EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – PART 2: In part 2 of Frozen Royalty’s exclusive interview with Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray, he talks about the critical nature of the off-season to his team’s success in the 2009-10 season. You can read part 1 here (see Time For Los Angeles Kings To Put It All Together). Look for the third and final installment of this series on June 4, right here on Frozen Royalty.
LOS ANGELES — For the Los Angeles Kings to be an improved team in the 2009-10 season they are going to have to generate a lot more offense than the 2008-09 Kings did while building on their much-improved defensive play.
A major factor in whether or not they will be successful towards that end will be their off-season conditioning and strength program, something Kings head coach Terry Murray cannot stress enough.
“[I hope] this off-season does great things for the players we have in our organization, meaning that the off-season program, the commitment to doing things so that you’re going to mature physically and come into the training camp totally ready, physically strong, confident and just build from that solid foundation that you’ve put in place through hard work in the summertime,” Murray explained.
“I’ve seen it over the years, with players coming in, when you’re physically sound and fit and really strong, you have tremendous confidence when you step onto the ice,” Murray elaborated. “That, in itself, will accelerate and develop you into a better player and a better team. That’s what I want to have coming into the training camp this year.”
One goal for the Kings is to get the team to a point where the players remain in the Los Angeles area year-round and workout together during the off-season and things are now moving in that direction.
“The nice thing is that, we talk about changing the culture and the attitude, we’re getting more players living in the LA area [throughout the year],” said Murray. “And why not? You have great people, a great facility to work out at. You get a lot of players from other teams in the National Hockey League come and spend their whole off-season right here in the LA area working out with personal trainers or working out as a group in the Manhattan Beach/LA area.”
And it’s not just about working out.
“It’s nice to see that we have more players hanging around and working out,” Murray noted. “But what I’d like as we go forward with this over time, over the years, is that there’s a majority of the players on the team who spend the full year in LA and you workout, maybe get into a softball league or other sporting event where you have a large group of the guys participating with each other. That’s team building, bonding with each other—getting together with cookouts or family get-togethers.”
“That happens over time,” Murray added. “It’s where we want to get to with this whole thing down the road. It’s nice to see that there’s a beginning here this year and I’m really hoping that a lot of guys that do show up over the course of the summer and spend some time working on the off-ice program together.”
But a close look at the 2008-09 Kings and their offensive woes makes it rather obvious that greater strength and physical conditioning alone is not going to help the team generate enough offense to get them over the hump.
Indeed, the Kings are going to need to add some offense up front, either through trades or unrestricted free agency. But both Murray and Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi made comments at the end of the season that focused on their current players and their need to improve without addressing the need to add talent.
“We need to get better with the guys that are here,” Murray said on April 11, following his team’s final game of the 2008-09 regular season. “This off-season is gigantic. If you remember going back to when I got this job, the first interviews I had were about the summer program, conditioning, getting control of your body, becoming stronger and it’s the same right now.”
“This is really a critical time for these young guys,” Murray added. “This is how they’ll get better for next year and that is all I’m concerned about. These guys need to get better right now, the group that we have.”
Fans and pundits reading between the lines suspected that the Kings were sending the message that they were not looking to bring in anyone to give the offense a boost.
The resulting outcry could be heard far and wide.
Seven weeks later, Murray’s focus has not changed.
“How you want to interpret comments…that’s up to everybody,” said Murray. “Everybody’s going to interpret things in different ways. [For] the comments I’m making, that the organization’s talking about…is that the players we have in place today, this young hockey club—we’re one of the youngest teams in the NHL—the way we’re going to get better as fast as any other way is through a solid commitment to the off-season. Come in, get better physically, grow physically, get stronger, get total control of your body, develop more power, more explosiveness in your game, develop your athleticism. That, in itself, is a challenge you have to take on.”
“Too often, you look around the league and you read comments from other teams…everybody does expect the cavalry to come in and save the day,” added Murray. “But we have to take on the responsibility, the group that’s with us right now. Let’s be better, here’s how we can be better, and push ourselves to the next level.”
The next level is the playoffs and the expectations for the 2009-10 Kings are much higher than they were in 2008-09.
“[The playoffs] are going to be our goal,” said Murray. “That’s what we’re going to talk about and certainly, for every team and every player that comes in during training camp time, their goal is to make the playoffs that season. It doesn’t matter what team you’re on. That’s the purpose of playing the game. Certainly, for the Kings, coming into training camp next year, that’s going to be a big focus, a big push by us, by the organization, certainly by me as a coach, that this is our goal this year. We want to make the playoffs.”
“That’s important to talk about and that’s why I felt it was important to talk about even at the middle of last year because we were playing real good hockey,” added Murray. “We showed a high level of play throughout the early part of the season, the middle of the season. That’s where the conversation started about making the playoffs. There’s always a nice pressure you start to put on yourself as a player and I remember those days when you start to challenge yourself and your teammates. You come to the rink with high expectations, you want a high level of performance and you want to make the playoffs. That’s how you grow as a young team.”
Indeed, the playoffs are always the goal and the 2008-09 Kings were no different, even though they knew qualifying for the post-season party was going to be a long shot. But the story is vastly different now.
“[The expectation that the Kings will make the playoffs] should be greater next year than what it was this year because when you look at the start of the season, the commitment to basically rebuilding through trades, through the draft—putting young guys into the lineup like we did—the age of these guys at eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old playing their first games in the National Hockey League—it’s pretty exceptional and it would be a pretty high expectation if we felt at the beginning of training camp last year that this was a playoff team,” Murray explained.
“We had to prove to ourselves what we were, how good we could be, how fast we could grow, how fast we could come together as a group of guys in the locker room, to get a feel, to get a read, to develop some confidence,” Murray elaborated. “But as we got going, again, at the Christmas break, in those early games in the season, we had played extremely well.”
But part of the early success must be attributed to teams being surprised at how much the Kings had improved, especially on defense.
“We probably caught some teams off guard,” said Murray. “Were we better than them at times? Maybe just because we caught them off guard because we had taken a huge step and were playing so well. I think as we got into the latter part of the season, after the All-Star break, we got exposed in some games by good hockey teams. They were doing the little things on a more consistent level through checking and through the experience of having been there before [while] our guys were just going through it for the first time ever.”
Despite the fact that the Kings failed to make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, Murray is focused on building on the positive strides the team made on defense.
“I’m very pleased at how the team progressed,” he said. There was a big commitment, a tremendous amount of hard work by the [coaching staff], [goaltending coach] Billy Ranford comes in making it four, he’s in and out with the goaltenders. You can really see good things, positive things with the young guys there. We look at the young players in particular with their development—the forwards, the blue line guys—which is a nice thing to see. But the overall team play and the improvement that was made on the checking and defensive side of things, we finished right in the middle of the league in goals-against average. That’s pretty nice stuff. That’s a great compliment to the players, the hard work, the commitment they made to team play.”
“At the end of the day, I’m looking at our hockey club and I’m very proud of every one of these players and the way these guys as a group came to play every night,” he added. “That leads to next season. I’m looking to pick up where we left off and continue to grow. That year under our belt is invaluable.”
And for Murray, it all comes back to the off-season work.
“As a coach or as a teacher, you stand up in front of your players, your students, and you can talk about stuff in life all you want,” said Murray. “But until you actually go through it and play the game and experience those one-goal games when every play really, truly means something, it’s very hard to just talk about and for the player to understand it. But once he goes through it, he really gets a better understanding of what it’s all about and what you’re talking about and that’s why this off-season is so important for the players to prepare themselves for this stuff.”
While Murray is emphasizing the off-season strength and conditioning program—and who can blame him? His job is to worry about the players on the roster—the Kings must add some offense to the lineup. Indeed, it is going to take more than off-season strength training and conditioning work for the Kings to become a playoff team, a must for the 2009-10 season.
Photo: Terry Murray behind the bench as the Kings host the Phoenix Coyotes on February 21, 2009 at Staples Center. Courtesy Los Angeles Kings/National Hockey League.
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