EL SEGUNDO, CA — Looking at the prospects for success for the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings, the picture really doesn’t look very good. Most would predict that while the Kings could be a playoff team, it is going to take a Herculean effort to get there, if they can get there at all.
Indeed, the Kings are clearly in a rebuilding mode that is expected to take at least two or three seasons, maybe more, and if their performance last season is any indication, a longer rebuild is probably the smart bet.
To be sure, it was easy to see the Kings’ problems on the ice last season, as the entire team struggled. That included veteran stars like defenseman Drew Doughty and center Anze Kopitar.
Indeed, the Kings struggled mightily on both ends of the ice. But most notable was how badly they played in the defensive zone after being one of the very best teams, if not the best, in the National Hockey League on defense for so many years—their defensive prowess was a major factor in their 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup Championships.
But last season, the Kings allowed 3.18 goals per game, ranked 20th in the league. Some of that was due to the fact that superstar goaltender Jonathan Quick did not have the season that everyone has come to expect from him. But a more significant issue was the play by the skaters in front of him—they gave up Grade A scoring chances in bunches, one after another, which was totally uncharacteristic of Kings teams in recent years.
To be sure, on-ice performance is the bottom line—the Kings must improve and in a big way. But that will take time as young players develop and work their way into the Kings lineup.
“We’ve just got to rebuild,” said Doughty. “That’s what we’re going through. We still think we can compete and make a playoff spot. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work. Our older guys have to play better than they did last year and our new guys have to come in, make a big step, and help us out.”
But a great deal of the process to make that improvement a reality will happen off the ice. That is an area needing considerable improvement that probably isn’t on most people’s radar, and it really should be.
To illustrate, at the end of the 2018-19 season, players talked about bad practice habits and complacency as issues that had to be resolved going into this season.
“I just think that there’s a big chunk of guys who’ve won here,” said veteran winger Dustin Brown. “But that was a long time ago now. Coming into this year, I think it’s important—we’ve won [only one] playoff game since we won [their last Stanley Cup Championship in 2014]. There was too much of that in our group last year.”
“It was messy, but it was on us,” Doughty lamented. “It was pretty bad. But a lot of that had to do with the players. It’s our responsibility to show up to practice ready to be professionals every day and work our bags off in practice.”
Accountability, or a lack thereof, was also a problem last season.
“Part of it is setting the example—how things are supposed to be done,” Brown emphasized. “The other part is holding each other accountable. If [Kopitar, Doughty] and myself are held accountable, it makes it a lot easier to hold the line elsewhere.”
“Getting on” each other, or “tough love,” will be a big way that Kings players will hold each other accountable—it’s something that was prevalent during years that they won the Stanley Cup, or were considered to be legitimate contenders.
“We didn’t have a lot of that last year, a lot of tough love,” Doughty noted. “When I was a young guy in the league, teammates and coaches got on me every day, and it was more teammates than coaches. That’s kind of [gone] away. Guys don’t get on young guys like they did in the past. I don’t know why that is. But with this new coaching staff, everyone is going to be held accountable to the same level.”
“We need to be a winning team this year,” Doughty added. “We were embarrassed with the last four seasons. If you ask me, since we won the last Cup, it’s been [expletive deleted]. We’re ready to go. We need to get on each other and expect more out of each other.”
Doughty pointed to former Kings defenseman Matt Greene as a veteran who pushed him to be better and got on his case, from time to time.
“He’d get on everyone,” Doughty recalled. “I knew he loved me. He brought me in. He was like my Dad for many years. If I had a bad period, he’d come in and let me know with the ‘what the hell are you doing’ type of thing, the ‘we need you’ type of thing.”
“Like I said, that doesn’t happen as much anymore,” Doughty added. “Sometimes, I think that’s why we’ve gone south, a little bit, because we don’t have those guys who get on guys. I think our veterans need to get on each other and on the young guys—on everyone.”
“Everyone should be hard on each other,” said Brown. “Young guys, old guys should be hard on everybody, especially after the last couple of years.”
Doughty will certainly be one of the players who will do that.
“I give it to everyone, in a good way,” he noted. “I’m trying to help them, not embarrass them, or anything. I’m trying to help our team win. I want guys to get on me, too. I’m going to get on—not just the young guys. I can get on Kopi, I’ll get on Brownie, whoever it may be.”
“The way the league has gone, you definitely need those glue guys,” he added. “You need guys who can think. You [need more than] guys who can just skate. That’s the way the league is going—just throw pucks around and skate.”
“You need those kind of guys, because the game has gone in that direction. But you need guys who can think, both on the ice and off the ice. You need guys who can help their teams in the room—those glue guys. They’re really important. We do have those guys on our team. We just need to do it better.”
But as much as the players must be willing to criticize each other when necessary, they must also recognize that the young players are still developing and will suffer from growing pains during the rebuilding process.
“You’ve got to learn to be patient,” said Doughty. “When we were [young guys], we wanted the veterans to be patient with us and they were. It wasn’t until they realized how good you were that they started getting on you all the time.”
“We’re going to have to be patient with guys,” added Doughty. “We’re learning a bunch of new systems that we haven’t played before. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I think it’s going to create a lot more. But we’re going to make mistakes in the pre-season, for sure. We’ll try to go into the season fully prepared.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, shown here meeting with the media following 2018-19 exit interviews on April 8, 2019. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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