RP: And he’s fourth. Really he’s tied for third but I mean, he’s fourth.

JN: Mmhm.

RP: He’s a defenseman. Have I mentioned that he plays defense?

JN: Really?

RP: [laughs] It’s just... I’m not used to seeing that from specifically LA Kings defensemen. If this was Colorado, I would say absolutely 100% not at all surprised.

JN: [laughs] Right.

RP: But you know, two seasons ago... I think it was two seasons ago, it might have actually been the start of the 20… 20… 2019-2020 season. I think LA was like the last team to get points or goals from all of their defensemen. So like, I’m just not used to seeing a defenseman so high up on the “oh he created chances to score list.”

JN: Yeah, I understand that. I think, you know, 14th on the team is Ollie Maatta. I’m on Evolving Hockey looking at that and yeah, Maatta gets his opportunities because he’ll pinch so hard if you give him an opportunity to pinch. But I mean, I’ve been really impressed with Matt Roy this year. You know, I think his presence is only making things easier for Tobias to be on foot who is getting better, he’s getting more comfortable. I’m seeing fewer instances of him early in the game where he has a shift or two where he panics when the puck comes to him and he’s being a bit more decisive and that’s obviously what we want from him. And I mean Mikey Anderson has been just so cool and calm and good all year long, oh my gosh.

RP: You know, it’s funny though? Most of the Kings fans, they don’t like Mikey Anderson. It’s because he makes the obvious gaffe. So when he makes a mistake and he turns the puck over, it immediately leads to a goal against or at least a very high danger chance against and it’s like, “Oh why is this kid still playing?” and it kind of reminds me of… [pauses, awkward chuckle] when Slava Voynov first came to the Kings, he was doing the same thing. And that was the one thing that Willie Mitchell said. He’s like, “look this guy has the puck on his stick all the time that when he makes a mistake it’s a high—or it’s an obvious mistake, like it’s something that everybody points to and they hate it.” Everybody’s gonna make mistakes. I mean as Jim Fox has said over and over that’s-that’s how hockey… That’s how goals are scored and hockey now. You have to make the other team make a mistake. You can’t just kind of wait them out or bully your way through anymore. Although the Vegas Golden Knights will tell you differently.

JN: Heyo!

RP: Hehehe, I don’t like them, can you tell?

JN: Haha haha well, I mean like you’re saying, you know in terms of giveaways for the LA Kings who leads that stat? Probably the guy with you know, the puck on his stick all the dang time: Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar.

RP: Yeah, actually.

JN: They have more giveaways than anyone else because they have the puck more than anyone else!

RP: It is literally Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar one and two in giveaways.

JN: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Like I… Yes.

RP: Mikey Anderson is number six, so it’s…

JN: Yeah!

RP: He has the puck a lot, so when he gives the puck away, like he’s gonna lead that stat.

JN: Now, he’s doing better than Matt Roy and Olli Maatta in those stats.

RP: No he’s not. Oh wait, yes he is, sorry, sorry. [James laughs] I was... I got confused for a second you’re right. Well okay, he’s doing slightly better than Olli Maatta. Well they’re all tied. Their... Olli Maata and Dustin Brown and Mikey Anderson are tied.

JN: Yeah.

RP: With 13 giveaways each.

JN: I think the overall theme that I am trying to paint right now in this talk of analytics, is that the Kings are trending in the right direction. Maybe they’re not a playoff team this year, but they’re getting... They’re a lot closer than they were last year and certainly the year before that. And if this trend continues, awesome, that’s what I think the organization expects. I think we are going to see reinforcements arrive next year. I think we see some things happen, you know with the roster—obviously with the expansion draft the Kings will lose a roster player. My assumption is it’s either you know, Wagner, Maatta or Quick. And then we… We see what happens. Because hey, here’s a fun analytic: money the Kings have the second most cap room this year, not counting LTIR. The only team with more cap room than them is Ottawa and I would definitely say the Kings are doing better than Ottawa. [Robyn laughs] I would say they’re doing better than New Jersey and Detroit. You know, because those are the only teams with more than 3.5 million dollars in projected gap room and then you have Florida who, they just have a lot of young players and a lot of guys who they got for very cheap, who are playing under Joel Quenville. And you know, it’s nice to see a team like Anaheim be right up against the cap and they’re garbage.

RP: Yeah, but they’re getting reinforcements. Troy Terry is eventually going to get better. He’s not going to suck forever. I firmly believe—

JN: If Bob Murray doesn’t trade him.

RP: [exasperated] He’s not going to trade him! That’s a stupid rumor that got started on Twitter [James laughs] and I wish he would trade him because as long as he trades him out of our division, that makes the Kings better…

JN: Yeah, and Zegras is good. He got his first goal last night.

RP: Yeah, and they have that other guy Jamie Drysdale. So, I mean Anaheim is in... Well, Max Comtois is a fourth liner but he always terrorized the Reign, that’s the only reason why I know his name.

JN: Yeah, Sam Steel, Max Jones, Derek Grant… Well, Grant’s an older guy, sorry.

RP: Yeah, so they got a good young core coming in Anaheim.

JN: Yeah, they do.

RP: I have no idea what’s going on with the Sharks. I-I don’t think anybody knows what’s going on with the Sharks, but…

JN: Y-yeah… And the Ducks will have a lot of cap room next year.

RP: Yes. Well, they’re only paying Corey Perry two million dollars for the next...

JN: And Getzlaf is a free agent after this year.

RP: You think they’re gonna let him walk?

JN: I wouldn’t be surprised if they trade him at the deadline. Let him go chase a Cup. I really wouldn’t be.

RP: He has a Cup.

JN: I know, chase another cup. He wants to do that probably.

RP: Yeah.

JN: I think you know, who knows what the free agent market looks like in the off season. We can assume there’s probably a flat cap again. The Kings are in a really good position for that. A better position than most teams in the league.

RP: Yeah, I believe Gary Bettman did say that despite the ESPN deal there is going to be a flat cap for the next two years just because they have to recoup the money that they lost from covid.

JN: Yeah. Yeah, I get it. I get it. I mean at... You know, looking to next year the Kings have almost 26 million dollars in cap space, they’ll have to resign Matt Roy; you know, Athanasiou is an RFA; Alex Iafallo is an unrestricted free agent; Trevor Moore is an RFA; Amadio and Luff are RFAs; so there-there are some guys to re-sign; Kale Clague and Austin Strand will be RFAs as well, but yeah, there’s nothing that seems to be... breaking the bank anytime soon for the Kings.

RP: I’m not seeing anybody that’s an RFA this year unless I’m reading cap friendly wrong.

JN: So for under ‘21-22.

RP: Oh, okay, that’s what I thought. Yeah, so you’re right. Iafallo, Athanasiou, Lizotte, Trevor Moore; Carl Grundstrom, Matt Luff. I don’t know if they re-sign Matt Luff, honestly.

JN: I don’t know either. I don’t know about Amadio, who today did go on waivers, likely to go to the taxi squad.

RP: Yeah…

JN: You know, I think... Does Lias Andersson have to be... No, no…

RP: Actually he, he is up for...

JN: Yeah, he’ll be in RFA.

RP: Yeah and Drake Rymsha, they’ll probably let—if they don’t... If they do not offer him, er, extend him a qualifying offer, I suspect they’ll let him walk. I have not seen anything from Drake Rymsha in the NHL, they may try to bury him in the minors again. Like he doesn’t even come up for a couple coffee in a game.

JN: Yeah, I think the Kings aren’t worried about their salary cap until after the 2022-2023 season when Turcotte, Kaliyev, Madden, Byfield, Kupari, Fagemo, Thomas and Jordan Spence will all be free agents [laughs]. You know, I think that’s where their bigger worry is.

RP: Well yeah, but Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter are also free agents, so that’s ten million dollars

JN: [interjecting] After next year.

RP: Yeah. Yeah, 2022.

JN: Yeah and-and…

RP: That’s when they’re gonna have like their big free agent class, too, but they’re gonna get 10 million dollars back. I don’t think Adrian Kempe’s gonna cost them a whole lot. Gabriel Vilardi’s not gonna cost a lot... The interesting thing is gonna be what they do with Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Carl Grundstrom.

JN: Mmhm.

RP: And then of course…

JN: Yeah, I mean, I’m liking the way they’re playing so far and I don’t see any reason to not see them as Kings for the future. You wonder about when do the Kings make the kind of Patrick O’Sullivan for Justin Williams type trade. You know, when they give up a young player for an experienced player, I mean... we’ll see what happens.

RP: Five games ago, I didn’t think that they were trending in the right direction. It looked like they weren’t because they were on a horrible losing streak and now they want a couple games so it’s like well maybe they are turning in the right direction? Statistically if you look at the overall season, I’d say yes, they are showing signs of improvement in key areas that you want them to be.

JN: They are extraordinarily streaky like you would expect a team buoyed by goaltending and one line to be.

RP: Yes. I just... You know, it’s gonna be really interesting next year because, do they bring up Turcotte? Do they bring up Kaliyev? Do they bring up Byfield? Will he be NHL ready? They have questions about Rasmus Kupari. I mean both Kupari and Kaliyev looked like they were NHL ready. They both stepped in and looked pretty comfortable in the few games that they played. Do you keep Turcotte and Fagemo in the AHL for one more year? [Sighs] 2022-23 is gonna be a really big year because that’s when all they’re-they’re draft class is... or they’re free… They’re RFAs.

JN: Yeah, they’re they’re entry-level contracts.

RP: Yes, their ELCs, oooh.

JN: You know, they… They...

RP: Cole Hults, Sean Durzi, Marcus Phillips—we haven’t seen anything from him. I’m really interested in to see what they’re gonna do this year because Kale Clague, Austin Strand, Jacob Moverare: what do you do with those guys?

JN: I mean, Kale Clague is definitely a bridge deal. Yeah. I think same with Austin Strand. I think those are young defensemen who are serviceable NHL players. You know, in, you know, a bottom pairing or seventh defenseman type role who maybe you know going into the trade deadline next year are tradable for a veteran player.

RP: I really am curious to see what they do with Jacob Moverare because he’s 22. I feel like he’s been in the Kings organization for six years

JN: [laughs] Yes!

RP: Because he’s been playing in Sweden, so you’re kind of like, oh yeah that guy. But they loved him in Sweden, they absolutely loved everything that he did in Sweden. They gave him this year to get adjusted to North American style, totally respectable, but what do they do with him? His contract is up at the end of the year. And he hasn’t even gotten a cup of coffee!

JN: Yeah. I mean, he’s only played in three games for the Reign.

RP: They have too many defensemen again.

JN: Yeah, they do. They do and goodness knows it’s been a freaking game of musical chairs on the back end this year with the taxi squad. So yeah. I-I don’t know. The Kings will continue to be frustrating to watch as a Kings fan for this year there-there’s no doubt about that.

RP: Just this year?

JN: I’m not trying to make anything rosey or anything—. Well, you know [laughs]. The nature of the beast, I suppose.

RP: Yeah, but come on. I mean, 2012 nobody thought that they could do it. And then 2014 and nobody definitely thought they were going to do it. They were on the ropes—they were against the ropes. I mean down three nothing to the Sharks, the game went to overtime you’re just waiting for the Sharks to score that final dagger and... And then…

JN: And then it didn’t happen, yep. And you know, they…

RP: They’re just like the streakiest team ever, that’s all I’m trying to say.

JN: Yeah they are and... It makes for excitement. [Robyn scoffs] And elation. So...

RP: They’re the cardiac Kings for a reason.

JN: They sure are. And... I really think... I mean, this-this year who knows if there... If they make the playoffs. You know, they have shown to have St. Louis’s number and...

RP: Yeah, but they lost to the Coyotes just recently.

JN: Yeah, well, and the Coyotes are are trending in the wrong direction right now obviously with they get Darcy Kuemper back, things look a little different but we have seen reports that things within the organization in Arizona are not going great, which is a shame because I really like Rick Tocchet and I think he makes his players better and you know, yeah. Obviously, you know, San Jose and Anaheim, the Kings need to beat up on them when they get the chance to and... San Jose and Anaheim are gonna play them tougher it feels like.

RP: Anaheim just blew with three-oh lead to the—oh wait, no, that was to the Avalanche. I thought it was against the Golden Knights, nevermind.

JN: Yeah. Yeah, they came back from two down last night.

RP: Oh, it was a three-one lead against the-the Ducks? Was? No, Sharks. It was a three—the Sharks blew a lead against the Golden Knights. It was three-oh.

JN: Yeah. That was the other night, yeah, that was fun.

RP: No, we don’t want Vegas to have any success! Come on, James!

JN: They’re already a lock for the playoffs practically. And what can you do? You you just hope that they use up all their energy in the regular season and then the Kings play them in the first round and we shock them, you know. We’re recording this on-on you know, Friday afternoon before the Kings play Vegas tonight, we’ll see what happens. Obviously Vegas is a good team and they’re a hard team to play against for all of the reasons that Robyn will explain to you.

RP: Yes, let me explain it to you in the most condescending manner that I can.

JN: [laughs] Well we can assume it will be another sucker punch to the heart this year. The Kings will probably get tantalizingly close to a playoff spot within the last five games and not make the playoffs and...

RP: Well, at least this year. Calgary can’t, you know, deliver the final blow.

JN: That is nice. That is nice, really, I do appreciate that and yeah. Speaking of, Calgary is just three points out of a playoff spot and that whacky North Division.

RP: They won their first two games with Sutter

JN: First three.

RP: And then they just laid down and died.

JN: Well they had one game. They won the first three and then lost one and I believe they play—yeah, they play against Toronto today.

RP: Oh yeah. I just meant in that last game against the Oilers.

JN: Yeah, well Connor McDavid decided to be Connor McDavid. [Both laugh] I think with that one, it is that fourth playoff spot where all the teams are like “no, you take it no you take it, please.”

RP: They just wanted to make the Fyers feel like they weren’t alone and that they had somebody in solidarity with them.

JN: [cackles] Oh, that’s a weird team.

RP: Ugh! You want to—okay. You know what, though, no matter what happens, James, I think we can all be grateful we’re not Buffalo Sabres fans.

JN: Of course.

RP: That is a… An organizational mess.

JN: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, and hey if I’m the Kings, I am a million percent trying to kick the tires on Rasmus Dahlin.

RP: [laughs] No, you wanted Casey Mittelstadt.

JN: Oh, I would love Casey Mittelstadt, too. Believe me! I love me some Casey Mittelstadt. It’s just how many young forwards do the Kings need on their... in their pipeline?

RP: I kinda like Casey MMittelstadt, though. I mean, he’s… He’s like a solid quiet producer.

JN: Oh, yeah.

RP: Can he replace Austin Wagner? Listen, I love Austin Wagner. I really do love Austin Wagner, but we need somebody with hands, actual hands.

JN: Yeah. Yeah. Man, I like this idea. We should just be GMs. You know what Buffalo? You need some help, hire us.

RP: You want to know the craziest stat of all?

JN: Yes.

RP: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have combined for over a hundred points in like 30 games.

JN: Yeah, it’s 1983. What did you expect? [Robyn laughs] Like yeah. They’re-they’re filthy, they’re great, they’re so good and-and yeah. And like you said, defense optional in that league, in that division.

RP: Especially when Connor McDavid goes, “I’m tired of this crap, let me just do what I do best.”

JN: Yeah, skate by everyone and roof it. Oh, man.

RP: Yeah, he’s a cheat code onto himself.

JN: He freaking is. Like, I mean, he’s already at 20 goals. In 33 games. He has 58 points in 33 games. Like. [Disbelieving noises] How? And he’s only a plus 12!

RP: I give you ladies and gentlemen, Edmonton goaltending. And defense. Their goaltending is just a question mark.

JN: What? What do you mean Mike Smith is erratic in goal?

RP: No, I was thinking of a Koskinen.

JN: Well yeah, that’s the two of them.

RP: Well, so, Koskinen is much like Adrian Kempe, where he has these really great games and he’s like, you know on fire and then it’s the next day and he lets in five stinkers.

JN: Yeah. [Exhales] Yes. You know, at least the Kings have had solid goaltending this year. We can point to Cal and Quickie and even the one game with-with Grosenick—

RP: [interrupting] The goose is loose!

JN: —as being really reliable and yeah. I mean every goalie has a bad game eventually and Quick has had a couple and so has Cal.

RP: Yeah, Cal said he was really sloppy against… I think it was against Arizona. Or was it against Minnesota? They’ve played Minnesota too many times. Yes, they have.

JN: Thank god we only have to see them once more this regular season. [Pause] Looking ahead, the Kings play Vegas for the next six games. We do have two in San Jose on Monday and Wednesday and then... Yeah, so it’s two against Vegas, two against San Jose, two against Vegas, two against San Jose. And then we throw in two against Arizona for-for fun and then two more against San Jose and two more against Vegas.

RP: This schedule is so bizarre this year.

JN: Yes, we’re gonna see a lot of Vegas and San Jose over the next few weeks.

RP: It was coming.

JN: Oh yeah, yeah it was and then I think towards the end of the year we have like, I think, like four or five straight games against Anaheim, so yeah. Hopefully the Kings pick up points when they can against, you know, San Jose and they steal a game or two against Vegas. So. Yeah, and if they don’t, oh then-then... they’re streaky, who knows? They... It-it’s a weird team this year, but overall better than last year.

RP: Yes. Remains to be seen what they’re gonna do with the kids, but that’s a good problem to have.

JN: Yeah, it’s not too bad.

RP: well I think we’ve exhausted our sucker punch to the heart, so…

JN: Oh! Oh! I have one thing. So the Islanders, who have been great this year—really, really, really, really, really good. I don’t know if I can emphasize that enough.

RP: Have they been good, James are you sure?

JN: Yes. Wait, sarcasm from you.

RP: I know you’re shocked.

JN: Haha! They lose. Anders Lee, he’s done for the year, which is so unfortunate. Do you see them going after one of the Kings’ wingers whether that’s a Kempe, an Anthanasiou, a Wagner type?

RP: Who’s their GM again?

JN: Oh, Lamoriello is their GM.

RP: Oh right, that’s right, Lou. Okay Lou Lamoriello. [Brief pause] If he gets on a hot streak. I could see them going after Adrian Kempe, maybe Andreas Athenasiou, depending on who’s hotter because both of them kind of fit that... down in the grind, you know that kind of get dirty in the corners, kind of Lou Lamoriello style. Kempe’s got size but Athanasiou, he’s dirt cheap and you know, he might be streaky, Athanasiou, but he’s surprising so I think he could... I could really see them going after like Athanasiou. I think he would fit in well with a Lou team.

JN: Yeah, I do too. Yeah, playing Barry Trotz’s style, yeah sure.

RP: He would totally fit—I don’t want him to go, wait a minute. [laughs]

JN: Yeah, I know. I know. And and… You know, obviously his game’s going to look a lot different playing for Barry Trotz, who, of course is you know, like Darryl Sutter, but more agreeable to his players .[Robyn laughs] And, they have a first-round pick this year and next year they have Colorado’s second each of the next two years as well from the Devon Toews trade. So there’s draft picks to trade to have some young players. I’m sure you would very much want Jos. Ho Sang back in return.

RP: He’s never gonna make the NHL and that pisses me off so much. That is a podcast for another time though. We got to wrap this up.

JN: Okay.

RP: Any final thoughts?

JN: Um, But don’t hit your keyboard too hard on your laptop if it’s not working right. And-and maybe don’t break the M key like somebody I know did today.

RP: Proud of you, man. Alright, well, thank you for joining me today, friends and listeners. We had no questions, but that’s okay. And we will be back in hopefully a week. So bye.

JN: Wooo!