Crown Conversations: Battle of the Kings Postmortem
A very special, not-dead guest from the now dead BOC blog joins the podcast to recap the Kings’ season.
The Los Angeles Kings finished with the meekest of mehs to end their season. Instead of going out with a bang to prove they are fighters, they quietly disappeared with about four games to go before the year officially ended. James and Robyn reflect back on the good, the bad and the woof.
Joining them is special undead former Battle of California writer Ryan Dunn to discuss what went right with the Kings and where they can improve in the future. Plus, they look at potential trade targets (no, Jack Eichel is not a good fit for the Kings) and predict whom the Seattle Kraken might take in this year’s expansion draft (probably not Jonathan Quick, despite the rumors). One name thrown out there? Joe Pavelski. If he’s available this summer, should the Kings look at trading for him from the very cap-strapped Dallas Stars?
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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’m your host, James Nicholson—or am I Robyn P.? The world may never know. But joining us today on Crown Conversations to do a post-mortem on the Kings’ 2021 season is the one, the only, the harbinger of a battle of a state that isn’t around anymore—well the blog about it isn’t around anymore... This is a terrible introduction... Ladies and gentlemen, the Not Dead Ryan Dunn.
RD: Well it was a terrible blog, so… It’s all, it’s all good. I don’t know if it’s still up. I don’t think they’ve deleted it yet, which... Let’s not notify anyone. Just, you know... Let it live on as a zombie.
RP: I mean...It’s SBN what it when are they gonna get around to doing actually anything productive?
RD: Probably they’re not listening to this podcast.
JN: [laughing, self-deprecatingly] Oh people listen to us, yeah... and our bad takes... But that’s why we have you on, Ryan, because—
RD: Oh I’m good with that.
JN: Oh, yeah, yeah. You are... Your hot take ability is unparalleled in the LA Kings twitter realm, yeah.
RP: I’m so excited!
RD: Yeah, I’m... just gonna you know, doom and gloom and make everyone, you know, upset and hate me. It’s, you know... It took a long time to really hone those skills but I think I got it down.
JN: Oh man. Oh. It sounds like you and Olli Määttä are the masters of that.
RD: That’s why I was so upset when we traded for him. it was like “ugh, this guy.”
JN: [laughs] Moving in on my...
RD: Encroaching, yeah.
RP: I’ll have you know, Olli Määttä is James’s favorite player.
JN: [mutters] Oh my god. [Robyn laughs] The thing is I loved Olli Määttä so much in Pittsburgh. Like, I really loved the way he played for those two Stanley Cup teams, the way he came back from the health issues and then I... I thought Pittsburgh was just being Picksburgh and like victimizing a decent player and shipping them out of town a la Marc Andre Fleury or Matt Murray, and then he went to Chicago, now the Kings I’m like, oh no, they’re-they’re right, yeah.
Yeah, it is different from regular season Olli Määttä, but if regular season Olli Määttä is around we don’t get playoff Olli Määttä! Ugh! So uh, that’s my take on the Kings’ 2021 season, what would you guys do to fix the team?
RP: James you didn’t even give us a take. You just ranted about Olli Määttä.
JN: The Kings make the playoffs and we get playoff Olli Määttä if we don’t have regular season Olli Määttä. [Brief pause] All problems start and end with Olli Määttä. [Robyn laughs]
RD: That is fair mean, hey, they lined him up at like top pair defenseman to start the year and I think that lasted like what two weeks? And... That was an ugly two weeks. There was a lot of weekly weeks this season, but those two weeks were... particularly ugly for Mr. Määttä. That’s fun to say.
JN: Yeah, it was honestly like... It felt like, when you’re a kid and it’s you and your friends seeing who can like impress... Do the most impressive thing with like a ball but you’re both uncoordinated and that’s what it looked like watching him be paired up with Drew Doughty those first few games of the year. It-it was... It was rough. And you know, those were two games obviously that the Kings should have won against Minnesota and they lost four-to-three in overtime in both of them. Ah, yeah, and I think uh... If we really wanted to talk about the Kings the season they had no real... I guess in sports terms you could say “killer instincts.” They just didn’t seem to know how to close out a game, they didn’t know how to shut things down.
RP: [sarcastically] Close. Start. You know. [laughs]
JN: True, too!
RD: Closing, though, was particularly bad. It was bad.
JN: Like, even if they had— I mean, I felt like it was not uncommon for the Kings to be tied in the second period this year. But I felt like most of the games were there and it was just that next step to-to get the next goal or to, if they got the next goal, to hang on to the lead and it just felt like… It felt like two out of three times, you knew they weren’t going to pull off anything for a regulation win.
RD: I think that’s a very fair assessment. I… Personally… Again, “Doom and Gloom Ryan”... wasn’t expecting a whole lot this season. And when they actually, kind of got into—again like through the second period, there’s like they’re actually hanging pretty tough more times than I thought, but then it’s like you got to the third and it’s just... I don’t know. Maybe they were on the same wavelength as me of just being like well, I guess we’re gonna lose now [Robyn laughs] and it’s like, okay… Nah, you gotta try first! But it was... Yeah. I don’t know. It was... It was very maddening this season that just... Flashes of them having some fight and then folding enough like a cheap lawn chair right when it really mattered.
RP: I... I said something a little bit more... um crass... to take a page out of both your books in that I said they went out like a wet fart. [laughs awkwardly]
JN: No, they did. It was... It was. [sighs] It was shocking but you always knew it could happen.
RP: Could and would. And... Did! Okay to be fair to the king they wanted to play meaningful games in April and May and technically speaking they did. So I mean... They were in the playoff hunt until what like three or like six games to go or something like that. But it just kind of—as I’ve told James many times, this really reminds me of the 2015 season when they just put up a middle of proverbial middle finger to the season and they were just like “F it” for since like the trade deadline. There was no fight left in them, they didn’t really care.
JN: I mean, I’m not going to disagree with you because I think, you know, in all honesty, that’s Rob Blake’s take on the team. A thing that I’ve mentioned before is that... GMs will reward players by making a trade at the trade deadline, they will say like, “Man, you guys have been a lot of work; I believe in you; let’s go do something special” and make a trade for a big player. And the Kings did not bring anyone in and they only sent out Jeff Carter who had a great playoff run with Pittsburgh which ended way too shortly. Or... yeah, way too soon. And... I... It’s... Yeah, like I think Rob Blake is frustrated with this team if you’re trying to read between the lines. Maybe I am too much and maybe that’s not the case. But I don’t think anyone in the organization is happy with how this year went.
RD: He would be insane to not be frustrated. Um... [Long pause] I... Yeah the trade deadline was... I didn’t expect them to go out there and really get anyone big and again, pessimist coming out, but... I mean, we really could be doing this a whole post mortem not just something Kings but the whole Pacific Division. I’m not talking about this year’s, you know, wacky Covid conferences or whatever we had. But Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, [James laughs] and the Coyotes, the Sharks, the Ducks, the Kings—the only team out of—
JN: [interrupting] the Knights, yeah—
RD: —that entire bunch was, yeah, Vegas and, currently on my screen, yeah, they’re tied with Minnesota still, which I-I don’t…. fully get how Minnesota all of a sudden became competent [Robyn laughs], but they are. And yeah, it’s yeah Caprisun [James laughs], whatever his name is and... I... It’s mind blowing to watch what was the vaunted… The Pacific Division and yeah, I mean obviously it’s a few years removed from when the Kings were really contenders and the Ducks have done anything and the Sharks are having their wheels come off now but... That entire division—I don’t know what’s going to happen next year with that. But... I guess the Coyotes are leaving. I’m not even 100 percent sure.
JN: Yeah they are.
JN: The Kraken are coming in so the Coyotes move to the Central and... In all honesty it probably gives the Kings a better chance of making the playoffs—
JN: —because goodness knows those three western Canadian teams are not super functional in terms they’re fun offices currently. There is people in Canada on their long weekend protesting outside of Rogers Place [Arena] in Vancouver about Jim Benning.
RP: Oh no.
RD: [laughs] Ohhh, Vancouver.
JN: Yeah. And-and you know… The um... Obviously things are not looking good with Calgary, with Brad Treliving and... Who knows what the heck is going to happen after they just got swept from the playoffs in the most Edmonton fashion possible, blowing third period leads.
RP: I mean some of it for Edmonton was bad luck, they were only -1 in regulation, but…
JN: [laughs] Yeah!
RP: And so I mean, it’s a little bit of bad luck... But also just like they have no defense outside of Darnell Nurse.
JN: Yeah and I think it... Man, Winnipeg just has a really good roster. It’s a really underrated roster it’s deep and I—
RD: Well structured.
JN: Yeah. Even though you have guys like Scheifele and Wheeler who will never play defense, other guys make up for it and... That team is so dysfunctional but they find a way to win. I don’t get how, I think it’s all magic that Paul Maurice does. [Robyn laughs] I love that guy as a hockey…
RD: I’m gonna interject... To counter Blake Wheeler not playing defense after he completely had his balls demolished blocking a shot in that last game.
JN: Okay, that’s…
RD: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if that’s quite defense but, you know, in that one moment [James laughs] that’s playing defense right there.
[James and Robyn laugh]
JN: Oh gosh, yeah. Um...
RD: Also, I don’t know if I could say balls but, sorry, yeah.
RP: Eh, it’s okay.
JN: No it’s pucks, it’s the hockey podcast.
JN: So, okay. Heading into the off-season, what do you guys want to see the Kings do to prepare for next year?
RP: I’d really love to see them trade away Brendan Lemieux. He’s useless.
JN: Well, of course.
RP: They have enough useless players. [Ryan laughs] I’m sorry [laughs awkwardly].
RD: I don’t know why they brought him in but yeah, I’m gonna with you. I don’t thinkgoing to leave, but you’re right.
PR: Well, I am a conspiracy theory I want to share with you before Ryan answers. So right after they traded for Brendan Lemieux, all of a sudden, their special teams just… collapsed. Like... I’m serious! Like a week after—
JN: Oh, true!
RP: —they traded for Brendan Lemieux, like all of a sudden their power play—like, they had no idea what they were doing on the power play, all the guys are kind of standing around, they were passing and they’re like, you shoot, no you shoot, I don’t know what I’m gonna do and the PK was worse. The PK was like... “Ahh, somebody’s coming at you!” [chuckles derisively]
It all coincided with a week after Brendan Lemieux’s appearance. So, maybe the hockey gods cursed the Kings. I don’t know. I’m just saying… [Trails off]
RD: To that end, this is very much reading between the lines, but kind of going off the whole “oh vote of confidence via trades,” when they went out and got Lemieux, I mean, it was not a secret that the Kings kind of… I don’t know if they got called out really but... I mean, I, at least, was very aware of the fact that they were playing really soft. It was I think like a game after Kopitar got hit kind of late or up high, I can’t remember entirely, but he had gotten kind of... Kind of knocked around a bunch and obviously he’s your best player on your team and nobody really did anything. It went like a whole period where nothing happened. I’m not saying oh the Kings need to go out and get goons but you need to have like at least some sort of fire under youth to be like, oh let’s not have our captain and best player yet run over and then we just kind of sit around and take it. And then shortly thereafter they went out and got Lemieux, who, you know, really didn’t do much of anything either but... That was what he was known for was being kind of the you know, the pugnacious guy.
RP: But he didn’t even bring that to L.A.
RD: I’m not saying he brought that but, like, that’s what he just known for. And again, very much reading between the lines there, that’s... Probably... Probably nothing maybe the team took it as like a whole like “oh we’re soft.” They are... But you know, it didn’t help any... But I-I... Don’t know about the Lemieux move at all, the thinking kind of besides like [mockingly] “Oh, this team’s soft, this will help!” and you know, it didn’t... And besides that... Moves going forward for the Kings um.,, Just they gotta cut some... Cut some weight up front... I mean... This is a team that’s really just not done much of anything. They took a step backwards, I think if anything this year... You have a lot of guys where they’re younger players, but you’ve seen them now for years. At some point, you, maybe, start thinking of moving on. I’m not just talking about Luff and Wagner, kind of the fringe guys. But maybe you guys like Kempe, too, just where do they fit? They’ve been here for years now and they haven’t really gotten answers for a lot of these younger players that were kind of supposed to be... I don’t know if like the next crop was what I would call them, but maybe kind of like the stock gaps until you have bigger names like Kupari and Byfield come up and... Is this... They got to figure something out in terms of just what do they want to have moving forward besides Byfield? That was a very long-winded thing to say they don’t have any depth.
JN: No. I-I would agree. I think... the depth they do have is probably playing up a line too high—
JN: For the most part. I think they’re-they’re over matched in a lot of ways and... Hey Robyn.
RP: [slightly suspicious] Yes?
JN: Hey, do the lines after the first line have any size?
RP: I don’t know, James, you tell me.
JN: [emphatically] NO! [normal voice] They aren’t big and like, even Todd McLellan in his post-season interview he was even like, “Yeah, we didn’t forecheck this year. It sucked. Like we have to reevaluate how we coach because apparently our guys just can’t forecheck?” Like I’m paraphrasing and kind of reading between lines of like... I mean Todd McLellan seems really unhappy with himself with the way things went this year.
RP: Yeah, well, especially the last couple of games they had a chance to make a stand against Minnesota [ed: Colorado]. And they just… They didn’t even show up to the game. They just kind of laid down and died.
JN: Oh yeah, um. I mean, I would love to see the Kings—I know Rob Blake is dying to add a young, left shot defenseman. Um, I think the Kings need a mid... mid-twenties age scorer who can put up 25 goals. I think if I’m... If I am Rob Blake, I’m looking at Buffalo and I’m trying to get Rasmus Dahlin and Sam Reinhart away from them. I think you can look at some guys on even Calgary and Vancouver. I don’t know if they’re going to be willing to trade with the division, but we’ve seen Jim Benning trade with the Kings before with the Toffoli trade. But who knows what’s going to happen with Arizona because their GM seems like an absolute crazy person. [Ryan laughs] I mean, who knows if he’s just like “Ah, Jakob Chychrun, ahh, too soft, I’ll trade him to you. He doesn’t wake up at 4:00 in the morning like I do!” [laughs] No... I... You know, I think it’s a foregone conclusion that someone like, you know, Devon Toewes goes to Seattle in the expansion draft. Who knows if there’s a move that the Avs need to make because maybe they get close to the cap? I just, you know, and then of course just bring back Alec Martinez free agency, please. [Robyn laughs]
RD: I mean, I’m not opposed to that, but everyone already—if anyone’s followed me ever, they already know that. [Robyn laughs]
RP: Well, okay, so since we’re on the topic of defense: Drew Doughty in his exit interview basically advocated for keeping, at least the top four, the way it is. He loves his defense partner, Mikey Anderson, had nothing but praise to sing for Anderson and overall, like, I don’t think he’s that far off. I mean, yeah, I know Anderson had a lot of like big gaffes but I mean, you’re really only noticing them because nothing else is happening.
RD: He’s like 22 or something.
RP: Well, yeah, he’s 22, but also, literally nothing else happening with the team. So, if somebody makes a turnover and it ends up in the back of your net, that’s what you’re gonna remember most from—
RD: Oh, yeah.
RP: from that game.
JN: I mean for me Drew Doughty is always best when he has a boring partner.
JN: Like whether that’s-that’s Rob Scuderi or Sean O’Donnell or even you know, Rob Blake his rookie year. You know, when he’s playing with someone boring and steady, Drew Doughty is at his best. and I don’t mean to imply that it’s boring to watch Mikey Anderson.
JN: I mean, when we watched him—er, when I got chance to watch him last year in-in the Frozen Four, he was exciting. He was truly like an electrifying player and he just he stepped in and just he allowed his skating, his positioning, his leverage his good stick to kind of do all the talking for him and we saw a couple of times we’re like he surprised guys in the neutral zone and led him offensive chance and I think that’s something that we can… That he’ll add to his game more and more. I think he’s a heads up player. I like him there. I like Toby Bjornföt. He always had one shift at least every game where he panicked.
JN: Normally in the first period and then settled down. I thought him and Roy were a good pairing. Sean Walker on the third pair, I like. I would love to see him not play with Olli Määttä. [Robyn laughs] I mean, Robyn, you and I even talked about this during the year. At one point we were like, “God, thank god for this pairing of Sean Walker and Kurtis MacDermid.” Like... “And Sean Walker is the physical one between the two of them!” Who would’ve thought? You know because of course the stretch of games until—and then it ended when Walker took the puck to the face.
RP: Yeah, for some reason after that, they just sort of... Became shrinking violets... that pairing... MacDermid never really seemed comfortable again after that whenever he was inserted into the lineup. Olli Määttä always kind of seemed a little bit lost. The forwards who were playing defense on the ice with him seemed they were trying cover too many things at once and they were trying to overcompensate for that and so it’s just like... It’s kind of unfortunate that the puck to the face because actually the team was in a really good spot that you looked like they were starting to build off of what they had done. Like no, they weren’t winning every game. I think they had won like one or two games in a row, but it’s like, oh, okay. It looks like they’re starting to build something. He takes the puck to the face and then—
JN: Roy gets checked from behind in that same game, yeah.
RP: Yeah, and that was kind of the game where that sort of changed the whole trajectory where all of a sudden they just sort of… They didn’t like the physical contact. Anybody on the team.
JN: That was the moment where I realized the team was pretty soft because no one stood up for Roy. They let themselves get pushed around. And and… [trails off]
RP: Well that was always your big gripe about when they played Minnesota is that
JN: Yeah, it was.
RP: Minnesota has quote unquote “size” on every line and they would push the Kings around. And you know, I, I always argue that it’s not physical size, it’s how you play. And this was always the big frustration that we have with Adrian Kempe is that he’s I think listed at 6’0 or 6’1, he plays like he’s 5’6.
JN: Yeah. I mean like Blake Lizotte plays bigger than him.
JN: I mean Blake Lizotte, like as gutsy, as gritty as like—I mean, he’s the Rudy of the, Pacific Division [Robyn and Ryan laugh].
JN: Like I, I love that guy, but like we can’t be relying on him to be the guy to throw a hit in the corner to try to get the forecheck going.
RP: He will literally bounce off somebody if he does [laughs].
RD: I mean, he’s out there trying. But, yeah.
RP: [laughing] I know what he bounces off because he’s so small!
RD: He’s got Small Dog Syndrome. [James and Robyn laugh]
JN: No, it-it’s true. I mean... [Pause] It was it was tough when he was injured, the good thing was that got JAD into the lineup. JAD played great until he had you know that he took that tough hit at the end of the game against Arizona and had the upper body injury and missed a bunch of games and that was a hit, too, where I thought—I think it was Lawson Crouse hit him or was it Christian Fisher?—I thought, “Man, nobody said anything to that guy after that hit.”
RD: Yeah. He gets suspended for that one, too, and like nobody on the team did anything. I think maybe like a period later, Athanasiou, I think got into a fight. I knew Athanasiou got into a couple scraps this year. But like, yeah.
[overlapping with Ryan]
JN: Yeah. Why are we relying on—
RD: Again, it’s not even that there is no response. Have some sort of fire, at least. Don’t roll over.
JN: Why are we relying on Andreas Athanasiou to step up for guys? Especially when you have a guy like Wagner who has shown that he can do that. You know, did that plenty in juniors. He’s capable of, you know, sticking up for himself. You know, MacDermid in and out of the line up a lot, you know, especially having a d-man do that, that’s tough.
JN: Especially being as big as he is a lot of times you feel like h- he was fighting a guy who was way outside of his weight class.
JN: That goes against the Code of things. And, I-I just... Man. Like, if I was to think about like a few years ago, if someone played a hit like, we’ve seen Willie Mitchell fight.
RD: Oh, there’d be half the team going after them.
JN: Yeah. I mean we saw Mike Richards fight.
RD: Yeah. Richards, Greene, Stoll. Yeah. I would throw in Dwight King because I mean again, he’s a big dude.
JN: Of course, yeah.
JN: Yeah. He had that bout with Ryan Reaves in the playoffs.
RD: Oh, yeah.
RP: I think that Ryan Reeves fight that Dwight King had, he mostly just told Ryan Reaves where he hides all his bodies.
RD: I mean, that’s scary enough [James laughs], so yeah.
JN: And then Ryan Reaves was like, “Great, great, thank you for that information. I will use that moving forward.”
RD: “I need to get a place with crawl space. Yeah, I didn’t think about that.” [Robyn laughs]
RP: I only—
JN: [simultaneously] “Pictures of clowns, too?! Awesome!”
RD: Dwight studied the greats. I mean, what can you say?
RP: I only brought up the murder thing for you, Ryan [laughing].
RD: Well, I appreciate that. There’s not a day that goes by during the Kings season where I don’t actually sit there like, “they need another Dwight King.” At least for me, but yeah. I mean not for the—again, playing hockey. Just, I don’t know, the aesthetic. It was a soap here.
JN: [laughing] Yes, it was. And then Sutter would put him on the first line.
RP: Oh god.
RD: Use him in the shootout.
RP: Let’s go, Dwight!
JN: Man, I uh… [Pause] I mean, if we’re gonna stick on the back end, I think we’ve seen the emergence of Cal Petersen as the number one goalie for the team
JN: I don’t think Quick seems to bothered with things, especially since he’s making way more money than Cal.
RD: [chuckles] Always helps.
RP: Well, he’s also got I think two years left on his contract after this year, so he’s probably just... And he’s... His cap hit is $5.8 million so... Well his actual dollars is um $3.5 million. I think he’s fine.
RD: I don’t see him, you know, trying to leave or anyone really acquiring about him. I know there’s been some rumblings from Seattle about that but, like, I don’t see that happening. It’s... two years, a big contract and a goalie who really does not seem to care anymore [chuckles awkwardly].
JN: Man, my only thing is like, I feel like Vancouver’s big deal was that they were going to try to through the expansion draft, force Seattle to take Brayden Holtby because they knew they were signing him to too much money.
RD: I… I can’t understand that team.
JN: I think you could this if you wanted to piss off your rival, just like instead take Antoine Roussel in the expansion draft—
RD: Oh, easily.
JN: —then they could take Quick, which, hey, that’d be fun, but um, I don’t think that’s likely to happen.
RD: It is, yeah. Seattle—I mean the whole expansion draft thing is always... Bizarre. I think there’s gonna be a lot of GMs maybe looking at what happened with Vegas and the whole “oh I’m gonna trade you assets so that way you don’t you know draft one of my other players” and I mean, that really blew up in a lot of teams’ faces. Anaheim with Shea Theodore. [James laughs] I... I cannot for the life of me—
JN: Single handedly sunk the Ducks!
RD: —at the time… I’m not... I am not a GM—that was just so bizarre.
RP: I-I don’t understand why Minnesota was like yeah that “Alex Tuch kid is not going anywhere.”
RP: I was like, “Did you not see his performance in the World Juniors, but okay. Minnesota, whatever you’re doing.” By the way, I have to say this: Braden Holtby cannot be drafted by Seattle because he has a full. no. trade. clause. Oh, sorry, it’s a modified no trade clause.
[All three talking at once]
RD: … should be fine.
JN: You should be good to go if it’s modified.
RP: I thought that he has to be protected if it’s a No Trade Clause.
RD: I don’t know if it’s a No Movement Clause or a No Trade Clause off the top of my head.
RP: Well I know that players with the No Trade Clause had to be protected last time because I think Dustin Brown had a No Trade Clause, even though it’s modified, but he was still one that had to be protected. [Pause] I think.
RD: We’re just adding too many teams, this is too confusing.
RP: Anyway back to the Kings.
RD: Oh yeah.
RP: Grease Lightning. What do you do with Andreas Athanasiou? I liked him. He was little inconsistent, but he’s cheap, he’s $1.2 million, so, you know, and he’s an RFA.
JN: I’d re-sign him. I thought he was more noticeable on most nights than Adrian Kempe was.
RD: Oh, by far. And yeah, I mean, at this point in time he’s gonna be a restricted free agent, so... May as well. I... back at the trade deadline, I thought for sure. Like, every... Fiber of me was like they’re gonna trade Athanasiou. I mean, it only makes sense. He’s one of the few productive guys they have on this team that’s not very good. Get something for him, maybe recoup, you know, what you spent on Brendan Lemieux, at least—and obviously that ship has sailed and it’s just at this point, yeah, keep him. Kempe... [Trails off and sighs heavily]
RP: Hope to god Seattle takes him?
RD: Back when they called him up, I don’t think there was a player on the Kings I was more excited to see called up in quite some time. [Pause] I don’t know. I was really high on him. I thought maybe throwing him into the second line center role was a bit much, but he actually really stepped up in his rookie year when Jeff Carter went down and... He’s kind of been like the band the Killers of just everything since the debut has just been a steady sort of decline. At least in my humble opinion. But, just... It’s just... Nothing’s manifested! Like he had... He had issues that you know, every rookie’s gonna come into the league and have, you know, weaknesses. You work on those you try to, you know, develop more as a player. The guy just… He doesn’t have any defensive awareness. He does these blind passes that every once in a while they will work and they look great. But like 99% of the time they’re not going anywhere. And he’s just... It’s been the same sort of behavior and is driving me insane and I feel like the… [stuttering] oh god, if they get rid of him I can probably... probably at least skip a therapy session for a week, I guess I don’t know. [James and Robyn laugh] But this... this poor kid, he’s just putting me on a roller coaster of emotion and just at this point, yeah, if it’s Athanasiou or Kempe... I know Rob Blake wants to squeeze teams with the flat cap this summer and god knows the Kings have cap space… If Kempe is collateral damage through that, I...I’m quite alright.
RP: Okay so... I’m looking at CapFriendly right now. Kempe is still under contract for two million dollars until 2022—
RD: Two million too much! [Robyn laughs]
RP: Yeah, we’ve got one more year of Kempe. However, there is one name that has been circulating in the trade rumors and that is Jack Eichel. Now, I don’t know if it’s possible to somehow finagle Adrian Kempe into a Jack Eichel trade, but the Kings have less than ten million dollars. I don’t see Buffalo holding back any salary for Jack Eiche, but... Would you take him if you can somehow get rid of Adrian Kempe and squeeze that ten million under the cap because that’s all your room?
RD: I don’t know.
JN: That’s hard because he has the neck injury.
JN: And... There is a disagreement between his camp and doctors about whether or not cervical spine surgery is necessary. I think the big thing that the Buffalo Sabres are saying is that no NHL player has ever had this kind of surgery before during their playing career so that is a huge red flag.
JN: Again, Sam Reinhart has been very vocal about not wanting to be on the team anymore. He seems like a much safer bet and he is consistently a 20 to 25 goal scorer and I would easily put him on the second line in the Kings lineup on the right side.
JN: I mean, if you have a second line of… uh... I mean, I don’t even know who you put at center for that line unless you think Byfield’s ready because they need to add a center.
JN: You need to add a veteran center and it maybe that’s somebody who’s a like a grit, older guy. Like, I could see Nick Foligno fitting in well with them because I believe he’s a free agent after this year with Toronto.
JN: I feel... Things could go so haywire and awful in Vancouver that like, I could see them wanting to part or needing to trade away like some good players and that could even include—I mean, I don’t think they trade Brock Boeser but hey, maybe it’s a TJ Miller. Or JT Miller, sorry. Yeah, one is a hockey player the other one calls in phony bomb threats on trains. [Robyn and Ryan laugh] JT Miller would be fit. Yeah. Like... Tyler Motte, even, as a guy who’s like a decent depth winger, I would be fine with. I don’t know. Like, obviously I don’t think that Rob Blake’s going to stand pat this offseason. I think he—
RD: He definitely cannot afford to.
RP: He has no centers! Unless you want Blake Lizzote to be 2C.
JNB: I mean... or if you think Byfield’s ready and then you go Byfield, Kupari, and Jad as your bottom three centers.
RD: Yeah. That’s on paper, I think, what it’s projected to be.
JN: Which, I think would be fine the year after this upcoming year.
RD: If they had any wingers to support them… I honestly think, like, if they had like veteran players alongside them and not you know—
RD: Kempe and I assume Vilardi would be, you know, shifted to wing.
RD: I pray that he would be shifted to wing finally. And... Yeah. Like Kempe stuff. It’s just... You’re looking at the same sort of results you’re just kind of spinning your wheels and... Yeah, you’re going off what you said... I mean about center depth. They haven’t had a third line center since Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll left.
RD: They haven’t had a second line center since Jeff Carter nearly had his leg amputated—
RD: —in that one game and, I mean going back to Vilardi. I mean that that’s what happened with him where all of a sudden it’s like, “hey you want to play second line center behind Anze Kopitar? You’re like 21 years old. You played all of 10 games. Have at it, kid.” And…
RP: He wasn’t very good at that. I don’t think he was ready.
RD: I, I don’t think it’s the right role for him. It’s just... I mean, pretty much everyone that saw him play said, “okay the kid’s slow”—with his foot speed—um…
RP: But he’s a shooter, oh my god. Just get him to the freaking net.
RD: He’s got a lot of Ryan Smyth, I feel like, to him. He’s got the size he has skill…
JN: I like that comparison.
RD: It’s just.... I, I just don’t see him as a center, though, and...
RD: They really just kind of threw him to the wolves of just like “hey,” like, “we don’t have anyone. it’s either you or Blake Lizotte.” Or, you know, at the time Michael Amadio and… [Pause] Going into this season, I was-I was just... I didn’t understand why they didn’t have somebody brought in just-just to be a stop-gap. Kind of like how Michal Handzuš was back in the early Dean Lombardi years of just... You need someone just to play those minutes.
JN: No, I-I totally agree and I mean... Just on the Gabe Vilardi thing really quick. Like yeah, I think a big thing between this year and those few games he played you know, in the 2020 season he lost his his safety net with Martin Frk.
JN: You know, they played together a ton in Ontario. They had a ton of chemistry. And I felt like this year, we watched Gabe Vilardi try to make sure he was... appeasing his coaches and wasn’t really able to establish any chemistry with his linemates.
RD: 100%, yeah. [Brief pause] It’s... The options they have at center right now in-house just aren’t great... If they get wing depth,I think Byfield and Kupari could be manageable because at some point, you know...They... They gotta learn to fly at some point.
RP: Okay, so let me ask you this: Would you take a flyer, if he decides to hit free agency, on any of these names: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
RP: Erik Haula. Um… David Krejci.
RD: Yeah… Yes.
JN: I don’t think he’s going to leave Boston, though. I can’t imagine he would.
RP: I don’t know—
RD: If it was a two year deal, maybe.
RP: I love David Krejci but his career trajectory has followed very similar to Kopitar’s in that he has had literally zero stability in his wingers his entire career. [Chuckles]
JN: Fair enough.
RP: They just stick somebody on his line and go here’s a puppy for you, go train this puppy. But I mean, Krejci’s also 35, he’s had a few injuries and Boston also paid him through the nose in his last contract. So I don’t... I mean, he’s coming off a 7.25. Do you take a flyer on him if he hits free agency?
JN: Maybe. If Chara can leave Boston, I guess David Krejci can.
RD: If Lundqvist can leave New York—I mean, I understand he was, you know, he didn’t play this year. But I mean, if he can leave anyone can leave.
RP: That wasn’t his choice.
RD: Yeah but… So what? [Robyn laughs]
JN: New York was like “mm ahh, see ya!”
RD: They could’ve kept him around for just one more year and it really wouldn’t be any skin off their nose considering how they finished. But... [inhales deeply] I don’t know. The free agency route is… [trails off]
JN: It’s icky.
RD: Yeah, it almost feels like the ship has sailed a bit this year.
RD: Of just… I felt like, going into it, they needed somebody this past season. It’s not too late, but… [inhales] I mean, Nugent-Hopkins makes sense but even still, he’s almost converted. Like he’s been playing most of his time at wing, I want to say.
RP: Yeah, but he’s been playing with McDavid. So hopefully he’s learned something.
RD: Yeah. And I get why the team actually is pretty gung ho about Eichel. Just... I’m not saying Kopitar’s, you know, getting rusty or looks like you know crap or anything, but he’s 33 already. It’s... time is ticking on this. The guy’s not gonna be able to like, you know, go out there and play like 20 minutes a game and every like tough matchup, you know, until the end of time. It’s... You want to start at least giving him some support but... I don’t know if Eichel solves every issue the Kings have because they just have a lot of issues [laughs].
RP: All right, last name. What about Alexander Wennberg? He had a really good season with Florida. Should he decide that he wants to go looking for a slightly bigger payday from 2.2, maybe he could be fit. I mean, he’s 26. He’s not old.
JN: At three million… Because, I mean, he played a lot of tough minutes with Columbus, too…
RD: He’s gonna get a fat contract somewhere, I think.
JN: Yeah. I think so, too. I, I don’t think he’ll get three million.
RP: Alright. Maybe Kings can’t afford him ‘cause—
RD: I think that’s more likely than actually not having the spot for him.
JN: Yeah. Right. I have a weird idea.
JN: With the expansion draft, like we know that the Dallas Stars essentially have three goalies on there roster when one of them isn’t horrifically injured.
RP: Poor Ben Bishop.
JN: Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and Jake Oettinger. If the Kraken take one of them and don’t take Joe Pavelski, do you trade for Joe Pavelski if Dallas eats some of that seven million dollar cap hit?
RP: Hmm, Captain America.
RD: YES! I don’t like saying it, but yeah.
JN: I mean, he and Todd McLellan have a lot of history and I kind of…
RD: [unintelligible] versatile.
JN: I kind of like Joe Pavelski mentoring Gabe Vilardi because I see a lot of similarities there, too.
RD: Oh that is a good comparison, too. Yeah. That’s… Oh man.
RP: I just... I don’t... Ooh. I don’t know if Dallas lets him go. He has amazing chemistry with Jamie Benn.
JN: He does but Tyler Seguin should be healthy this year and—
RD: Remember, it’s the cap.
JN: Yeah, they’re going to be close to the cap and it’s a seven million dollar contract.
RP: Ohhhh. If they hold back—
JN: And they have to re-sign Jason Dickinson, Joel Kiviranta, Rhett Gardner…
RD: Ooh. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
JN: Like they have Jamie Oleskiak, Miro Heiskanen is an RFA and he’s gonna be due for a big contract.
RP: Oooh, he’s going to get a fat contract.
RD: Yeah, it checks all the boxes for being a stopgap move, too. I mean—
RD: You don’t-you don’t throw Byfield and Kupari immediately into that like insanely, you know, tough role behind Kopitar. And you also have a mentor for the rest of the team.
RD: Which is something they really don’t have anymore since they’ve decided to trade everyone that was a mentor besides, you know, Kopitar and Brown.
RP: Yeah. And you have a guy who can play center and wing.
RD: Yep. So if Byfield is ready, there you go, hey play winger instead
RP: Also, unrelated—
RD: I like that move. I don’t like Pavelski, but man, yeah. I like that move. [James laughs]
RP: I was just thinking about how much Sharks fans would absolutely melt down seeing him on the Kings.
JN: [excitedly] Ohhhhhh!!!!
RD: We have not had that for a long time and like California teams are just... You know. I mean Teemu Selanne went to the Sharks for a little bit and you know Blake doing that as well…
RP: Eh, whatever.
RD: But yeah, it’s like, we haven’t had that in a while, that would be kind of fun and at least make things interesting because you know all the California teams suck, so yeah.
JN: Hey. Ryan Getzlaf is a free agent.
RP: He’s not going anywhere.
RD: Let’s not go too far. [James and Robyn laugh]
RP: But speaking of the Ducks since you brought it up, another guy who was a big person who had a big role in the Kings’ two Cup runs, Jeff Solomn, he has left the Kings. And he’s gone to the Ducks.
JN:I mean, he has history in Anaheim. He was involved there for a long time in the 90s.
RP: Yes, but LA’s Cap Guru is gone.
JN: I know but I do believe he is the GM who traded it for Teemu Selanne from Winnipeg if memory serves correct [ed: It was actually Jack Ferreira].
RD: The more you know.
JN: Yeah, yeah, somebody Google that I’m too lazy.
RP: Our listeners can Google it. It’s fine [laughs]
JN: Uh, Jeff Solomon, I’ve had the chance to meet him. Extraordinarily nice, smart guy. I... could definitely imagine Bob Murray and the Ducks backing up a Brinks truck for him to get him to their front office.
RP: Sad. I mean, good for them, but sad for us.
JN: Yeah. It is sad. It is sad and I think the Kings also started their own analytics department. You know, they have some guys who are poor trying to develop that kind of stuff and that was a thing that was on Jeff Solomon’s plate. He ran analytics, I believe, along with doing the cap stuff, along with doing, really a lot of negotiating between player agents and the organization.
RD: Kings have some low-key big names with Futa, Solomon during the Lombardi years. I mean, they were doing a lot of work—
RD: that I think maybe at the time wasn’t fully appreciated, of course now that they’re all gone, everyone’s like, ”oh god, how do we go on?” It’s like well, we’re gonna find out. So… Yeah.
JN: I mean, Mark Yannetti has stepped up, definitely.
RD: Oh yeah.
JN: I think there’s someone waiting in the winds—er, waiting in the wings I should say—for this Jeff Solomon role and I believe it is probably going to be divvied up amongst three or four people, yes it took three or four people to do the job, but Jeff Solomon did because he is that good.
RP: Yeah, he’s like a walking calculator.
JN: With a law degree.
RP: oh god that makes him like even more brilliant.
JN: No, like truly he is.
RP: No, yes! No, I’m saying yes.
JN: It stinks that he’s going to Anaheim but I I do believe like he lives…
RD: Carlsbad, yeah?
JN: Is it Carlsbad?
RD: I-I want to say I-I saw like a Rosen tweet about that, but yeah.
JN: Yeah, he-he drives a long way to work in El Segundo.
RP: Yeah. [chuckles] Rosen said that um, he always gets “shoe checked” every time he walks into the room.
JN: Shoe checked! [laughs]
RP: That’s what his tweet said! I was like “o-okay…”
JN: I’m not going to question John Rosie’s reporting, um, But yeah, I... I... It’s a shame to see him go. I don’t think the Kings are left helpless.
JN: I mean, I think we’re seeing—
RP: Well… There’s… No, not helpless but it’s... You know, we’ve come a long way from Dean Lombardi.
JN: On the hockey ops side, they’re not helpless. On other organizational matters, who knows?
RD: [exhales] Yeah.
RP: Well it’s just they... They were always kind of a mess. That’s... Just I’ll just say that, you know, just based on the rumors that I’ve heard... um on the team on the... the hockey ops side it’s... it’s... it’s a little bit of a mess… [Brief pause] Anyway. So back to the team on the ice. I want to get into the analytics side of this. Basically they were... So, like corsi isn’t necessarily an accurate predictor of who’s gonna win because it’s too limited. But it at least kind of tells you what’s happening on the ice. So, you know, back in 2014 2015, they were the number one team in the corsi league and now they’re 18th best in terms of at least fenwick. I mean, like... Where... They just don’t shoot! Like what can we do—well not “we.” We the fans can’t do shit [awkward laugh]. But—
RD: We can yell “Shoot!”
RP: [laughs] It kind of feel like it goes hand-in-hand with their lack of forecheck. Like... What gives here?
RD: I do think that’s a big part of it, was the physicality side of it. I mean, back when the Kings lost to the Knights in the playoff series in 2017… I mean Rob Blake said like we need to get faster because the Golden Knights were the really fast team. The other thing that the Golden Knights were, were highly skilled and they had, you know, they-they had the ability to win the battles in front of the net, battles along the boards. The Kings... I know we’ve said it a lot during this conversation of “they’re soft,” they-they don’t get the puck. They cough the puck up a lot. They’re very fast, sure, but they’re just not holding on to the puck and... It… It doesn’t matter if you have the puck at the point if there’s just... there’s no traffic in front. If you want to shoot like a roof shot from like a thousand feet out and the goalie can see it the entire way. Like be my guest. Like... They know like those shots are going to be mostly ineffective and useless. If they get the puck into the corners, they’re not retaining possession. If they’re... Trying to run the screen in front, the only guy that was really capable of it consistently was Kopitar and the guy’s like six-foot-four and weighs like four hundred pounds. I mean, he’s… But Kopitar is like... It’s kind of the unspoken part about like of his game is he’s a really big guy.
RP: Unspoken?? That’s all anybody talks about when they talk about Kopitar. [mockingly] “Kopitar, so big!”
RD: [unintelligible] more part of his defensive game, but yeah.
JN: I mean, Brown was there in front a lot, that’s how he got those power play goals.
RP: And Alex Iafallo, that’s how he got the contract.
JN: Hey-o! The only line that forechecks!
RP: The only line with size!
RD: Really is. I mean, but that was a thing though, you only have maybe three guys that were physical. And… Yeah. It goes back to the depth thing, it goes back to the size thing. [Long pause] Um [Pause] Gonna invoke Jon Rosen again of where like he said the team just lacked an identity back when they kind of like first went into a spiral, I think when they finished near the very bottom of the league, if not the bottom a couple years back. And they haven’t really corrected that either. Just... They want to be fast. What does that mean? They don’t have any sort of, you know, intensity to them though as a team, they’re not... They’re not getting the puck where the puck needs to be. And because of that they’re just not taking any real shots of consequences or getting looks that are going to be beneficial to try and like at least make something happen. Yeah the forechecks thing... Yeah, they got a lot to work on.
RP: Yeah, I think I think that’s a really good point. I think it’s, you know, it’s identity and I don’t know if it’s McLellan or if it’s Blake or if it’s just that this is basically a brand new team from what was even seven years ago. And so that actually kind of leads me—unless, James, you wanted to say something real quick—but that was gonna lead me to my next question.
JN: Man, I am getting tired because I’m an old man who has an early bedtime.
RD: [laughs] Relatable. [James and Robyn laugh]
RP: I have one more point of discussion, okay.
JN: Cool, sounds good. Then I have a final question for everybody.
RP: Okay so this is a long one and James I sent this one to you. It’s Japers’ Rink. They wrote something I find interesting in the conversation around (re)building. They wrote, quote, “The Caps haven’t been quote ‘building’ anything since around 2016; they’ve been patching tires and hoping to be able to drive another hundred miles or so.” Back in 2015, after another early exit from the playoffs, Doug Armstrong announced that he was breaking up the Blues’ core. It’s another 4 years before that paid off, which is one year after the Caps won. So i you’re Rob Blake and the Kings, even though they are currently rebuilding, how long do you hang on to “core” members? I mean, as it stands, I’d say their current core really is just Doughty, Brown, Kopitar, and Quick—and they all have unmovable contracts. And of course if you want to include this in your “core,” your untouchable guys are probably Byfield, JAD, maybe Vilardi and Mikey Anderson? Although there’s probably an “I’m listening” element to their names. All this to say: how long do you retain guys to be quote unquote “core” and when do you make a bold, splashy move, especially given all that we’ve discussed and how they lack an identity and they’re just not very good in general? Like, do you move 23-year-old Vilardi if the team—he’s currently 21, but hypothetically, would you move 23-year-old Vilardi if the team appears on the brink of success or poised to make a playoff run?
JN: This is something Todd McLellan talked about where he said it was a hard year for Vilardi because he’s the first of the exciting prospects to make it to the NHL. So all the eyes and all the pressure are on him and a lot of criticism is on him. A few years out, who knows what that looks like? You know, is he a Patrick O’Sullivan thing where he’s a he’s a good he’s a fine player but we make that Justin Williams trade for the culture in the room. I-I don’t know. I-I think the Kings are establishing a new core and a new identity. I mean, we’ve talked about it looking at drafts at the Kings have done where it’s like man all the forwards they draft are guys who are just puck hounds. We’ve heard about how this year in Ontario, after they were done practicing they had to stay at the rink and go to class about what was expected of you as a professional NHL player. And... I think there isn’t a current identity, per se. I think it’s two years away. That true.. Like… Tangible identity, which is an intangible thing. I think it’s around the corner, it’s just not here right now and that’s just what happens in a rebuild.
RD: Yeah. No I fully agree with that assessment of it tend to be in a few years out and going back to the pressure aspect... and, I mean, if Vilardi thought there’s a lot of pressure on him there’s there’s going to be a mountain of pressure not just on Byfield, but on guys like Anderson and Bjornföt moving forward. Like, If this team is going to be remotely successful, even just next year, they really need Bjornföt in Anderson to keep developing at a pretty intense clip. If one of them takes a step backwards... I mean, that’s... You’re kind of kneecapping in your entire defensive corps because I mean, they’re not bad. I don’t know if they’re good, but they’re definitely not bad. And... You need a lot of things to go right. So if you’re gonna have a team, maybe like start calling about one of your younger players and you have a proven asset of somebody—again, I don’t know would be comparable to Justin Williams right now. If something like that came up, you at least gotta field the calls. I don’t think anything’s off the table. You at least listen.
RP: So to sum it up: right now, it’s there’s still two two years away from that. But at the very least you’re still listening, nobody’s untouchable.
RD: Yeah. Hundred percent. At this point, everything’s very fluid. Why have a set hard like, “oh don’t touch them.” Listen to everything.
RP: Fair enough.
JN: I also look at guys like JAD and Akil Thomas and go, “man, if those are not culture guys,”
JN: “I don’t know what young hockey player is.” Okay to just wrap up this episode, who do you you think Seattle takes in the expansion draft off of the Kings where roster and really quickly, why?
RD: Oh. All right. Um, I think they’re gonna take Kale Clague. Clague is one of those guys where I really wanted him to have more of a shot on the team this year. I-I didn’t fully get why they weren’t testing him out when they had a couple injuries down the stretch. He seems like he’s got a lot of good tools and I know the Kings at this point logistically makes more sense to protect more forwards than additional defender. I mean that being said, I think... I-I really hope that move does not come to bite them in the butt big time later on and there’s a good chance it won’t. But from the looks I got with Clague watching him this year, it seems like he might be a pretty good defender and I-I know Rob Blake wants to have that big gun on defense and Clague maybe, well, probably doesn’t fit that bill. I-I think younger defensemen are harder to come by in this league than a lot of other players, really. It seems like it’s the pickings from the Kings are very slim. You take Jonathan Quick or you take, I don’t know, Wagner if not Clague. You go with Clague. That’s just... I don’t know. That would be my guess if I was Seattle.
RP: If I’m Seattle I’m probably going to look at Adrian Kempe or Carl Grundstrom. Carl Grundstrom has come a long way, at least with the Kings and he’s not old. So he’s 23, so he’s kind of an established player. And he’s got a good kind of grindery attitude and he fits really well with that. So if I’m Seattle I would probably definitely look at Carl Grunstrom.
Adrian Kempe. He might be one of those like when Vegas took Brayden McNabb. I thought “oh great. All right, whatever they’re not gonna miss Brayden McNabb,” but of course Brayden McNabb turned into a pretty good player—at least that year that they took him for the Golden Knights. So I kind of have an inkling that Adrian Kempe would be the same way for Seattle because they could really use his speed. He’s got good size and I feel like, with the right coach, they could really bring out the best in him. And you know, he’s the kind of player that would step up in that type of situation and I’d be counting on the same thing if I’m Seattle that happened to Vegas where everybody’s like, “oh well my team didn’t want me, somebody else wanted me and now I’m out to prove the world wrong.”
JN: I like that.
RD: It’s a good point, yeah.
RD: The chip on the shoulder, yeah, that’s always getting motivator.
JN: Yeah, I assume it will be Austin Wagner because he’s flashy enough for Tim Leiweke and boring enough for Ron Francis. [Robyn and Ryan laugh] Uh, listeners, friends, thank you so much for joining us on this conversation [pause] ha, this Crown Conversation.
RP: I was waiting for that.
JN: I shouldn’t be allowed to end episodes anymore.
RP: Maybe you shouldn’t even be allowed on them, no. I’m just kidding James.
RD: Oh. Oh boy.
JN: [laughs] I don’t blame you. Dunn was fantastic.
RP: He was. Thank you for joining us, Ryan.
RD: Oh! No, thank you for having me. I mean, usually I’m just like complaining to like one or two people via text or Twitter. now I get to complain to more people.
RD: I mean, I can’t believe it. This is this is shocking. Thanks for having me, though. I really do appreciate it.
JN: Thank you everyone so much and have a wonderful day.