LOS ANGELES — Now retired as a National Hockey League player, former Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll is moving ahead with life after hockey with no regrets, focused on the two things he wanted to do after his playing days were over—working with young NHL prospects and getting into hockey broadcasting.
After a summer that began with him marrying Fox Sports reporter and Dancing with the Stars co-host Erin Andrews on June 24, 2017, which was also his 35th birthday, the native of Melville, Saskatchewan then joined the Kings development staff on a part-time basis, and he worked with the team’s young prospects during their 2017 Development Camp, June 27-30, at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California.
Stoll, who played seven seasons with the Kings, helping lead them to the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup Championships, took some time to look back on his NHL career, which began with the Edmonton Oilers in 2003-04, his first full NHL season.
Stoll went on to play four full seasons with the Oilers, spending the cancelled 2004-05 season [due to NHL owners locking out the players in a bitter labor dispute] with the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
Stoll’s best season in the NHL came in the 2005-06 season when the Oilers went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but were defeated by the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games. That year, Stoll played in 82 regular season games, scoring 22 goals and adding 44 assists for 68 points, with a +4 plus/minus rating and 74 penalty minutes. In 20 playoffs games, he scored four goals and contributed six assists for ten points, with a -4 plus/minus rating and 24 penalty minutes.
But after making it all the way to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, the Oilers failed to make the playoffs the next two seasons, and it was time for change. That’s when then-Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi jumped at the opportunity, and on June 29, 2008, the Kings acquired Stoll and defenseman Matt Greene in exchange for defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.
“That was a shock to me, and knowing Greener and having talked to him, it was a shock to him, too,” said Stoll. “We were young guys, we were playing in Edmonton, and we were having some good years there.”
“I remember getting a phone call from [then-Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe],” added Stoll. “I was in my backyard—I lived [in the Los Angeles area] during the summer. I can look into my backyard right now and see the spot where I was standing when I got the call. I’m still living in the same place.”
“We liked our time in Edmonton. It was fun there, and it was a shock, coming to L.A. But things worked out for the best.”
Indeed, they did. Stoll would go on to play in 506 regular season games for the Kings, scoring 81 goals and tallying 133 assists, with a +22 plus/minus rating, and 344 penalty minutes, not to mention winning two Stanley Cup Championships.
But at first, the move from Edmonton to Los Angeles wasn’t easy.
“Not knowing the organization, not knowing the players and the coaching staff, made it a little tough,” Stoll noted. “But knowing that playing against L.A., at the time, they were a tough team to play against. Their record wasn’t what they wanted, and they hadn’t reached the playoffs in a while. But they were a tough team to play against.”
“At that time, [Dustin] Brown and [Anze] Kopitar were playing really well, [Michael] Cammalleri was scoring a bunch of goals, and Visnovsky was putting up points from the blue line,” Stoll added. “So, coming in, knowing that there were a lot of young guys and with draft picks coming up who were, hopefully, going to pan out—some of them did—it was bittersweet.”
Stoll’s love for the city and team he left didn’t help, either.
“I had some good times playing in a city and for a team and their fans in Edmonton,” he said. “You’re sad and disappointed, at the time, but you’re looking ahead to the future and exciting things to come. That’s the way it works.”
As tough as it was to be traded and to have to start fresh with a new team that he wasn’t very familiar with, it did not take Stoll very long to see his new team’s potential.
“At training camp, the thing I noticed first was the skill level here,” he noted. “To be honest, the skill level here was higher than it was in Edmonton, at the time. I noticed that right away, so it was exciting. It was exciting, offensively, knowing that some guys were going to put up points, and maybe translate into a playoff position. It was awesome.”
“I remember my first meeting with Dean,” he added. “It probably lasted two or three hours, but you could see his passion, and what he thought about the team, the organization, and where he thought it could go. He talked a lot about draft picks, because you’ve got to draft well, and develop your players. Then you can add pieces here and there by trade or free agency.”
“You could tell how smart of a hockey man he was and by how excited he was about the future here—in my first training camp here—that was Terry Murray’s first year here as head coach—he hadn’t coached this team yet, so we really didn’t know what we had or what type of coaching staff we had. So everybody was learning together, as a team. But I could tell. Dean wanted to do things the right way. I loved that meeting. I loved the what he thought about things, and the game.”
A big reason that Lombardi traded Visnovsky for Stoll and Greene was that Visnovsky had a big contract that ate up too much salary cap space, at the time. But a bigger reason was likely that Lombardi knew Stoll and Greene would be major players in changing the team’s culture into a winning one.
“He told [Matt Greene and I] that we were exactly the kind of guys who could get the team together, and help create a different culture that fit the group of guys we had,” said Stoll. “It didn’t happen in a year or two. It took time to build, but yeah, Greener and I took pride in doing that.”
“Culture is probably where you start, because if you don’t have a good culture and players who can form that—if you have players being selfish, caring only about points and plus/minus, and not wins, you’re not going to be successful,” added Stoll. “You have to have a culture that makes everyone pull together and focus on winning hockey games, making the playoffs, and advancing.”
“If you have guys who aren’t pulling in the right direction, creating a negative culture, they’re going to be a cancer to any team. Having the culture here, that we created, we became a very, very close team, and everybody knows that. We’ve all said it. It helped that we all lived close together, but you’ve still got to come together. We were able to create that, and it’s a major reason that we were able to have success.”
Indeed, Lombardi knew that the experience Stoll and Greene gained in Edmonton would be valuable for his young, up-and-coming team.
“You can overcome adversity a lot better when you have a culture built that’s very, very strong, and everybody is a good teammate,” Stoll observed. “Everyone was a good teammate on the teams where we won. It took a little while to build that [in the years prior to 2011-12]. But we learned a lot, and continued to grow, gaining confidence. Bringing Darryl Sutter in as head coach solidified our culture even more. Without the culture, without the guys we had, we wouldn’t have gone anywhere.”
“There’s different types of cultures that might work for different teams, depending on the characters they have,” Stoll added. “But that first meeting with Dean, he must’ve said the word, ‘culture,’ 25 times. Coming over from Edmonton, playing for the Oilers, they had a very tradition-oriented organization, and the older veterans on the team maintained a lot of them within the team. They passed all that along, and Greener and I learned about being a good teammate, and sticking up for each other, on and off the ice.”
“All of that is part of a culture, but we definitely learned that in Edmonton from the veteran players, and we brought that here,” added Stoll. “We knew those things were necessary for a team to be close.”
Although he was not one of the alternate captains, Stoll was part of the Kings leadership group, and probably the most vocal of the bunch, a sharp contrast to then-captain Dustin Brown, who led primarily by example.
“There’s so many different types of characters, characteristics and types of people on a team,” Stoll noted. “You can have a captain who’s not very vocal off the ice, but does all of his talking on the ice by the way he plays. That’s true throughout sports. But you’ve got to have a good, collective leadership group, a core group that can all think the same way and say the same things, together. That’s pretty strong, if you can do it that way. If not, you’re going to have some cancers in the dressing room and some negativity, and things probably won’t go very well.”
“Brownie was a great captain,” Stoll added. “He definitely led by example. Was he a very vocal guy? No. But he definitely did what he did on the ice. Even with Kopi—they’re similar. I wouldn’t say that he’s a crazy, vocal kind of guy. But he is a great leader, in his own way. You need a core group, five, six or seven guys who can pull the team together, can make everyone accountable and make everybody realize what a team really is, and that’s what we built.”
What they built eventually became a Stanley Cup Champion in 2011-12, a season in which for a long, long time, they looked like anything but, and even after Dwight King, Jordan Nolan and Jeff Carter joined the team, they needed a big turnaround just to make the playoffs by the skins of their teeth.
“The last two or three weeks of the season, we had to finish off really well to make the playoffs, and we did so down the stretch,” Stoll recalled. “I think there were twelve games left in the season, and we had a meeting. We knew what we had to do—how many games we had to win—and we did it.”
“We were confident going into the playoffs,” Stoll added. “With Dwight King, Jordan Nolan and Jeff Carter coming in, the forwards were all slotted where they needed to be. That solidified all the lines, and everybody was healthy. That’s a huge part of it. I know that when we went into Vancouver, they were the President’s Trophy winners and we were the eighth seed. But we knew how we played them during the regular season and we knew we could beat’em. We were playing good hockey and we had one of the best goalies in the league, and things happened.”
That’s quite the understatement, as the Kings dominated throughout the post-season, earning a 16-4 record, taking three-games-to-none leads in each series, not to mention winning ten straight road games in the playoffs.
But how did the Kings manage to become so dominant, especially in terms of their smothering, relentless forecheck, when they hadn’t shown that all season long?
“That’s not something we’d recognize too much,” said Stoll. “You can see it from upstairs, but the speed really picks up during the playoffs. That’s just the way it is, but for it to be that noticeable, I don’t know how to reply to that. I know that we were all connected, as a lot of coaches would say. We had that five-man group, as Darryl always talked about. We really had that going. We weren’t spread out, and when you have that, it’s tough for the other team to make plays through that. It’s tough to get out of your own zone. That created the great forecheck we had.”
“We were very, very aggressive, working on both sides of the puck,” added Stoll. “We’d swoop in, and we would just not go away. We gave teams no time to make decisions or make plays.”
After coming so close with the Oilers in 2006, Stoll was able to lift the Stanley Cup with his teammates after they defeated the New Jersey Devils, 6-1, in Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final on June 11, 2012.
“You’re so exhausted, first of all,” he reminisced about hoisting hockey’s Holy Grail. “Greener handed it to me, so that was a pretty cool moment, knowing where we’d come from, and what we’d been through. That was a special moment for me.”
“I just remember how heavy it was, because we were so exhausted,” he added. “It only weighs [about 35 pounds]. I remember that it was cold and heavy, but it was such a good feeling to finally be able to lift it, you don’t think it’s real, either. You’re looking up at it, and you want to make sure that you don’t drop it. You want to hold it the right way. You want to skate around a little bit, and you can’t believe what was happening or what went down.”
Stoll indicated that the on-ice celebration after the 2012 Stanley Cup win was very special.
“It was an awesome feeling to have all of your family on the ice, and realize what just happened. It was everything you could hope for after dreaming about it, as a kid. Then you think about all the hard work that went into winning it. So many thoughts go through your head. It was just awesome.”
The Kings got as far as the Western Conference Final the next season, but won their second Stanley Cup Championship in three seasons in 2013-14, after a playoff run that saw them looking up at a three-games-to-none deficit against the San Jose Sharks in the first round, three, seven-game series and a bunch of overtime games before getting past the New York Rangers in a five-game Stanley Cup Final.
“Mentally, that 2014 playoff run was a notch or two [tougher] than 2012 with all the Game 7’s, and whether we were down, 3-2, in a series, or up, 3-2, in a series, or even down, 3-0, in a series,” said Stoll. “It adds stress, and you learn how far you can push your body—how tired you are, how injured you are, the pain threshold you have. You just learn that you can push your body further than you think.”
“That pushes you to the limit,” added Stoll. “2012 was tough, but on the other hand, you could say that we were up, 3-0, in every series. That was an incredible run.”
The next season, the Kings failed to make the playoffs, and with management facing other priorities, in terms of player personnel and the salary cap, Stoll was not signed to a new contract and became an unrestricted free agent in the 2015-16 season. He signed with the Rangers, but was traded later that season to the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild did not sign Stoll after that season, and he once again became an unrestricted free agent. But he went unsigned and suddenly had to face the possibility that he would have to retire.
Stoll’s thoughts about life after playing in the NHL, along with his future plans, will be the subject of a separate story, coming soon.
LEAD PHOTO: Former Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll (foreground right), shown here with teammates during the Kings 2014 Stanley Cup Championship Parade in Downtown Los Angeles on June 16, 2014. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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