LOS ANGELES — As reported in this space on July 13, after playing seven seasons and winning two Stanley Cup Championships with the Los Angeles Kings, center Jarret Stoll became, in large part, a victim of the National Hockey League salary cap—given other priorities, the Kings could no longer fit him under it.
“It was tough to leave,” said the 35-year-old native of Melville, Saskatchewan. “When you win championships, and not one, but two, there’s the bond with your teammates, the friendships you make, and the memories you make. That means so much. That made it harder to leave and to change. You never want to have change when things are so good. There were so many good memories.”
“Then there was knowing that I was going to come back and live here during the summer, hanging out with the guys again. So, in the summer, it felt like I was still with the Kings, even though that, obviously, wasn’t the case.”
To be sure, in some ways, it was like he never left.
“One thing that was weird was when we started [informal] skating in August [at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, the Kings practice facility], I had my New York Rangers stuff on, and the guys all came out of the Kings dressing room,” Stoll recalled. “I had to dress in one of the [separate] locker rooms for those summer skates. That was weird. It was definitely different.”
Stoll signed with the Rangers for the 2015-16 season, but was traded later that year to the Minnesota Wild, who chose not to re-sign him. Once again, Stoll became an unrestricted free agent, and was looking to sign with a team for the 2016-17 season.
“I went to Columbus for their training camp,” he said. “I had a good camp, but they went in a younger direction, like most teams.”
Although he continued to look for a team to sign with as the season began, no other teams showed interest. As a result, Stoll suddenly had a lot of free time. But he rolled right into life after hockey, working with the Kings’ young prospects and on their television broadcasts, even though he was still hoping to play at least one more NHL season, somewhere.
“I loved [working with the young prospects],” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do after leaving the game. I wanted to coach and develop players—use my experience and pass that along. There’s some kids who can take positives out of that and maybe that’ll help them make the NHL someday.”
“I wanted to stay involved in the game–stay around it, on the ice,” he added. “I take a lot of pride in being around, trying to help the young guys.”
Stoll indicated that he also enjoyed working on the Fox Sports West broadcasts.
“On the TV side, that’s something I wanted to try, and I liked it, working with Sean O’Donnell and Patrick O’Neal,” he noted. “Having played with Sean, it was a pretty easy transition. I loved doing both the TV and development work.”
“I feel comfortable [doing the television work],” he added. “It’s never easy, right away. You’ve got to learn certain things. It’s never going to flow perfectly right away, but I learned a lot. You’ve got to get better and better and try to improve any way you can.”
Stoll’s biggest challenge was to put loyalties and friendships aside in his television work.
“It’s definitely weird, talking about the guys,” he observed. “Maybe they’re not playing well that night—it can be difficult, to be honest, at times. But it’s a lot of fun watching the games and breaking them down.”
“I’m so happy for the guys when they score, or play a good game, or when Jonathan Quick gets a shutout,” he added. “I’m so close to it, still, that the feelings are still there, and they will be for a long time. A lot of them are really good friends of mine, and I wish them well. But on TV, you’ve got to be honest and call it the way it is. But for the most part, it’s positive.”
“Fans want to know what we think. Sean and I played the game for a long time. They want to hear our thoughts, so you’ve got to be honest. That’s something I know that I can get better at. It’s hard, at the start, to talk about things in that way, but it’s something that I’m learning.”
Stoll now considers himself to be officially retired, as a player. He has become an official part of the Kings development staff, on a part-time basis, with his first duties coming in late June, when he worked with young prospects during the team’s Development Camp.
“At the end of the day, it’s being around the rink, around the guys, doing what I love to do, helping guys out,” he said. “[Former President/General Manager Dean Lombardi] gave me a great opportunity after I was done playing last year to come in and hang around, talk face-offs with him, have a lot of meetings with him, and read some books that he wanted me to read. It was awesome. I appreciate Dean giving me that chance to be around the team, and now, [general manager Rob Blake] wants me around. He wants [Matt Greene] around. Maybe it has to do with that culture thing—back to that. He’s giving us a chance to be around the organization, still, and we can’t thank him enough for that.”
As alluded to earlier, Stoll wanted to play at least one more season—he was unable to retire on his own terms. Nevertheless, his transition into life after hockey has been smooth, seamless and without the negative drama that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with players suddenly thrust into retirement.
“[Not being able to retire on his own terms is] not something that bothers me,” he said. “I know a lot of my friends who’ve retired, and a lot of guys I’ve talked to—it’s been really hard on them, not knowing what they wanted to do after hockey because they haven’t thought about it.”
“Things can end really quickly,” he added. “They did for me, and I think for most players, they do, unless a guy knows he’s retiring [well ahead of time]. Everyone wants to play as long as they can, but I knew what I wanted to do. I’ve known for quite a while, for sure, longer than a couple of years. That made it a lot easier.”
“You’ve got to realize, at a certain point, that if it’s time, it’s time. I knew what I wanted to do after hockey, and I think I’m slowly getting into that stuff now. I have no regrets at all.”
Indeed, Stoll was prepared for life after hockey.
“Some guys go play in Europe, but when they come back, it’s like, ‘what am I going to do now?’ Even for guys who don’t, that’s often something guys don’t think about,” he noted. “But for me, I knew the two things I wanted to do, and I’m doing them, and the fact that I was able to do them this past season helped me a lot, in terms of not being able to play last season.”
For the time being, Stoll is content working with young prospects, and is not interested in moving behind the bench.
“Right now, I’d say no [to coaching],” he said. “Development is awesome to be a part of. When a player you’re working with makes it to the NHL, or works on things that you’ve taught him and then succeeds at it, that’s so rewarding. That’s something I hope I can do, to bring to a young prospect. That’s what I want to do.”
“It would be nice to become a coach, but there’s a lot of long hours and a lot of video sessions, so I think development is more my priority right now,” he added.
What about television for the coming season?
“We’re going to find out here soon,” he said. “I haven’t heard yet, but I definitely would like to continue.”
After looking at last year, his current work in player development, and into his future, Stoll took one more opportunity to look back, this time, at what he considers the best teams he played on (compared by season).
“I would say the 2011-2012 [Kings], just because so much happened that year,” he noted. “There was a lot of adversity. We were not playing good hockey early in the season, but then we turned things around, and of course, the way the playoffs went for us.”
“Then there was the year [2005-06] in Edmonton, when we went to the Stanley Cup Final,” he added. “No one expected us to be there. We were another eighth seed. Going to the Stanley Cup Final in a Canadian city, too, with the fan support there. Not having been to the Stanley Cup Final in a while, with the history of that franchise, it was awesome.”
“That was a gritty, grind-it-out team with good goaltending. We had to beat Detroit in the first round, and they had something like 124 points in the regular season, and we had 90. By the time the Stanley Cup Final came around, it seemed like the whole country was rooting for us. It was really cool to feel that, so that was fun.”
LEAD PHOTO: Former Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll, shown here during the on-ice celebration after the Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship on June 13, 2014, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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