There is a lot to unpack coming out of this morning’s end-of-season exit meetings with GM Rob Blake and coach Todd McLellan. From the latter, we’ve already posted three articles and there are more to come.
Let’s now turn attention to LA’s bench boss. Below is the first batch from comments he shared during the call:
On his priorities for getting better next season
That is a broad question. If you’re asking me, specifically, the first thing that I have to do is look at how our staff interacts with the players and look at how we are structurally; whether we’re using systems that are fully effective for the type of players that we have, the combination of players we use, the integration of new players into the team environment, and the progress of the [existing] players. There’s a lot that we have to improve on, that’s not any different than if we won the Stanley Cup; there’s still things that you have to work on. Team-wise, every individual has to improve. We had some players that improved greatly throughout the season, we had a few players that gave back some of the gains from last year, and we have some entry-level type players that are still figuring things out and are, through evolution, just going to get better as well. Organizationally, we are always striving to find better players to challenge the ones that are here, and that’s not going to be any different. [Rob Blake] will address that as we go forward. There’s the coaches part, there’s the coaching staff part, there’s the player part, there’s the organization part. When you ask that question, it’s pretty broad.
On which area the team needs to improve on most next season to make the playoffs
That will certainly be one of our goals, to push as deep as we possibly can next year to challenge. We were there for awhile and then we fell out, that’s not acceptable. We had a team that could have stayed in the fight a little bit longer. I’m not sure that we would have got there eventually, but next year we’ll have to push further. When we approached training camp this year we had some goals that we thought we had to work on and the first one was re-establishing our work habits and what was acceptable, unacceptable, we hadn’t played for a long time, a lot of teams played into July and August. I thought we achieved that fairly fast and got off to a good start, then we want to grow from the players both collectively and individually. I do believe that happened in a lot of cases. We wanted our special teams to improve, certainly the penalty kill did throughout the year, there were some ups and downs, but that happens to everybody. To end up in the in the top 10 was a marked improvement from where we were the year before. Power play was, in my opinion, a tale of two seasons. Were we a top four or five power play, could we consistently stay there realistically? Probably not, but I do believe we are a top ten power play. The fact that we gave a lot of it back in the last third of the season was really disappointing. That’s an area of concern or an area that we have to improve. Then the 5-on-5 game. Some of the youthful players that are coming in have to accept responsibility on how to check and understand the importance of that. Overall as a team, we’re gonna have to find ways to generate more offense 5-on-5 than we’re getting. We actually just sat here this morning and went through our notes last year in regards to what were we saying at this time, and there’s still some similar tones that are coming out of the year end meetings.
On where he felt the team took their biggest steps forward, and any areas where the team didn’t progress as he would have wanted them to
The penalty kill was a significant improvement from last year, we were more defined in what our roles were, we understood personnel how we wanted to use them, Mikey Anderson, Toby Bjornfot took on huge roles in that situation. Olli Maatta came in and helped there, so the penalty kill was a significant improvement from last year. The power play actually improved from what it did last year, although as I mentioned earlier it was disappointing down that last third. Starting with the second unit, it was in flux for a lot of the year. Any time a young offensive player came up they got an opportunity most of the time on that unit, so there wasn’t a lot of consistency. Like our team play, individuals on that first unit, their play fell off a little bit, and it reflected in the power play situation. The introduction of younger players in prominent roles, it wasn’t forced on them. They were somewhat ready for most of it, especially on the blue line both Toby and Mikey Anderson took on significant minutes, so we’re happy with that. We were involved in a lot of one goal games, and if you go check the stats, you’re gonna say ‘well that’s not true,’ but I consider empty net goals both for and against or even two empty net goals for and against as a one goal games, and we were involved in 31 of those of the 56. We won a higher percentage of those this year than we did last year, that was a goal of ours. Up front, we had [Anze Kopitar] as our No. 1 center and then on a regular basis, we had a very young center ice core. They got to experience a lot of really good things throughout the year, also some down times, but at least they gained that experience. We have a lot of prospects now that have a year under their belt, whether it’s in the American League or in the National Hockey League. Those are some of the positive areas, a few of the negatives I mentioned, the disappointing part was the final third of the season. I thought we began to give things back there.
On how the lack of practice time affected the team’s play this season
The first thing to clarify is that we weren’t unique to that situation, there’s 31 or 30 other teams that experience the same thing. In talking to coaches around the league, that’s the first thing that often came out of their mouths is ‘we just don’t get any time to practice.’ Certainly in the second half of the season, once we were affected not necessarily by our COVID issues but other teams and had rescheduling, the games just kept coming and kept coming and we had players that had a few more miles on them that we had to be concerned about. We also had a large group, because we included a taxi squad, that needed some practice time. A lot of times, our team was divided down the stretch. With practices, we tried to get as much in as we could, while conserving energy. But our group improved via practice more than video, more than verbal instruction. They got to take reps and feel it and go through it a little bit they understood it better. Is that the way young players are learning? I don’t know, but certainly I thought we could clean things up quicker at the beginning of the year than the end of the year and practice time was significantly different.
On if they put more weight on the end of season performance when evaluating players
I’m gonna address this in two parts. I’m gonna compare last season to this season. Last year our year ended abruptly, we had no idea where the finish line was, we were just told whatever it was April 12th, 13th, I don’t even know the date, that you’re done. It just ended. This year, our finish line, once we were eliminated from the playoffs, was actually extended, which was exact opposite. It created a little mental stress on the group, once you’re out, you’re out. The COVID situation isn’t an easy one to deal with, albeit some of the teams are doing a really good job and are playing really well. We have to look at the whole body of work of certain players, or each player. There’s ebbs and flows in every individual, and it would be a real big mistake if we ignored all parts of the season and just focused on either the beginning the middle or the end. We have to ask certain questions about individuals, why did their play start off for a while and then fall off? We had others, I thought [Sean] Walker was significantly better in the last third of the season than he was at the beginning. Each of them has circumstances that have to be considered. You take [Walker] for example, COVID protocol to start with, puck in the face, there’s many reasons why he missed a lot of hockey and why his confidence level maybe lower the first or the middle third than it was in the last third. He certainly went further up, others were better at different time frames. We have to equally weigh the season for each player, that’s my belief.
On if he thinks the coaching staff needs to change its approach to the game next year
We weren’t impressed at all with our forecheck this year, for some reason we just didn’t create a lot of energy in the offensive zone off the forecheck. That was different than it was last year in my opinion, and we’ve got to look at why. Was the personnel, was at the way we taught it, did we back players off? We may change things in that area. Are we relying too much on our neutral zone which is a bit of a security blanket for us? Perhaps, but that’s what we do as a staff every year, whether we make the playoffs and lose the first round or hoist the Stanley Cup, that’s what staffs doing and we’ll look at that.
On how the team is going to approach a shortened offseason
The short part of it is a good thing because that’s where we ultimately want to be every year, very little time to plan. The off season as an organization is a little bit up in the air because I don’t know what we’ll be able to do with development programs and that type of stuff. Certainly with the quarantines from Canada to the US, that will be affected. The draft is later, there’s an expansion draft that comes up, but from a health perspective, players will have to get healthy quicker. We’ve got a number of players that are going to extend their seasons by about three weeks at the World Championships, that experience is really good for them. Our staff will begin and has begun the review process that will carry on here for a little while. September is going to come fast, it really is. That’s a good thing for our team, let’s get back at it quickly. We’ve had some odd disruptions to our our rhythm. It’ll be nice to get back to a regular hockey schedule.
We’ll have more from McLellan shortly.
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