Q&A: Luc Robitaille on Kings’ season, Ovechkin chasing Gretzky

NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings from Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

As the NHL brings the Stadium Series to Colorado Saturday night, it’s time to check what the conditions will be like at Falcon Stadium. It’s expected to be in the 20s F without any threat of rain or snow, which bodes well for the ice conditions, something that not just fans and media are checking.

“We’re more checking the weather for what we’re going to wear,” Kings president Luc Robitaille told NBC Sports this week. “My theory on the ice is it’s the same for both teams, so you can’t use that as an excuse. We’re checking. I’m pretty confident at the time of the game we’re going to be fine. It might be a little bit colder. The whole thing of playing outdoors is what makes it so special.”

Robitaille is no stranger to outdoor games. He played in the 1991 preseason game between the Kings and Rangers outside of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and was in a management role with LA when they played Stadium Series games in 2014 and 2015 at Dodger Stadium and Levi’s Stadium.

We spoke with Robitaille this week ahead of Saturday’s Stadium Series game about where the Kings are in their rebuild, Alex Ovechkin‘s pursuit of 895 goals and more.

Enjoy.

PHT: For as difficult as this season has been and the last few weeks, how much can a game like this help morale. It’s still two points but it’s also a memorable experience for everyone involved.

ROBITAILLE: “Obviously we’d love to be at a different position, but it’s a great experience for our players. It’s a great opportunity to showcase our franchise. Mr. Anschutz, he’s from Denver, he’s done a lot with the Air Force Academy over the years. For us, to have an opportunity to showcase our franchise to be part of an outdoor game, we don’t take it for granted. We think it’s very, very special.”

PHT: Where is your dream outdoor game location?

ROBITAILLE: “Right on the beach. That would be something special. Right in Santa Monica where you see the [ferris wheel] right in the back, right by the pier.”

PHT: Where would you say the organization is in this phase of turning things around? Close to where you and [GM] Rob Blake want it to be?

ROBITAILLE: “Obviously, what people write is what people write. The proof is in the pudding. In 2017-18 we said we weren’t going to trade any draft picks moving forward until we had a chance to reload knowing we had a lot of contracts expiring at the end of this season. We haven’t traded anybody, but we really started to recreate the way our organization is last year. We find ourselves today with a lot of different [media outlets] naming our organization the No. 1 prospect pool.

“I like what our guys are doing. It does take time to build it right. We’re not trying to build our team to compete, we’re trying to build our team to give us a chance to win the Cup. To do that you’ve got to be patient and there’s going to be some growing pains. But if we do it right and we’re patient and do the right job in developing our players… we’re sitting in a good spot right now.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – NBC]

PHT: How do you balance that patience and with the pressures of quickly trying to build a contender?

ROBITAILLE: “We’re lucky that we have guys like Drew [Doughty] and [Anze Kopitar] and [Jonathan Quick] that are very high character, they know how to win, they know what it takes, and they can really teach these kids what it takes to win. A lot of times when you start that, take Toronto, they didn’t have any of those guys. And we’re starting with those guys, so that gives us a huge jump on everyone.

“We’re pretty comfortable that once these kids starts coming, we already had a few this year, our team should be performing better. Now there’s going to be some growing pains, they’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to lose some tough games. This year there’s many games we thought we deserved a better fate. It didn’t happen and now we find ourselves where we are. At the same time we had to change our entire system, the way we play, and that’s a hard thing to do. Last time around I think it took us three years to learn the system we ended up winning the Cup with and we’re at Year One right now.”

PHT: Who’s one of the younger players that might be off the radar that you’re high on going forward?

ROBITAILLE: “When you want to build a team it’s always about character, and when you watch Blake Lizotte, the way he approaches every practice, everything he does, every game, is the way we want to be as a team. To me, if we have everybody coming in, regardless of their height, their skating ability, their skill, if everybody plays as hard as him we’re going to be really, really tough to beat.”

PHT. You’re almost three years into the job as president. What have you learned about that role that maybe you didn’t know when you were in business ops?

ROBITAILLE: “I kind of knew it, but it’s reiterated everyday, you’ve got to really trust your people. You’ve got to make sure you stick to what you believe and what the plan is. It’s so important to reiterate and to stick to what our beliefs are as an organization. It’s hard because sports is hard. Every game is hard and we get emotional. But at the same time it’s very important that we stick to something that we believe is going to get us to the right place. It’s hard to do everyday because no one likes to lose and no one likes to underperform.”

PHT. You were one of the number of NHL greats who Alex Ovechkin passed in goals this season (Ed. note: Robitaille finished with 668). Are you surprised that he’s been able to be so consistent at scoring goals for this long?

ROBITAILLE: “If you look at the player and watch him play, no. But to say 10 years ago is this guy going to keep doing it every year, I would be lying to say that he’s the one guy. I never, ever thought we would ever be able to say I think this guy has a chance to catch Wayne Gretzky. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that. And now, we’ve got a player that, if everything goes the right way, has the opportunity to do something absolutely incredible and it would be the greatest thing for our game if he could get anywhere near it.”

PHT: It’s quite amazing with his style that he’s been able to stay incredibly healthy throughout his career.

ROBITAILLE: “Yeah, I think it’s amazing. I’m going to knock on wood for him because I think it’s incredible. It does take luck. All it takes sometimes is you get hit by one slapshot and you can be out for six weeks. It’s pretty amazing that he’s been able to last for so long and be resilient because he plays really hard.”

PHT: Do you think he can break Wayne’s record?

ROBITAILLE: “I think so. I’m not sure we’ll ever see it again. It’s hard to figure out someone that would do it. I’m going to enjoy this ride because it’s special. It’s very special and this is something that’s really good for our game. I’m rooting for him that he does it because it’s going to be absolutely incredible.”

MORE STADIUM SERIES:
Improved depth makes Avalanche Stanley Cup contender
L.A. Kings approach key stages of rebuild

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher will call the matchup. On-site studio coverage at Air Force Academy will feature Kathryn Tappen hosting alongside analyst Patrick Sharp and reporter Rutledge Wood.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Scroll Down For: