We are back with another fantastic episode! Sorry it’s been so long, but life gets in the way sometimes. We take a look at the Los Angeles Kings’ youth — is it experience or size that the team truly lacks? James is insistent that the line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Alex Iafallo is the only one with size and that’s why it’s succeeding (despite the fact that Gabe Vilardi and Adrian Kempe are both 6-foot-0 or taller, so maybe, as Robyn believes, it’s not “size” necessarily but a learning curve?).
Plus, we discuss Rasmus Kupari’s first game and the rotating door of players going from NHL roster to taxi squad to the AHL and back to the NHL.
There’s a rumor floating around Canada that Jack Eichel could land either in Los Angeles or with the New York Rangers. Does it make sense for the Kings to try to trade for him?
Then, we go down a rabbit hole of wait, what year is it? No really, what year is it?? Will the Calgary Flames trade Johnny Gaudreau? Should Calgary be the ones to trade for Eichel? What year is it again? Matthew Tkachuk: Friend or foe to his own teammates? Will James please stop trying to make division rivals better?
And finally, James gives everyone more disturbing imagery to end the podcast.
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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.
JN: Hello and welcome to Crown Conversations! I am your host, Robyn, and I am joined again by James Nicholson and… Robyn, I just want to let you know that the Kings look a whole lot like my underwear—very streaky as the Kings had a wonderful six game winning streak and followed it up with a six game losing streak that we are still in the midst of. And, [sighs] oh boy. I’m sorry. I’ve disgusted you as much as the Kings have.
RP: [laughs] James, aren’t you a little old to be talking about the streaks in your underwear?
JN: No. No, never.
RP: [laughs] Surely your wife is in the other room going, “Oh God why did I marry this man?” [laughs again]
JN: Yeah, that’s most days. [Robyn laughs] Most hours. [Both laugh]
RP: Yeah, the Kings. Um, well let’s jump right into it. A few games ago, Jesse—the host of All the Kings Men Podcast—he asked, “Are the Kings good?” Now, this was in a six game winning streak and I personally, I was a little hesitant. A lot of people were like yes, this team is great… I wasn’t quite drinking that much Kool-Aid. I was like, “Let’s wait until they lose and then ask this question again.” And oh, look, I was right! And I didn’t wanna be right!
JN: [laughs] Yeah. It is… I think, frustrating with this team because the highs are really high and the lows are really low. And… A great way to look at those highs and lows is how bad they are at 6v5, whether they pull the goalie or are playing against an empty net. I-I think a really big thing is that the Kings aren’t great on corsi. They are buoyed a lot strictly by their powerplay and by the Kopitar, Brown, and Iafallo line. [Sighs] If I was to answer if they are a good team, I would tell you they are a good team when Austin Strand is their third pairing defenseman instead of Olli Määttä. [long pause]
I think losing Jaret Anderson-Dolan didn’t make them a better team. I think he made anyone who he was playing with a lot better. Because Carl Grundström and Trevor Moore have—they’ve been effective as grinders but they haven’t been dangerous and they were dangerous when JAD was centering them. [pause] And… Yeah, losing those two guys every day has hurt them. [long pause] And… [brief pause]
You and I are going to, I feel like, really get into it with this topic of you know, just kind of the youth that the Kings have. I don’t feel like the Kings, outside of that top line, have a lot of players on the current roster who make the players around them better… [long pause] And I think a big example of that, in my mind, is Gabe Vilardi. [long pause] I… [pause] Like this comparison in my mind—and you can tell me I’m totally wrong—um, skill-wise he’s not quite to where and getting to but, it’s an analogy. I look at Gabe Vilardi a lot like I look at Austin Matthews: He has a lot of skill and he can shoot the puck. But... Do I consider him the best player on his line? No. And I think we’re going to see Gabe Vilardi become a lot more effective if he can have a Mitch Marner style player on his wing who can create opportunities for him to be absolutely studly. And... Maybe the Kings got a glimpse of that last night with Rasmus Kupari’s debut… Because I would love to see Kupari on a line with Gabe Vilardi and I think that would be very fun for the Kings.
RP: I… I think… [long pause] Um… I’m not a coach, obviously, and I’m not the general manager, so I-I don’t have a good idea of what’s best for this team. I’m just some schmuck with a microphone but… There’s too much rotation, in my opinion. You-you get somebody up for two, three, maybe four games at a time and then they go to the taxi squad. Or then they’re out the next… Like they-they come up for four games, but they don’t actually play the whole time. And it’s like, what’s the plan? Is there a plan? I genuinely want to know because it—nobody seems to act like there’s a plan. Like... You know, we talked about Drew Doughty and Olli Määttä always trying to do… do it themselves and-and that’s why they’re terrible together because they’re always like “no, I’m taking over the game. No it’s me, my turn” and...
Olli Määttä doesn’t quite have the skill set that Drew Doughty does in order to get away with taking over the game, but for me it’s just kind of like... What-what are you doing with the kids? Do you want to play the kids are not? I don’t know what the conversation between Todd McLellan and Rob Blake is but it just kind of seems like... Well what’s insert guy X here, Guy Y goes here. Let’s play one of these Ontario kids. Hey, you know, this guy is doing really well, let’s give him a cup of coffee. Are you rebuilding or are you trying to get to the playoffs because you can’t have it both ways and this is a have your cup of coffee—er, have your cake and eat it, too, type of moment for the Kings and they just kind of seem stuck. And I don’t know if they know what they even want.
JN: I would say things would be a lot easier if there was not a taxi squad for the Kings. Now, that being said, everyone has to deal with the taxi squad right now. I think they have to have Olli Määttä playing games because they are going to expose him in the expansion draft.
I mean, I think looking at the, you know, the minimum games played, the contracts, all that sort of thing, the Kings are going to need to have some players exposed. I think it’s going to be Austin Wagner, Olli Määttä, and Jonathan Quick assuming all those guys are on the roster come the summer. Martin Frk was a guy who was going to be exposed in the expansion draft, but he’s not going to get the minimum number of games played to be eligible for the expansion draft. Soooo... That’s the plan.
RP: No, I get that but it’s just…
JN: [overlapping] In terms of the kids, I think we’re seeing something...
RP: [overlapping] They-they just seem…
[both pause, Robyn laughs]
JN: Go for it.
RP: Go ahead.
JN:I think... We are seeing the kids be brought up, given an experience and then sent back down. Just be like, hey cool, these are the things you did well, these are the things you need to work on here at the AHL level to get to that next level a la Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson that kind of style. And I think... Kaliyev had a good game and it was fun and exciting and then it’s okay great back to the AHL, here are the things he needs to work on.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan if he was not hurt would be the everyday fourth line/third line center for the Kings right now, there’s no doubt in my mind about that.
Lias Andersson.... [pause] Still wildly inconsistent, but plays hard. I think another thing is that the Kings just have a lot of players who are inconsistent. okay some point gave the largest and Adrian Kempe... you can maybe even throw Athanasiou in there... Blake Lizotte... Guys who... Hey! They’re around and they’re doing stuff... But it’s just not consistent in terms of production, not every shift looks the same... And... It’s hard because yes, you’re trying to develop consistency and the roster is always changing and lineups are changing pretty consistently and I-I mean... Again, I would prefer to see Austin Strand and Kale Clague up with the team right now. I would prefer to have, you know, Kupari now be with the Kings for the rest of the year. I don’t—that’s just not what’s going to happen because… Experience then covid and-and this season and...
I think all of this is to say: [long pause] The West division is big. The Kings... are a team that lacks any size and... their biggest player... is Kopitar. Like... That’s just the truth of it. They get bullied by the Minnesota Wild. They... were effective against the Blues, but still get pushed around by their defenseman... Pretty… Blatantly. They get pushed around by Arizona.
RP: [Doubtfully] Mmm...
JN: I mean—
RP: [interrupting] I don’t think it’s-it’s a matter of size. I think it’s a matter of experience and knowing how to utilize your size. Because we’ve seen it, especially with, you know—well Tampa got big—but they had a lot of smaller players and they were quite effective so I just think it’s... They’re missing... What they’re missing is a guy who knows how to… [hesitates] I… I always say this, but they’re missing a Willie Mitchell type of player. The guy who’s really smart, the guy who knows how to position himself, how to use his reach and a guy who—a guy like Willie Mitchell who trained Drew Doughty. Because it’s not necessarily you’re the biggest guy out there. If that was true they would still have Jordan Nolan and Dwight King and all those other guys. I mean... They-they’ve had big players in the past. You say they get bullied. I think it’s just... They just have a lack of skill on the blue line. Like, when Drew Doughty is your best defenseman—and I know he’s getting paid to be their best defenseman—but like... they just haven’t really upgraded the skill on the back end for me and and like Todd McLellan’s system doesn’t rely on being big, It’s-it’s very much a skill... a skill system that the young players either haven’t developed and grown into yet or the the inconsistency of their regular players, like Iafallo and and Kempe, they just aren’t quite suited for something that’s so heavily skilled driven, so fast.
JN: I mean, I see McLellan tailoring a lot of things to Adrian Kempe’s game to try to make him a consistent player and... it-it’s not working. I see... Todd McLellan utilizing the skill that’s there on the back end of a lot of guys who can skate well and, you know, be crafty at the offensive end, who can make a good pass. I see him utilizing what he has to create that 1-3-1 trap in the neutral zone to force turnovers.
I... I see a lot of skill on this team... I just don’t see it... necessarily all working at the same time like it was during the win streak... I... Again, like, that Willie Mitchell type of player, that’s what I saw from Austin Strand. Like, he was decisive with the puck at every moment. He had some grit and snarl. Maybe not cross-checking a guy in the neck is the best way to do that, but like... I thought a really, really good player. And... I mean, I’m not saying the Kings’ savior is Austin Strand. I, in all honesty, I would rather them see them trade for Pittsburgh’s Marcus Pettersson because I think he will be available at the deadline. I would rather see a guy like that step in because I think he could be that kind of a player with better mobility.
But… We talked about it. Like, why are the games against Minnesota so frustrating? And my answer was every line is two big guys and one really fast guy. You know... The number of times Soucy really hammered somebody in front of his net and the Kings didn’t respond... When Jaret Anderson-Dolan gets hurt against Arizona and no one responds... They’re going to have to play a lot of games coming up against Vegas and Colorado and when they get hit hard—because they will in those games—do the Kings respond?
I really, at this point, don’t think so unless Kurtis MacDermid is in the lineup and then he just fights at the top of the game and then doesn’t hold anyone accountable later on. Like, I-I know you’re not a fan of “big Neanderthal fight, that’s how hockey is Done Cherry go big Canadas”...
RP: Because it’s stupid.
JN: I understand that it’s stupid, but there’s still something to the game being played by stupid men.
RP: Yes, but I... [sighs] We’re gonna turn into the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins and everybody’s gonna say “what’s wrong with that?” You’re gonna have—my issue with those two teams is that Crosby and Malkin and Ovechkin, they are low-key dirty guys, and actually Ovechkin is not even like subtle about it, like Ovchkin is so dirty.
JN: I-I would say Kris Letang is the most low-key dirty guy on the Penguins.
RP: Yes, hundred percent. I don’t want to turn into... I don’t want the Kings to turn into one of those teams that’s so dirty where like everybody just complains—and that’s Vegas. Vegas is the west coast Penguins because all they do is trip and cross-check and like... it’s, you know, behind the scenes, like little dirty moments. Like that’s so annoying. Clean that—
JN: [interrupting] Especially with that Carrier-Reaves line.
RP: Oh god yes. But just like... See that’s the... And then everybody’s gonna go, “Well we need Tom Wilson” and then Tom Wilson is gonna take... Like Brandon Carlo is not a difference maker for the Bruins.
JN: Yeah, that hit was disgusting.
RP: [sputtering] And then people come out of the woodworks to defend Tom Wilson. Like Frank Seravalli was on Twitter last night going, “If you pause it right here, now if you look at this frame, you see the principal point of contact is not the head.” And that’s, like... Okay, first of all, Frank, that’s not even the point. Second, you’re wrong. But just like... You get the retaliation factor and... Slowly but surely the league has started to move away from that. Very slowly. But they kinda... They’re like a fat kid on a diet. They see chocolate cake and they say, “I’m not supposed to have chocolate cake, but that chocolate cake is staring at me. Well, maybe if I just have one piece of the chocolate cake, it won’t hurt” and then they end up eating the whole damn chocolate cake. It’s it’s… [incredulous laugh]
JN: Yeah… No, I-I get it. But the Kings... I mean... Dwight King hardly fought when he was with the Kings. He had the one scrap against Reaves in the-in the sweep of Saint Louis in 2012. But I... Like, that size helped them. He was good on the forecheck. Should he have been playing on the first line? No! But I-I think it goes to that thing I’m talking about. The only line with size is Kopitar, Brown, and Iafallo and that is why their line does good. Now Vilardi, Carter are big guys, but Vilardi doesn’t know how to use a size. He is more focused on stick handling the puck, two or three extra times and getting into trouble if he’s on the forecheck. You know… [pause] And, I was super impressed by Kupari in his debut because, I mean, there was one play in the third period where it was like him against Robert Bortuzzo—and Bortuzzo’s a very physical defenseman—and Kupari leveraged his size, leveraged his center of gravity, took a hit spun off it made a great play, had everyone think he was going to break out of the zone one way, and then reversed it one way and gave Olli Määttäa clear ice to not turn over the puck to exit the zone and like... Super impressed by him. Like, I’m fine with guys who can utilize their size in an appropriate way. I am not fine when we have size but no one wants to utilize it and make a play with it.
RP: I think we’re kind of saying the same thing.
JN: You might be right, yeah.
RP: It’s not necessarily size. It’s the skill and knowing how to use what you’re given, knowing how to use the tools in your box appropriately.
RP: I know McLellan is doing his best to tailor the game to everybody on a more individual level but. Maybe he’s not the best coach to-to bring it out for everybody. I don’t know. I’m not saying he’s a bad coach. I’m not saying the Kings should fire him or anything. I’m absolutely not saying that at all. I’m just... Maybe for this particular instance, he’s not the right coach to lead this team. Who is? I don’t know. Maybe we should bring back Daryl Sutter.
JN: Oooooh but we can’t because he’s back in Calgary, babyyyyyy!
RP: [laughing] Oh my god.
RP: James, what year is it?
JN: Oh, it’s 2003. [Robyn laughs] It’s 2003. Everyone’s mad about something.
RP: [laughs] I saw the news and I immediately texted you. I’m going, “What year is it?” I had to double check that the year on the tweet said 2021. That’s like no, no, no... But it’s not 2021. This is from 2003, right? You’re just trolling us, right?
JN: Yeah. No, and like... I’m looking... Okay. I’m going to go off on a rant here about why I love this for Calgary. Obviously Sutter loves Mark Giordano. Like, that’s his dude. That’s his guy who he signed as an undrafted player (kind of like Austin Strand) and then you know, he obviously has a good relationship with Milan Lucic. But that North Division, that all-Canada division, it is offense only and you don’t have the firepower to keep up with a Montreal, with a Toronto—especially a Toronto—or an Edmonton. Even like, Ottawa can put up a ton of goals. Okay, you can compete with Vancouver because they’re... dog barf, that’s fine... But, like there are a lot of very young defensemen with Noah Hanafin, Rasmus Andersson, Juuso Valimaki, Oliver Kylington... like those guys are going to exceed under Darryl Sutter’s very boring strangulation hold form of-of hockey. I like guys like Andrew Mangiapane and Josh Leivo and Brett Ritchie and Sam Bennett playing in that system and of course, Sean Monahan is going to do great in that system because he’s so good at the backcheck.
Now... Here’s a fun thing: I’m-I’m... Does Johnny Gaudreau like playing for Darryl Sutter? [high pitched voice, then normal] Probably not!
RP: No, absolutely not. Johnny Gaudreau... He’s... Let’s just say that his defense is not the best part of his game. And defense is everything—
JN: [mockingly] What?
RP: —in Sutter’s system. I know you’re shocked at that revelation, James.
JN: [mockingly in an old southern accent] I can’t! Ah… Ah… Oh, I’ve caught the vapors!
RP: [laughs] There are plenty of times when there are plenty of times when his lack of defense is made up for offense when he’s skating literal circles around the Kings and making all of them look silly because they’re still looking for their underwear. Because they’re looking for the streaks in your underwear, James.
JN: That’s right. That’s right. The Kings love my underwear. But… I… [laughing] Oh…
RP: This conversation is a little inappropriate now. [laughing] I’m sorry, listeners.
JN: [dramatic pause] I’m not. Um anyways… Yes, uh, also, Matthew Tkachuk being in a Darryl sucker under system just seems disgusting.
RP: Oh, he’s gonna thrive and everybody’s gonna hate him all that much more. Ah!
JN: Yeah, but supposedly a lot of people in the room are very sick of Matthew Tkachuk and his antics and maybe he’s turning into a bit of a Sean Avery type who really divides the room and the scene is being selfish with his on-ice antics.
RP: That’s because Matthew—for some reason or another, the Caps really love Tom Wilson and Tom Wilson’s ability to decapitate people with a flying elbow and DOPS to say, “Well he put his... He-he lowered his head into Tom Wilson’s elbow so you know, it’s-it’s not Tom Wilson’s fault, but I don’t know. I mean Matthew could chuck just doesn’t seem to have the same amount of love that the guys like Kris Letang and Wilson get.
JN: We can watch our old friend who we love very much, Jake Muzzin when he flips that puck at Tkachuk and Tkachuk freaks out.
RP: [laughs gleefully] That’s funny.
JN: My favorite thing about it is like, he is like trying to beat up a water bottle. And you can almost see the eye rolls from every other Flames player like, “oh god again with this kid.” I think it might be really interesting to see how explosive Sutter versus Tkachuk could be. It is either going to be immediate love or immediate hate. And I… I am excited to see how that fans out, um, speaking of immediate love and immediate hate... Jack Eichel and Buffalo.
RP: Ugh! [pause] Speaking of selfish assholes...
JN: Hey! Haha, that’s a good leap. Speaking of everyone in Canada—all The Athletic reporters, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Jack Eichel, at some point next year, either ends up with the New York Rangers or the LA Kings. Now, that Rangers make sense especially with his college coach, Dave Quinn, coaching the Rangers… Do you at all like the idea of the Kings trading for Jack Eichel?
RP: [sighs] On paper... It kind of makes sense because then you can play Kopitar and Eichel down the middle as 1A, 1B… And then you can put Carter either on Eichel’s wing or have him switch over to center as necessary... So on paper, it kind of makes sense but Kopitar is never going to be 1B. I don’t think Eichel’s ego can handle that, honestly. Like all the stories that come out is that Eichel has a massive ego—like you think Tom Brady has a big ego. Like Eichel somehow has a bigger ego than Tom Brady and Eichel hasn’t won shit. Like…
JN: Man, you are fired up today [laughing]
RP: [chuckles] Eichel has been in charge of essentially the Buffalo roster when he had no... He’s... Like, the GM is catering to him, like he got the coach fired and everybody in Buffalo is bowing down to Eichel. Why? Just because he’s a good player? Why does he get to be king?
JN: Because the Pegulas are bad at running their team.
RP: [laughs] Well yes, but…
JN: Yeah. In all honesty, if you’re talking about the culture, which Rob Blake is big on in a very low key manner, I don’t think Jack Eichel fits with the Kings.
RP: I don’t either.
JN: Like I don’t see them trading a Byfield and/or Turcotte and/or Vilardi and/or Kaliyev for Eichel and that really paying off for them long-term. Like, the guy can score. Like, in his career he’s played 373 games, he has 353 points. Like, he’s about a point a game player. Obviously, this year, he only has two goals, but on that terrible Buffalo team, he still has 16 points in 19 games. Like that’s... Pretty darn impressive. You know, last year—gosh, he had 78 points in 68 games last year. Like, he is a top tier player. I don’t know if he works for the Kings in terms of what they want to accomplish. I think... It could be a lot more interesting if, in the summer, the Flames trade Johnny Gaudreau for Jack Eichel… for Darryl Sutter.
RP: They love Johnny Gaudreau. Why would they do that?
JN: They’ve… I mean, in the last three seasons, they’ve been talking about trading him.
RP: Yeah, but that’s like… There’s always the... For some reason every single team always has one star player that his name ends up in the rumor mill. Like Kopitar has had his name in the rumor mill, the Golden Knights are apparently trying to trade Max Pacioretty even though they just signed him to an eight year deal. Like, everybody always has that one player for some reason or another, his name always ends up in the rumor mill.
JN: Now I’m going to throw out a comparison for you. Does Jack Eichel remind you a lot of Jeremy Roenick?
RP: [long pause] Oh my god. [laughs] Personality-wise, absolutely.
JN: Ability to score-wise? [evil laugh]
RP: No, he’s way better than Jeremy Roenick!
JN: [boisterous laugh] Haha! Well um...
RP: Jeremy... Well, I guess Jeremy Roenick was considered good, but I only remember him from when he was bad and everybody hated him.
JN: But a Jeremy Roenick-type did go to the Stanley Cup Final with Darryl Sutter as his coach.
RP: You know what I would actually like to see? I would like to see Eichel try to take on Darryl Sutter. I want to see who can be the bigger asshole [laughs].
JN: I-I-I... I’m all in on this now… Freakin’ Eichel to Calgary. Like, give it to them.
RP: No, no! We don’t want the... When the divisions go back to normal next year [James laughs evilly], we don’t want Eichel in our division, stop it, James. Stop trying to make the other teams around us better.
JN: You’re not the boss of me… Um… You’re not my dad. [Robyn laughs then James laughs] Okay... Like... Yes. I... It would be fun just from the outside, but man. A 1A, 1B of freaking Jack Eichel and then Sean Monahan. That’d be pretty filthy for Calgary… And then... Then they can truly compete against Edmonton in that division, in that rivalry—
RP: Yeah, but Edmonton still can’t—for whatever reason, in the last ten years, Edmonton still has not managed to put together a competent defensive squad. I don’t know why—
JN: —Darnell Nurse is having a really good year analytically.
RP: He’s one person, though!
JN: Oh, I know that.
RP: He can’t be on the ice... Like... Just like McDavid like they-they cannot be on the ice at all times and for some reason, the rest of the team seems to fall apart when they’re not on the ice.
JN: Well, sure, yeah that is very true. They’ll get… They’ll be better when Oscar Klefbom comes back, too.
RP: Yeah, that’s true.
JN: Like he’s been hurt all year… [Pause] Yes. They’re bad and it’s fun that Edmonton is bad with the best player in the world.
RP: Whoa, are you taking Crosby’s crown from him? I am spicy today. [laughs]
JN: You are! You’re fired up, man! [Robyn laughs] What’s in that Costco water bottle?
RP: I don’t know. [James laughs] Something fun.
JN: Okay, yeah. Trade deadline’s coming up as well. I think a lot of the... The rumor is, it’s not going to be a very active trade deadline across the league, especially with any, you know, across border trade, there’s going to be a 14 day quarantine period for any players crossing the border... That will, obviously, impact things drastically. Is there anyone that comes to mind that you think the Kings should be looking at trading for or trading away?
RP: It’s really hard because of covid and because they are so inconsistent. So I think they need... Really depends on what Rob Blake is willing to trade away and how patient he’s willing to be. They have Quinton Byfield stashed away in the AHL—for now. He’s back and healthy for the moment. But I believe he has to go back to the OHL next year because he’ll be 19, so he has to go back for his 19-year-old season. So, do you hold out for one more year to see what Quinton Byfield’s got or do you trade? I mean cuz that’s... I’m sure he learned a lot from Lombardi because this was also kind of... They’re starting to get into that point where Lombardi kind of had to balance patience with the need to upgrade the roster—oh! And because we’re talking about the trade deadline, guess what the anniversary was yesterday or today—
JN: Dustin Penner trade?
RP: No, Marian Gaborik for spare parts. [James laughs maniacally] Actually it was I think it was like on March 3rd or something, but Marian Gaborik was traded to the Kings for Matt Fratin a second and a third and I don’t think those guys panned out for Columbus, but that’s a different story. That’s... That’s... Jarmo being questionable at his job wasn’t that before though.
JN: Wasn’t that before Jarmo, though?
RP: [Pause] I don’t know now I have to look this up. You look it up.
JN: I don’t feel like doing it, I have too many tabs open already.
RP: I don’t care. [laughs] I mean, I don’t care to look it up, sorry [laughs].
JN: Yeah, same. Um, anyways… If I’m the Kings, there are two players who I look at right now who I really want and I already mentioned one: Marcus Pettersson with Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, they have Brian Dumoulin, I think today, March 6th, he’s coming off of injured reserve. They have a lot of young defensemen. They have John Marino, they just picked up Mark Friedman, they made that terrible trade for Mike Matheson and his gigantic contract, which ugh, they... yeah… You know, they have some young guys waiting in the wings Pierre-Olivier Joseph…
RP: Yeah, so if I’m the Kings, I would probably look at another stopgap a la Matt Frattin and like a bunch of these guys who just came through who were just here to kind of... fill the seat until the young kids are ready. That’s kind of what I would be looking at. I don’t know who would be available and, you know, what the contract situation would be, but I think that’s probably their best course of action.
JN: Pettersson is 24. The rumor is Rob Blake wants a 25 or under defenseman who can play to the left side.
JN: I think Pettersson fits that role great. I think if you’re looking at that stopgap kind of a guy, who maybe has some upside, who, hey if he’s a happy surprise for the Kings and can stick great. If not he can just eat up some tough minutes on a year where maybe things aren’t going great for them, I would look to Buffalo at Casey Middlestadt.
JN: He’s only 22. I mean, I’m still in love with him after that wonderful, I mean really great world junior performance he had in 2018. And he’s a guy who I really—it just sucks he plays for Buffalo, I feel like. Because I think he’s a guy who can really play well and I mean, it would be fun to see if he could do anything for the Kings and if not that’s kind of a low... low risk trade that they make.
RP: I like it. I-I think—
JN: I-I think Buffalo is souring on Mittelstadt, so yeah.
RP: Well who hasn’t Buffalo soured on in the last, I don’t know, two years?
JN: You know what, maybe they sour on Rasmus Dahlin and we can have him [both laugh]. I would love Rasmus Dahlin! Everyone would love a Rasmus Dahlin on their team.
RP: Speaking of Buffalo, um... And he has a really enormous contract… Jeff Skinner. He’s not a buy low, low risk potentially high reward player, he’s got a 9 million AAV contract, and I think he’s got like four more—no, six more years left to on—like six or seven more years left on that contract, do you take a do you take a flyer? Do you at least kick the tires?
JN: I mean, it kind of feels a lot like Jeff Carter playing for Columbus, doesn’t it?
RP: [laughs] Yeah... Well. So, what I’ve heard about Jeff Skinner is that he’s incredibly streaky. I don’t know if the Kings need another incredibly streaky player on their roster. Like, literally the only guy who has ever been consistent in his whole career is Kopitar.
JN: Yeah, yeah, that’s very true. I-I… It’s too much money for not enough to go after him. I-I just... Like, when I look at Buffalo like if you want to give us your first round pick, so we take his cap hit off your plate, okay, maybe there’s something there. Of course, this year’s draft is going to be extraordinarily weird and I think probably the 2022 draft picks are going to be valued more by teams.
RP: Do you take a package deal of 18 million dollars AAV between Eichel and Skinner. Because some people think that if you do... That they-they kind of... That Jeff Skinner is the you know is a test balloon... And-and if you... And maybe they throw him in to kind of get Eichel, or like they threw... Like it’s some kind of weird package deal with Eichel, like just to get rid of those contracts essentially.
JN: I mean... Oh my gosh, like you have to retain half of Jeff’s gonna respond to that at the very least. You have to take the four and a half million on for the like the contract and then maybe... I mean, they’re gonna want Vilardi and/or Kupari and or Turcotte and/or Kaliyev.
RP: No GM worth his salt would actually hold back four and a half million dollars for more than maybe one or two years. Maybe.
JN: No, I know that. But is the Buffalo GM worth his salt, of which I believe is you Kevyn Adams? Yes. Um… Kevyn Adams seems like he’s got that job because hey, you’re around. You’re the one guy we haven’t fired yet.
JN: Yeah, exactly. [Sputtering] That roster with Buffalo is so frustrating because now only is Jeff Skinner garbage this year, so is Kyle Okposo, who makes six million dollars a year for two years after this. You have Taylor Hall on the one year deal, he’s garbage. Eric Staal, not playing great. Sam Reinhart, not playing great. You have Cody Eakin, who has like two points this year... it’s me, sorry go ahead yeah like Colin Miller and Rasmus Risotlainen and Brandon Montour, nothing happening there on the back end. We’ve got Matt Irwin playing a lot, which is never a good sign. They... They’re just... They... That is a roster of underachievement and yeah, it’s bad. It’s bad in Buffalo.
RP: I was gonna say they kind of remind me of the Leafs in that on paper, they’re so good. But then you put them all on the ice together and they’re just a tire fire.
JN: Well, maybe not this year, but like last year, for sure.
RP: Okay, maybe more like the-the Oilers. They’re the Oilers of the East, for sure.
JN: Yeah, definitely yeah. I just... my gosh that is… what a disaster. They are.. I don’t-I don’t know like everything is just... I don’t know... I mean... You know, do you go a one for one deal to trade Athanasiou for Taylor Hall to try to get some more scoring down the wing? Like, I don’t know. I don’t think so.
RP: I know they brought in Athanasiou just so that he could be fodder for the-the expansion draft but I—
JN: Well he’s on a one-year deal so he doesn’t even count.
RP: Well, they’ll probably re-sign him or something—well he’s... I guess he might have just been another warm body, but... Aside from his inability to score consistently, I like Athanasiou. I’m surprised to say it, but I think he’s good. He’s not like the big guy who will clear up space for you... But he’s-he’s creative, he’s really he’s-he’s kind of underrated.
JN: He creates space by his speed.
RP: Yeah he that’s what Kempe was originally supposed to do, but Kempe sort of forgot that I think…
JN: Yes, he did. Very much so.
RP: And sometimes I think that Kempe forgets the tools that he has. It’s like, you’re actually a pretty decent hockey player, Kempe. You know that you were a first-round pick for some reason but…
JN: Yeah, like that’s the deal of Kempe is that like if I’m a scout I am so frustrated by him because he has... He can do everything, but he never puts it together on any given night.
JN: I mean, he’s 6’2, 208, like that’s a big body or 201, that’s a big body. He doesn’t play with any sort of size.
RP: But... I mean that’s kind of the European style, though. It’s-it’s that they don’t really... They’re not as much into the hard-hitting style as North American I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad—
JN: Well, tell Carl Grundstrom that.
RP: Well, Carl Grundstrom is trying to fit into a role because when he first came to the Kings, he wasn’t doing that either... Until Todd McLellan sat him down and had a heart-to-heart conversation with him and then suddenly he’s out there hitting everything that moves.
JN: No, when he was with Toronto Marlies in the AHL he was their make-a-big-hit-to-change-momentum guy.
RP: Didn’t play that way when he first came to LA.
JN: No, he didn’t. I think he played a little bit scared and then he found a few goals and said, “Am I this player?” [Robyn then James laughs] Yeah, so I don’t know it-it’s... Can we just talk about how nice it is to see Mikey Anderson be really nice and consistent, though?
RP: Yeah, you know for the lack of consistency, I think our frustration is the lack of consistent goal scorers. But Mikey Anderson—and I was actually really surprised and impressed with Austin Strand, because they were really consistent players. You knew exactly what you were gonna get out of them day in and day out. That’s not to say they were perfect and they never made mistakes because they did. and there were occasions where Mikey Anderson would get caught puck watching because he’d be like, “oh there’s the play behind me,” but I’ve pointed this out before: I mean veteran Jeff Carter has also had those moments where he’s caught puck watching and he’s like, “oh, play was behind me,” [both laugh] so. You know, I think he’s the perfect pairing for Drew Doughty because Drew Doughty is sort of... He’s a... To use a soccer term, he’s a striker.
RP: And I think he needs somebody consistent back, who he can rely on, somebody who’s a little bit more agile than Big Rig.
JN: No, definitely. And like… The one thing I’ve really enjoyed with Mikey Anderson is that he doesn’t panic. Um… You know Austin Strand never seemed panicked with the puck. Matt Roy, does not seem panicked. Tobias Björnfot, in the first period will always have one or two shifts where he is absolutely panicked and then settles down.
But I mean, I’m... I’m pleased with Björnfot’s play. I’m very pleased with Anderson’s play. I liked Kale Clague when he was with the team. I liked Austin Strand when he was with the team. Sean Walker, it’s nice having him in the lineup. I-I just... really... having Walker and Määttä as a pairing, it-it hurts… [Robyn laughs] It really does.
RP: I would love to see Walker back with-with Roy.
JN: I would take him back with freakin’ MacDermid. Like, that pairing, I thought was fine.
RP: That was a low-key, like good pairing. It shocked me.
JN: Yeah, yeah! I’ll take that pairing over Määttä.
RP: But, I think I was you who mentioned this… But you were like, they kind of flip-flopped in their roles a little bit. Which is funny because you don’t think of Kurtis MacDermid as a guy who can play a skill game. But he can when you have Walker back there protecting him and being all gnarly. And that was sort of the thing that made them successful with Ontario. Because Mike Stothers would do that a lot because Sean Walker kind of has this little bit of snarl to his game and he absolutely... I was just gonna say he usually brought it out whenever they played the Gulls so Walker has this great little snarl—well, in the AHL it was fun to watch—he has this little snarl to his game and he’d always be up there and... And I’m gonna sound so white when I say this, but he’s like he was always there and up in everybody’s grill or “in their kitchen” as the colloquial hockey term is.
JN: It’s-it’s true and like... [Long pause, then sighs] We have to suffer through a year of Olli Määttä. Like that’s… That’s the unfortunate truth… Hope he gets taken in the expansion draft. If he isn’t, they can buy him out. He’s, you know, three and a third million against the cap, split that up over a couple years, it’s not worse than the Phaneuf buyout and the Kings still have plenty of room to make a signing and to try to do some things. [Pause] Like, it’s really hard because I feel like Sean Durzi is already an Olli Määttä but maybe is less panicky? You know, I don’t know... Like, obviously things with the Reign are not going well this year... [Robyn laughs wryly] That’s that’s a thing where I mentioned earlier the taxi squad threw a wrench into it... like if the Reign were able to have their full complement of players and consistently, you know, not having to shuffle guys up to the taxi squad, maybe things are a bit easier for the Reign this year.
RP: Maybe but they... They’re very much like their parent club in that they are horrendously streaky and they’re very... they’re consistently inconsistent it was maddening to watch them last year and the worst part for the I mean, okay, this is gonna sound trivial, but the worst part of it happening—and I and I don’t mean to trivialize all of people who were sick and who, you know, who lost their lives unfortunately—
JN: Robyn, just admit you’re an anti-masker.
RP: [sighs, then sarcastically] Okay, I admit it. I fully admit it.
JN: [laughs] That’s sarcasm, that’s sarcasm!
RP: I’m out here moving myself to Texas, so that thanks to gov—okay, we’re not gonna go there. Nut what I’m saying is timing-wise, it really sucked for the Reign because they were finally, finally starting to get into a groove because they spent the first half, all the way from I guess... October through December… um, just... They’d win one, lose three; win two, lose five; win five lose ten. Maybe not ten, but you know, it’s the “one step forward, two steps back” with the Reign and Stothers had... At least outwardly, very much a lot of patience and I was like, I don’t know how you’re not screaming at these guys every night. Of course Stothers’ thing is like, “I’m here if you want me to be here but it’s up to you to be a professional.” I love Stothers, if I haven’t made that pretty clear but... [laughs awkwardly] I mean, so I talked to one of the Mikeys… Mikey Eyssimont last year, back in February. So right before they shut down all sports… He was saying that it’s buy-in. So, Stothers has a plan and it’s up to you if you want to buy into this plan and something just started clicking in late December and they’re like, “okay, I think we get it.” So, I don’t know if it’s that this year’s Reign squad isn’t blind buying in with [trying to pronounce] Ro-blew… Ro-blew-ski [Wroblewski]? Am I saying that right?
JN: Who knows?
RP: With the new AHL coach or if it’s just... They have a lot of consistently inconsistent players. I mean turcotte was... He was inconsistent in college, too. Lias Andersson... I think he’s back with Ontario and he’s been inconsistent his whole career... I know consistency is difficult to come by in pro sports, it’s just kind of the nature of the beast. But it’s just kind of like... the Reign are... They take it to a new level.
JN: Yeah, they do. And I mean... If you want to look at anyone who’s... Well he’s been consistently not a factor, it’s Alex Turcotte. But... Even someone like Aidan Dudas or Akil Thomas like or Södergran [note: Johan Södergran is actually back playing with HockeyAllsvenskan this season]... Man, you get flashes and then a bunch of nothing and I think really the only two guys who have been consistent for the Reign up front have been Tyler Madden and Rasmus Kupari. And even still, Tyler Madden—oh he only has four points in 11 games, that’s not great. But I think he’s also kind of one of those guys who keeps like having shots hit the post and creates fast breaks for other guys who then don’t score on them.
RP: What about Samuel Fagemo? Because I think he’s been also one of their more consistent players but he’s never gonna wow you with his offense. Well, he has that occasional highlight reel goals—
JN: I mean, he’s playing pretty well, he’s got four goals and three assists in 11 games. He’s a -6, but so is everyone on that team. I mean, he’s played well. Byfield’s played fine... I think it’s just... Man, like I’m looking at that defense... Okay, Austin Strand spent—
RP: Well all the good guys are up with the Kings.
JN: Yeah, but like the guys who’ve been there all year with like Marcus Phillips, Jordan Spence, Cole Hults, and Jacob Moverare... Not a ton of size there … All of them are pretty good skaters… But yeah... I... Yeah, it’s... There’s something…
RP: I think they were hoping to see more out of Moverare and Brickley. Brickley, I think because he was sort of a... I don’t want to say a prized free agent, but like once he after college it was like, ooh they-they could land this guy and he chose the Kings and I don’t know... He just hasn’t quite lived up to the college hype and Jordan Spence, I don’t know if they ever really expected anything out of him. Marcus Phillips... I mean, they have a really young defense outside of Austin—
JN: Yeah, it-it looks like Spence hasn’t even drawn into a game yet, which is fine. I mean, he’s-he’s really small and has a very unique kind of development path. Japan by way of Australia to Canada. But, like... I mean, Marcus Phillips we know he’s a stay-at-home defenseman and you know, no points over nine games but for that defense to only be a -3, he might as well be +5 on another team [both laugh].
RP: You know, I saw something interesting from Mayor’s Manor, so take this for what it’s worth because of the source, but Kale Clague has been the biggest disappointment for the Kings down in Ontario. That’s-that’s his opinion. I don’t know if he’s speaking on behalf of the Kings or sources or whatever. He said... According to Mayor’s Manor, John Hoven tweeted that he felt like kale clague was playing like he’s waiting for the Kings to to call him back up instead of playing like they have no other choice and I thought those really interesting because Kale Clague, he was pretty decent in the NHL. But, this happens a lot with the—I’m sure it happens a lot with all players who have been... They get that taste of... They get their first cup of coffee and they’re like, “give me more caffeine, I need more caffeine!” But then they go back to having like caffeine free tea and they’re going, “I don’t like this. I don’t want tea, I want coffee!”
JN: [laughs] No, I get it. I get it with Kale Clague. I mean, he’s put in a lot of work to develop his game. I mean, I remember hearing an interview a few years ago with Sean O’Donnell where like he had to sit in a classroom and the, It was just the two of them watching film of Nick Lidstrom and Sean O’Donnell being be like, “all right, this is how you can do this in your game, this is what I want to see from you.” And one of the really great things. I don’t know if you listened to the All the Kings podcast with Rob Blake... He... The Reign might not be showing up well on the ice, but they have classwork every day. Like, they have to sit in a classroom with Matt Greene or with Jarret Stoll or with Sean O’Donnell every day and learn how to be a King [Robyn laughing in the background], which I love. I love it so much.
RP: I’m sorry. I think it’s a little lame. [laughing]
JN: Hey you know what? That’s fine. You can think it says lame as you want. These are still kids who are trying to transition to adulthood
JN: And it’s nice to have mentorship.
RP: well, okay. I get that um, I mean, I just think like putting it more of the traditional classroom setting is a little bit... nerdy.
JN: If these kids weren’t playing professional hockey, they’d be in a college classroom right now.
RP: Most of them, yeah.
JN: Like... I honestly see it as a water birth into the NHL and professional hockey.
RP: [disgusted] Oh, James!
JN: They’re easing the transition.
RP: Ughhhhh. God.
JN: Man, I am just full of the grossest analogies today.
RP: [laughs] I hope your wife never talks to you about birthing methods.
JN: I’m actually the one who brings it up more often.
RP: Oh my god, she’s probably like, James stop!
JN: Yeah, she is [both laugh].
RP: What a saint of a woman your wife is. All right, well let’s wrap this up and stop talking about your personal life and your disgusting metaphors so we didn’t really get into analytic heavy things today. That’s okay. We’ll do another stabbed in the heart whatever it was your comment that you made... Before... You know, the heavy metal band. So we’ll do that. I think we should probably do it when they’ve played more than 25 games. I know it’s hard because like the Kings are super inconsistent and I don’t think it’s gonna change and they’re only playing...
JN: Once it gets to 28 games, that’s halfway through season and I think that’s a good spot to talk about some analytics.
RP. Alright well is there anything else that you want to add in real quick before we wrap this up?
JN: I am a very lucky man to be married to my patient and beautiful wife.
RP: All right, well thanks for joining me today, James—er no, Robyn. Thanks, Robyn. I have been your host James. This has been another episode of Crown Conversations and we will see you again for another stabbed in the heart with the numbers.
RP: Well, not see you but we’ll talk to you again. So yeah, all right, bye, folks.