LA Kings head coach made it clear that the team has to improve before declaring themselves as “playoff-ready.”
This time last year, the LA Kings were still about three and a half months from starting the abbreviated 56-game schedule. Leading up to the NHL’s Return to Play, there was much discussion that the seven teams who failed to qualify for the 2020 postseason bubble would be granted an extra two weeks of training camp.
That never came to fruition as the Kings went straight from training camp into the regular season, without any preseason games to boot. Now with the hockey world returning to some modified version of normal, Los Angeles comes into the 2021-22 season with much higher expectations.
The organization added Viktor Arvidsson, Phillip Danault, and Alex Edler over the summer. Combined with a loaded prospect pool, the future looks promising at 1111 South Figueroa Street. However, the challenge this season for Kings head coach Todd McLellan will be identifying the right lines and combinations that ultimately yield on-ice results.
“Well, last year, we didn’t have time,” McLellan said bluntly. “We got on the ice, we put lines together, we played a black and white game, and then we played for two points. Not that we have an overabundance of time this year, but we have seven exhibition games, we have a black and white game, [and] we have these inner squad games. We have the opportunity to move some players around, and quite frankly, we have a lot of players that we have to figure out for new bodies that we’ve never seen before and in a King locker room.”
McLellan is entering year three of a five-year contract with the club, and this is the first time he’s truly had a full offseason to work with. It’s also the best team he’s coached in Los Angeles. And much like last year’s training camp, the veteran players on the roster are hopeful that the Kings can return to the playoffs after missing the postseason three straight years.
Arvidsson noted on Thursday that he’s here to win, coming from a Nashville Predators team that made the postseason every year that he was there.
The Kings put together a six-game win streak early last year that had fans hopeful that the organization was trending towards the fourth and final playoff spot in the Honda West Division. But after the Jeff Carter trade at the deadline, things went south for Los Angeles, falling 14 points short of a playoff spot.
And Todd McLellan was quick to address players already talking playoffs this early on.
“I know [that] we better get better tomorrow. We haven’t even played an exhibition game, and we’re trying to figure out if we’re going to make the playoffs,” the Kings bench boss said. “I think that this organization has to get better. We’re moving forward. The “playoff” word should be used in every locker room right now, of course.
“But we need to improve before we declare ourselves ‘playoff-ready,” McLellan added. “Are we capable of it? I think we have the right players to do it, but can we get our game together quick enough and maintain it long enough during the season to compete for that? We’ll figure that out as we go, so one step at a time for this group.”
Despite the significant roster improvements over the summer, there figures to be plenty of competition in training camp for roster spots. Players such as Arthur Kaliyev, Samuel Fagemo, and Quinton Byfield, to name a few, are looking to steal an NHL roster spot. But if you ask the Kings’ head coach, his primary focus is not on playing the kids.
In fact, one could argue that the moves made buy the organization need more time to develop their prospects.
“You know what, quite frankly, I don’t care who plays here,” McLellan concluded. “It doesn’t matter if you were the second pick, the fifth pick, went as a free agent; it doesn’t matter anymore. The draft is over. Everybody’s a King right now, and we have to put the best team on the ice that we possibly can night after night. And what happens on night one may change on day three due to injury or somebody’s performance. We don’t have to be forced into rushing young players into the lineup. We’ve added four players that we think are capable of playing in the NHL.”
The Kings will play in their annual Kings vs. Kings showcase on Sunday, followed by their first preseason game against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday.