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LA Kings looking at long rebuild with McLellan as coach

LOS ANGELES — Todd McLellan wants to make the Los Angeles Kings playoff contenders again. He faces an uphill climb in trying to make that happen.

McLellan, who was named coach on April 15, inherited a roster with five players age 32 or older that had the fewest points in the Western Conference last season, scored the second-fewest goals in the league and was 29th out of 31 teams in penalty killing.

That’s why McLellan has modest expectations for what will be considered a success this season.

”Growth. Everyone has to improve in every facet of the game,” McLellan said early in training camp. ”I think I’ve said this before. Old dogs have to learn new tricks, and the new dogs have to be prepared and open to absorb and be professional.”

McLellan spent most of training camp trying to get all his players on the same page. They have spent as much time in front of the white board as they have skating.

McLellan, who had previous stints with Pacific Division rivals San Jose and Edmonton, wants the Kings to be more aggressive on the forecheck and also to be quicker to the puck. Whether that can work with one of the league’s oldest lineups, remains to be seen.

Early reviews by players about McLellan have been positive. Ilya Kovalchuk said the Kings are hoping to exceed expectations even though many think LA’s best days are behind it.

”I believe we still got it. In this league you never know,” he said. ”You see the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup, they were the last team in the whole league by Jan. 6 or something. So you just have to work hard and together as a team cause you can’t just be bunch of individuals. We have some new guys coming, but we have a core that knows how to win and that’s most important.”

WHO’S HERE: Defenseman Ben Hutton was signed Sept. 18 with Derek Forbort (back) and Paul LaDue (knee) likely not ready for the start of the regular season. Hutton spent four seasons with Vancouver. He had 20 points in 69 games last season but also posted a career-worst minus-23 rating, which is why he wasn’t extended a qualifying offer. Fellow defenseman Joakim Ryan, who spent his entire career with San Jose, also provides some experience. The Kings also added forwards Mario Kempe and Martin Frk, but they might have a tough time breaking into the lineup.

WHO’S NOT: The Kings bought out veteran defenseman Dion Phaneuf while forward Brendan Leipsic signed with Washington. LA dealt some prospects near the trade deadline for draft picks.

KEY PLAYERS: F Anze Kopitar scored 60 points last season, which was a 32-point decrease from 2017-18. He is expected to bounce back and have increased production this season, but probably not on the level of two years ago.

Kovalchuk had a nightmare return to the NHL last year, with just 34 points and at one point being demoted to the fourth line. McLellan has lauded the Russian during training camp, saying he is more engaged and buying into the new system.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick was hampered by injuries and was in net for only 46 games. This could be the year he is traded after Jack Campbell was signed to a two-year extension prior to the start of training camp

OUTLOOK: Los Angeles is looking to avoid missing the playoffs in multiple seasons for the first time since 2008-09 but has an aging roster with large contracts, which doesn’t give the Kings much salary cap flexibility.

Veteran defenseman Drew Doughty knows the team is in a rebuilding phase. ”It’s just what we got to do,” he said. ”We’re a new team, we’re rebuilding, we’re going to be younger. We shouldn’t be surprised if we make trades this year. We just got to be better.”

PREDICTION: The Kings should improve on last season’s point total but are expected to miss the playoffs and be near the bottom of the Western Conference. The most interesting month of the season figures to be February as they’re likely to be in the trade market again and making the slow steps necessary to rebuild the roster.

Anze Kopitar on Kings’ season to forget, playing for Todd McLellan

It was a forgettable season for the Los Angeles Kings. They finished last in the Western Conference, saw a third playoff-less season in five years, posted their lowest point total over an 82-game season since 2007-08, and had a coaching change that failed to lead to improvement.

General manager Rob Blake began the slow process of turning around the franchise’s fortunes in the summer by drafting Alex Turcotte fifth overall, buying out Dion Phaneuf’s contract, and hiring Todd McLellan as head coach.

Anze Kopitar was one of a number of Kings who experienced a down year offensively. Coming off a 2017-18 season where he won the Selke Trophy and was a Hart Trophy finalist, the captain saw his goal total drop from 35 to 22 and points from 92 to 60. The sooner the season could end so they could turn the page and move forward, the better.

We spoke with Kopitar at the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago last week about the Kings’ down year, working with McLellan and more.

Enjoy.

Q. Why did last season go so poorly for the team?

KOPITAR: “Everything went wrong, pretty much. We were battling some injuries early on — not that that’s an excuse but it certainly doesn’t help. Then we just had a poor start and we couldn’t pick ourselves up, really. The coaching change… the change didn’t do what we kind of needed and wanted. It was a rough season, for sure. I think in the end everybody was glad that it was over so we could step away a little bit and recharge and get ready for this year.”

Q. It was a down year for you offensively. What can you attribute that to?

KOPITAR: “Just a combination of everything. There’s no secret that I have to be and can be a lot better than I was last year. I will be better this year, for sure. Wearing the ‘C’ and being the captain of the team, a lot of it falls on me and I’ll take the responsibility, too. My game was not where it needed to be, but this is in the past now, we’re looking ahead and looking to see what we can do better.”

Q. This will be your 14th season. What do you see when you look back at where the league is right now compared to when you came in?

KOPITAR: “It’s been a little bit since my first game. The league has changed a little bit, definitely has gotten smaller and faster. I’m just trying to keep up as an older player now. The league is still very fun and being out in LA we still think we have the pieces to get back to where we want to be.”

Q. What do you know about Todd McLellan that excites you for the future?

KOPITAR: “Todd’s a very upbeat guy from what I’ve experience so far with him. We were on the phone quite a bit and met a couple of times. He’s got this energy about him that he brings in the room and makes his presence felt, which is what we need. That can translates onto the ice for us.”

Q. When you meet with a new head coach before the season what kind of messages do you want to convey to him about what the team is all about?

KOPITAR: “I think first and foremost it’s building the relationship. Me being one of the leaders, he’s probably going to talk to me quite a bit and I’ll try to talk to him as much as I can, too. It’s just building the relationship and pointing out the stuff that was done good and pointing out the stuff that needed to be a lot better. It’s a two-way street in the dialogue. At the end of the day we’re all just trying to get better and that’s where we’re pointing everything towards.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Trent Yawney joins McLellan’s coaching staff with LA Kings

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Trent Yawney has joined Todd McLellan’s staff as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings announced the hiring Tuesday.

Yawney was an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers last season. The former Chicago Blackhawks head coach spent 2014-18 on the staff of the Anaheim Ducks, working under Bruce Boudreau and Randy Carlyle.

Yawney was McLellan’s assistant for three seasons with the San Jose Sharks from 2008-11. Yawney and McLellan also played together for two seasons with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades from 1983-85.

Yawney specializes in coaching defensemen. He joins a staff in Los Angeles including Marco Sturm and goaltending coach Bill Ranford, two holdovers from Willie Desjardins’ staff last season.

McLellan was hired by the Kings on April 16.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PHT Morning Skate: Kings introduce McLellan; another level for Zuccarello

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

•  Here’s today’s NBC Sports Stanley Cup Playoff update for April 18

• The Todd McLellan hire is an important one for Rob Blake, as the Los Angeles Kings GM knows he needs to get this right. [LA Times]

• Here are all 31 nominees for the 2019 King Clancy Trophy, awarded to “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” [NHL]

Justin Williams is putting a lot of friendships on hold as his Carolina Hurricanes look to top his old pals with the Washington Capitals. [NHL.com]

• The Winnipeg Jets are looking like the 2017-18 version just in time. [Sportsnet]

• Another level for Mats Zuccarello to reach? Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery thinks so. [Dallas Morning News]

• A better Calgary Flames performance in Game 4 still wasn’t enough. [Calgary Sun]

• Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen on how he felt the morning after sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning: “A little relief. “Tired. Happy. All those things.” [Toronto Sun]

David Savard has been a pleasant surprise for the Blue Jackets. [1st Ohio Battery]

• “Lightning becomes the disappointment all others will be measured against” [Tampa Bay Times]

• On Brad Marchand and turning a new leaf on the ice. [ESPN]

• Depth and resilience helped the New York Islanders eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins. [SNY]

Phil Kessel on his future in Pittsburgh: “That’s a tough question to start. I don’t know at this point. We’ll see how it goes this summer.” [Post-Gazette]

• What’s next for the Penguins in regards to roster turnover this off-season? [Pensburgh]

• Ralph Krueger on his future now that he’s no longer chairman of Premier League club Southampton: “At the moment, it’s rather difficult to imagine getting back into day-to-day business immediately and taking over a team.” [Swiss Hockey News]

• Former NHLer Brent Sopel talks about his battle with dyslexia and his travels with the Stanley Cup. [Grandstand Central]

• Some names to ponder as the Buffalo Sabres seek a replacement for Phil Housley. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Fun look at some very weird hockey cards from the 1990s. [Puck Junk]

• Finally, in the latest episode of “Off the Ice with Kathryn Tappen,” Blue Jackets star Cam Atkinson reflects on his upbringing, and later reminisces with one of his brothers over a game of pool:

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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.

Kings give McLellan his third head coaching job

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The Los Angeles Kings officially announced former Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan as their new head coach on Tuesday.

This continues a tour of the Pacific Division for McLellan, as he was most recently fired by the Edmonton Oilers.

From 2008-09 through 2014-15, McLellan served as Sharks head coach; he then spent 2015-16 through a portion of 2018-19 behind the bench with the Oilers, before making way for Ken Hitchcock. While the Sharks made the playoffs in six of his seven seasons (the final being the failed year, which in part cost McLellan his job), things didn’t go so swimmingly with Edmonton. While their run to Round 2 in 2016-17 represents the best season the Oilers have enjoyed in years, Edmonton only made the postseason that one time under McLellan, so he bares the mark of “not being able to get it done while having Connor McDavid on his team.”

Of course, McLellan didn’t pick the groceries, he just tried to do the best he could with those ingredients.

Unfortunately, you could also argue that his “cart” is full of expired (or nearly expired) and/or overpriced items, as the Kings sure looked like a slow, broken-down mess at times in 2018-19. McLellan inherited a tremendous Sharks team upon leaving as a Red Wings assistant, and he also came into Edmonton during McDavid’s rookie season, so this is the least promising situation McLellan’s started with. At least on paper.

There were rumblings that the Buffalo Sabres were also after Todd McLellan, including this recent bit from Pierre LeBrun:

Maybe McLellan sees more potential in the Kings (particularly in getting a few more years out of an aging core featuring Anze Kopitar [31] and Drew Doughty [29])? Or maybe this as much a statement about the way the Sabres are running things than what Los Angeles might be doing well?

Whatever the explanation might be, the McLellan era is set to begin for the Kings. How do you feel about the decision to have McLellan sit in the throne?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.