By now, you’ve probably read Drew Doughty’s exit interview comments, where he talked about his desire for the Kings to make significant offseason moves and where he discussed the time of the Jeff Carter trade as it related to the team’s decline in performance.
Earlier today, GM Rob Blake followed up on those thoughts here.
Also on Tuesday, coach Todd McLellan had the opportunity to respond to some of Doughty’s statements, plus follow-up on his own previous comments about the Kings belief system eroding in the latter portions of the season.
The first half of McLellan’s comments are linked at the end of this article for your reference. Below is the conclusion of what he had to say:
McLellan on if he sensed an emotional shift in the group after the Jeff Carter trade
Our win-loss record prior to [Carter] going was not significantly different than our win-loss record after [Carter] went, that’s a simple statistic that you can just lay out there. [Carter] was an important guy in the locker room, there’s a lot of guys that looked up to him. It doesn’t excuse the approach that our group took down the last third. I think that we can overcome that better than we did. We didn’t do a good enough job, and as a result our last 12 games of the season weren’t where they needed to be.
On if his theory of the team losing belief towards the end of the season is troublesome and ways he can reinstall that belief in the team
We can get that back quickly. What I mean by that is we didn’t stay with it long enough. Earlier in the year, we’d get down one or two goals and we stayed in it. When we got down one or two goals, we didn’t believe enough that we could push and extend and create problems for other teams. Some of it was the level of competition that we were playing against. There were two teams in our conference that were significantly different than the other teams, and Minnesota certainly climbed into that category. Played Vegas and Colorado a fair amount down the end, so that was a part of the belief system. And power play, you get a lot of confidence from power play. You get a belief that you can come back using that weapon or that tool or that system within a game. That eroded to the point where we didn’t believe in that. Earlier we did, and we have to ask the question why and how we fix that. That’s where that comment came from.
On if this summer is the right time to add established NHL talent to the roster
I’ve seen a lot of talent come in the door here, we just haven’t seen the fruits of the labor yet. The easy part is the talent going out the door, the organization can dictate the pace of that and when they want to do it. The fact that the decision was made to do it was all part of a plan and it was the right thing to do. Timelines, timeframes, and deals, deadlines, that’s the easy part. We’re gonna move this guy and we bring assets in. Yes, very good players left, championship players left. The players that were acquired are the picks and then the talent that was acquired should inevitably be greater than the pieces that went out. It’s the in between time, it’s the waiting, and where we’re at right now is we’re waiting for players to evolve and develop. We can’t rush that, as much as we would like to wave a magic wand and make a Gabe [Vilardi] or [Jaret Anderson-Dolan] or [Quinton] Byfield the perfect player, make them Nathan McKinnon or Anze Koptiar, it doesn’t happen that way. It takes time, and their evolution into becoming dominant players will be dictated by how much we can help them and their growth as an individual. We don’t have a magic ball that dictates when that will happen. We’re in that stage right now. The talent that has come into the organization is greater than the talent that has gone, we just don’t know that yet, but that is my belief.
On how he hopes the defense can improve this offseason
I’m gonna clarify something, I don’t think defense is the two defensemen that step on the ice, especially in those long situations. Many times, the two guys that are looking up ice, those defenseman are often playing the situation correctly. It’s the forwards coming back that have to contribute and read and react and take people away. It’s something we’re fighting in our organization right now because we’ve drafted a lot of skilled players that have offensive and skilled minds, and they’ve lived on that throughout their careers. Let’s face it, some of these high-end scoring forwards that played in junior have never been asked to check their way and to structurally pick up certain players. They were allowed to roam and do certain things, and it takes a while for them to adapt and to be able to accept that as part of a skill set. Our youthful offensive players, yes, you have to bring offense, we talked about that. But when the puck is not on your tape or the other team possesses it, which is more often than you have it, you have to play responsible. You have to be able to pick up and read and react to certain things that are around you. Our younger d-men, Toby and Mikey Anderson, defensively were just fine. I’m not sure that our younger forwards were that. I’m twisting your question a little bit. But I think we have more work to do with our younger forwards, defensively, than our d-men.
On if an inability to sort things out on the back-check created more problems in the defensive zone
There’s a number of reasons why a goal is scored. It can be, flat out, a simple mistake, a no brainer. We don’t even need to talk about an individual if he throws a pizza into the middle and then somebody picks it off and scored. It’s so obvious, don’t do that. There’s the combination of one or two errors that maybe pull us out of position, that’s a work in progress for all of us. I know there’s a big focus on ‘We have to score more, we have to get more offense,’ but the Islanders are good team for us to look at. They score enough, but they prevent a lot more, and they take pride in it, as a group. That’s an area, talk about 5-on-5 scoring, 5-on-5 defensive play is also important, and we’ve got to get better on both sides.
On how close the team is to having a clear identity, and how he would like to see it continue to develop
We’re still evolving there. We’re trying to take young prospects and hone their game for an NHL game. There’s a young group that’s coming in based on their offensive talents and that’s great because we need it. We should evolve into a better offensive team over time, but we can’t give up the defensive side. Early in the year, other coaches around the league said we were a frustrating team to play against because we checked well, we didn’t give up much through the neutral zone, and offensively we were challenged to press, our power play was very dangerous, plus our penalty kill was good. So they wanted to win the special teams area of the game [when playing us]. We were getting some really good goaltending early and they felt that our goalies could steal us games. A lot of those those comments give us a good sense, or reassurance, that we’re doing a lot of the right things. Teams had to, especially early in the first half or first two thirds of the game, they had to bring their A-game to beat us. We’re a difficult team to play against when we’re playing well. We can check our way to wins, we get good goaltending, and our special teams should be good. Are we clearly identifying — like is our identity as clear as what Colorado’s would be, as far as speed and attack? We’re not there yet, we’re still evolving, but we’re working towards all of that.
On how the team can best put their veteran and young players in positions to succeed
Everybody, from the coaches through the players, are going to have to improve their games individually. If we’re staying neutral, we’re falling behind. And I include our staff in that, I’m not just pointing at the players. If you’re wearing a Kings jersey next year, you have to move forward, you have to get better. If not, then we have to replace the players that aren’t getting better. Then, I think we have to look at the structure part and make sure that we’re playing the right way for the pieces that we have, and that’s on us. Any team, be it the Stanley Cup champs from last year, Tampa, they’re looking at ways to make their team better through personnel throughout the summer. I know that our management group will do that, but ultimately we need players to evolve as quick as possible to get some real strong traction in the league and to emerge into the players that we think they can be. I don’t know what the timeline will be for that, the sooner the better, but there isn’t a magic wand that can force it.
On if he has more clarity in the defensemen on the roster than he did at the beginning of the year
I believe we do. The role that Mikey Anderson took on was remarkable. The plan wasn’t to have him do that, but when Olli [Maatta] struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year, Mikey was put there and that’s an area that Drew Doughty did a tremendous job with helping Mikey feel comfortable in playing the minutes that he did. Toby got his feet wet a little bit in the American League and then came up, never went back, and fulfilled his role. They’re playing in the, call it the two and four holes, that’s significant for that type of youth to take on those minutes. We feel good about that. Sometimes it’s easier for non-number players to come in and there’s less pressure. What do I mean by that? Mikey and Toby, their games aren’t based on stats. Nobody is asking me ‘How come Mikey Anderson didn’t score 12 goals and produce like Cale Makar?’ That’s the not the type of player he is, so there’s less pressure on him to produce numbers. Gabe Vilardi, I get the question constantly from our media about Gabe. It’s because he’s expected to put up a big numbers, and numbers create pressure for players. Gabe has more pressure on him because of numbers. Do we want Mikey and Toby to become better offensive players? Of course we do, but the pressure doesn’t exist there, so they had that luxury. What will happen there is our expectations will go up a little bit with them in year two, and sometimes that’s hard on players as well. Both of them can handle it and both of them can evolve into even better players.
On the progression of Gabe Vilardi going into next season
A very important player for our organization. Gabe is a unique individual that has a talent, or skill set, that’s really important on any team. Our team, but also teams that win championships, they need that type of player. Gabe has a ton of pressure on him, as I just mentioned, because he is the first of many young players to enter the league and be evaluated on numbers. You’re gonna see that with Quintin Byfield, you’ll see that with [Arthur] Kaliyev and [Alex] Turcotte as they arrive in the NHL. It’s hard to play based on numbers all the time, especially with a team that doesn’t score a lot. These players will have to learn to play without the puck and check as much as they will have to learn how to play and score. Gabe is going to be a better player next year, regardless of who he plays with or what position he is in. He has a year of NHL trials and tribulations under his belt. He’ll be able to sit back and reflect on things; we’ll be able to help him or offer our help to him and he’ll come back in. The nice thing as we move forward is Gabe is gonna have company, it won’t only be about Gabe. Next year you’ll be asking me, in all likelihood, Quinton Byfield questions and some other ones. You know that as well as I do, that’s just the way it works. It’s hard to be the pioneer of transition, and Gabe is that guy.
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