It only took one big free agent signing, another smaller signing, and a historic trade to change the face of the Los Angeles Kings. The collection of moves proved that the Kings have transitioned from a team planning for the future to a team preparing for the present. With the additions of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, the Kings have a legitimate stable of top six forwards for the first time in a decade. Mix in recent acquisition Ethan Moreau for depth and the Kings have the look of a team ready to make a run this season.
On top of the talent the Kings brought to Los Angeles this summer, there’s another tie that binds each of the signings: leadership. Both Mike Richards and Ethan Moreau are former NHL captains, but head coach Terry Murray doesn’t foresee any power-struggle problems in the locker room. In fact, Murray knows Richards well from his time as an assistant coach in Philadelphia.
The Kings head coach spoke about Richards and the leadership qualities he expects the former Flyers captain to bring to his new team.
“He’s got those instinctive leadership skills that some players have and some players don’t,” Murray said of Richards. “He steps up; a big part of his leadership is doing it on the ice. He’s a guy who wants to take over whenever it’s needed. He’s a guy that watches the game very closely, he jumps in, he’ll fight, he battles, he’s gritty. He can make plays; he can crank it up to the next level whenever necessary. We saw it in the Olympics two years ago with Team Canada. At the end of the day when Canada had to get their game going, it ended up being [Jonathan] Toews and Richards. They moved a couple of different guys around on the other wing. But to me, when I watched that whole tournament, those were the guys who stepped it up and showed the way for the rest of the team.”
Fortunately for the Kings, they already have a strong leadership group in place. Dustin Brown has been the captain for the past three seasons and is the main leader of the Kings’ young core of players on the ice. Murray also intimated that alternate captains Anze Kopitar and Matt Greene are well established on the team. The Kings won’t ask the newly acquired Richards to jump into an official leadership position with the Kings—although they expect him to continue to lead by example as he has throughout his career.
“I think they have some similarities in their vocal approach,” Murray said when comparing Richards’ style to Brown’s. “Mike’s not a real loud and demanding guy that way. Brownie, to me, is similar. They’re more on-the-ice action players. They lead by example. [They play] hard, they play a physical game, and they play the game the right way. They come to practice and do the same thing all over again the next day. That sets the tempo and the tone for the rest of the team. That’s tremendous leadership in a quieter way. Then you have other guys, as we know, who are focused, demanding, yelling and screaming. And sometimes that’s me. [smiles]”
It not just the former captains that have the Kings coaching staff excited. In addition to Richards and Moreau, Simon Gagne has been an alternate captain and shown the ability to motivate throughout his career as well.
“[Gagne] was under consideration for the captaincy of the Flyers when I was there,” Murray revealed. “At the time whenever Richards came in and Primeau got injured… Now you’re looking, what are you going to do for the captaincy? The conversations in the coach’s office included Gagne as one of those guys. He had those qualities, but he’s a quieter guy too. He’s a player. He wants to get on the ice, play the game, set the example, and do the right things and lead by performance. We lose Handzus, and I love Handzus and his leadership and his intensity in play. But we also look at the two players that we’ve added that bring a lot of [good] qualities.”
The Kings head coach brings up a good point when the talks about losing Michal Handzus. Handzus played tough minutes for the Kings last season on the penalty kill and against some of the toughest opposition. But aside from his play on the ice, Handzus helped some of the younger players grow into effective two-way players (see: Trevor Lewis).
Bringing in guys like Moreau, Richards, and Gagne will not only help fill the void on the ice, but they should the hole in the locker room as well. They have mentored teammates in the past—and they’ve all been to the top of the mountain. Each of the newcomers have been to the Stanley Cup Finals; and each wants to finish what they’ve already started. Los Angeles has a team that is looking to take the next step, they could use a few veterans to show them the way. Enter Richards, Gagne, and Moreau.
The pieces are in place for Los Angeles to evolve into a contender this season. Whether the Kings fill their promise or fall short again—leadership won’t be an issue.