With the Kings 2022-23 season now officially over, GM Rob Blake met with the media on Sunday morning in El Segundo to discuss a variety of topics, as outlined below…
Blake on what the difference was in the Kings-Oilers series this year compared to last year:
Special teams, I think. Obviously, the penalty kill wasn’t at the level it needed to be against – they had an elite power play throughout the season; I thought our power play was good, really effective — but I thought that swayed it. And probably Game 4, when we had a 3-0 lead after the first period. You have to find a way to close that out. That’s the stage this team is at now, finding ways to get through that, to help lead you through it.
On if the Kings are in a championship window:
I can tell, the feeling amongst the players last night — I wasn’t around them as much this morning — it’s different than last year. Yeah, they’re in the playoffs, and they got back to the level, but now the disappointment; now you got to find ways to win those series. You have to keep pushing forward, but that’s the feeling I got from the players and coaching staff last night and this morning.
On roster moves that he needs to make this summer to augment the lineup and help get the team to where he wants to go:
Well, it’s more ‘shaping’ probably this summer; growth of some more players, getting into that mix that are pushing the leadership group. I’m not sure it’s as easy to just go out and add like it has been in the past summers because of the salary cap situation for the year. Based upon where the cap ends up and different things. There are a lot of teams in that situation. This is a competitive group, but we need to find a way to be there.
On evaluating Quinton Byfield’s season and is he a center or winger moving forward:
I think he took steps this year to become a prominent player on our team, where he wasn’t last year in the playoffs. So, that’s a step forward. I like him at wing there. Ultimately, we still probably feel that he will be a centerman because he can do both, but his effectiveness — with his length, turning pucks over — I thought when he joined that line, with Kopitar and Kempe, gave us some balance throughout the lineup. That’s a transition piece that, whether it works or not, we were excited that he got into the lineup and became an effective player for us.
[reporter: But he does need to be a more productive player…]
Yeah, he’s 20.
On if signing Vladislav Gavrikov will be the most difficult thing he’ll need to accomplish this summer:
Cap-wise, most likely. Listen, I’d love to be able to bring that exact team that we had yesterday, with full health, and run right through the whole season. I know it’s not possible because of the cap situation, and ultimately, the amount of UFAs and signings and that. But we all understood the lefty-righty and the balance, but [it’s important to] put four real strong defenders in your group of six, to be able to combat some of the star players in this league.
On if improving the penalty kill comes via adding players from the outside or if the players are already here, making it more of a systems/structure change that’s needed before next season:
I think it’s a combination of both. I thought early in the year, on a road trip where we ended in Boston, our PK hadn’t been doing a lot. They made some changes, subtle changes, that improved throughout the season. But it wasn’t at that level in the playoffs. Again, that is an area of concern that we need to improve.
On the backend, do the Kings need more size, do they need to be stiffer:
I don’t know. I thought, overall, our defense and the way they defended, it was good. If you look at the regular season — and the defending numbers and analytics on defense — We were a top team, structure-wise and everything. Those guys play hard on the backend.
On if Todd McLellan returns next season:
Given that next season will be the final year of McLellan’s five-year contract, is there any interest in talking to him about an extension:
I’ll sit with Todd and understand his desires and where we want to go. I’m very confident in that staff right now. I think they did a tremendous job; real good structure and systems in place, and they get the players to play hard.
On if the team will look to re-sign goaltender Joonas Korpisalo:
We have to look at all these different options. We have three UFAs, I think – Korpisalo, Gavrikov, Edler. Today, I can’t answer that right now. The salary cap will play a big part in what we do there.
On where he ranks ‘solving goaltending’ as a priority this offseason:
Same as all positions.
More on shaping the roster, and if elevating younger players from Ontario is part of the plan:
Eventually, yeah. I mean, that’s the hope every year, that a few young guys come in and command spots. Like I said, Byfield and Kupari probably come in this year and commanded full-time spots throughout the playoffs, that played important roles for us.
On how Jordan Spence and Brandt Clarke fit into that equation for next season:
That has to play itself out. Clarke will be the one player that will be pro for the whole season, that’s the difference. I mean, Spence was here this year, got some time with us; and Toby Bjornfot, same type of thing. Clarke would be the new defenseman coming in full-time. There’s not the nine-game or 10-game issue or anything next year. He steps in and becomes a pro full-time.
To clarify the Clarke comments, does ‘full-time pro’ mean NHL only or the AHL is a possibility:
Well, he’s eligible for both. But, I think the way he played those nine games, it was a difficult decision at that time. He went down and did everything possible asked from him in the OHL and throughout the playoffs. I expect him to compete for a spot and help this team.
On the possibility of trading more established players this summer to make room for a few of the younger players coming up through the system:
Potentially, yeah. I mean, you can only carry 23 players. However, that works out.
[note: Blake seemed to indicate none of the recently injured players — Gabe Vilardi, Kevin Fiala, or Blake Lizotte — will require offseason surgery]
On Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty getting older, yet still having fine seasons. How much do they have left?
They keep showing it. Just look through the top of that lineup. Adrian Kempe was a force all year again. I thought Kopi led the way, he’s always led with us. A year ago with Drew, it was health. That’s the first time he’s really missed games at all with us. I thought he came back and established himself real solid in that lineup to help us. So those guys are big contributors on this team.
On if there’s interest in locking up Vilardi to a long-term deal as he’ll be a Restricted Free Agent this summer:
The CBA gives different types of options with Gabe because of his age and that. We need Gabe to be able to play full seasons. I think you’re starting to see a little bit of his potential, which is real good. He was committed this year. Not [only] on the offense side, but on both sides. I do think the power play really changed, with Kevin Fiala and Gabe, in that aspect. And then the two power plays competing early in this season. Gabe was a big part of that.
On the plan for Cal Petersen:
We’ve got to get Cal to be an NHL goalie. That’s what we signed him to do. It was a tough start to the season and his situation. He was really good about going down and playing games, but this is a big summer for him to come back and compete.
On if the expectation is for him to compete for an NHL job in training camp:
On if there is a need to clear out some salary cap space in order to make the moves that he wants to make:
I do think at the end of the day, when the cap numbers come in, like I said, we’d love to bring that whole team completely back. But I’m not sure that’s going to be able to be accomplished with the cap situation.
On Kopitar [earlier today] saying he wants to retire a King; is there an interest in signing him to a small extension:
If that’s what he wants, yes, for sure. He’s a tremendous leader for this organization, but he’s playing at such a high level. Didn’t he lead our team again in points, for what the 17th year? So, yeah, he’s been terrific.
On if he makes moves this summer to combat Edmonton or if makes moves to just improve the team:
Listen, you’re right. They’re probably not going anywhere with some of those players they have right now, but I don’t think you make moves to beat just them. You make moves to get better.
On the pressure he’ll be under this summer after winning the summer two years ago with Danault and winning last summer with Fiala:
Well, it’s not as easy to just go and add a real important player with salary. That part we know. The good thing is, the team is pretty good. There aren’t a lot of holes that need to be addressed. We do need some growth in some young players, but we do have to get better. Now it’s not – you’re not just happy to get in or have a good regular season, now you have to try to win.
On Kempe asserting himself more this season after signing a big contract last summer, and was Fiala all they expected him to be:
I think it was. Kevin has a game-breaking ability in his game. I thought the power play too. Wherever he gets used in the lineup can give you some match-up options there. And I thought Kempe built off of last year and commanded a presence on the ice that continued throughout the playoffs, both physically and wanting to be a guy to score. He’s a major part of that leadership group now.
On what role he would like to see Alex Turcotte craft and create heading into training camp next season:
Health. That would be great.
If they don’t sign Gavrikov, are there enough internal solutions or will they have to go back out to the market and try to find something on the left side:
Well, the market gets difficult, just because there’s a lot of unknowns and competing. You can target a player and think, ‘Okay, I’m going to get it,’ but there’s probably four or five other teams doing the same thing. The good thing is, we got to see Gavrikov here. We saw and understood what kind of fit it was. Like I said, when you can throw out defenders like that against top players, it certainly helps your team.
On the impact of Jim Hiller, regarding the Kings improved power play:
When I talked about Gabe and Kevin, with the two units competing against each other, I thought Arvidsson did a real good job too there, at net front on different units. But, Jimmy does a lot behind the scenes with that power play — a different look from outside the organization. He was able to put some of these players in positions to change. Power plays have changed a lot over the years. You see a lot of stuff through the box now and through the crease and that. I thought our power play was effective, and there’s a combination of a lot of those factors.
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