August 31, 2018 | 12:20pm ET
BY Dennis Bernstein, The Fourth Period
ROUNDING INTO FORM
LOS ANGELES, CA -- The summer nights are getting shorter as Labor (or Labour, for my Canadian friends) Day arrives in North America. The signals that we are approaching the Fall have popped up over the past two weeks – increased rush hour traffic as schools start to open, the blistering triple-digit temperatures of the San Fernando Valley are no longer a daily occurrence, and we’ve dipped back into the hockey pool via our first delivery of 2018-19 season, the video series appropriately named Kings Of The Roundtable.
This is our second year of producing the Roundtable in a partnership with The Mayor John Hoven, taking the baton from the first iteration from the former Kingscast duo of Keith Korneluk and Chris Kaliszewski, who assisted both in front and behind the camera in our co-branded version.
As for the whys of bringing back the Roundtable, there’s a couple of salient points:
In what could prove to be a pivotal season for hockey in Los Angeles, the game may struggle to get coverage even more this year than in any recent season. The core fans will always find a will and a way to find content, but consider:
- Once the other #23 in town laces up his sneakers for the first time as a member of the Lakers, each and every move will be documented by the local media. No doubt LBJ and the Lakers will be the lead on the local TV stations once training camp opens
- Further down the road, the Rams are a legit Super Bowl contender, stacking the team with legitimate elite players to upgrade an 11-5 team that was eliminated in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
- If the Dodgers can get back on track in September, there once again could be post-season baseball.
- Did I mention LeBron is playing in LA this season?
I’m just hoping I won’t tune in to the local 11 o’clock news one night and hear the sports anchor say, “We think the Kings played tonight, we’ll have an update for you on our morning news at 6AM.”
So, in the micro, that’s why it’s important to bring an alternative voice forward to analyze how last season fared and what lies ahead for this season.
As a fan, why is that important to you?
We’re in a time where there are declining unfiltered opinions and for the ones that do exist, you’re being asked to pay for them. It’s important to give the fans an option that’s independent and free and while we are far from the final word about hockey in Los Angeles, we offer a legitimate and entertaining one. Moreover, it’s a matter of controlling the message so ask yourself if you want the NHL and its member clubs to be your single source of news.
So as I step off the soapbox, here’s more on the Roundtable.
In an awfully quiet off-season league-wide, Los Angeles is full of intrigue as the September 14 training camp nears. A big free agent addition, a division that is very winnable, a core that is aging in a league where youth is being served more each day are reasons why this season should be more intriguing that last.
As for the cast of characters, we steered clear of the “all writers around the table” concept by returning Brian Slagel, CEO of Metal Blade Records and comedian Earl Skakel to the discussion. For those not in the know, Brian is an avid fan for decades and his passion for hockey is only exceeded by the one for his given profession. Earl is a lifelong Kings fan and has a top-rated comedy podcast, the very appropriate named “Inappropriate Earl Podcast.” Jesse Cohen, who has bootstrapped his All The Kings Men Podcast from a passion project to mainstream success inside the Kings organization was the perfect fifth voice, going against the grain at times and backing it with facts.
And yes, we even tackle the most polarizing topic for the fan base, the potential return of Slava Voynov.
My personal favorite is Episode 3, the link is here.
And as Kings GM Rob Blake affirmed my take on Thursday night’s State of the Franchise season ticket holders meeting, the Tanner Pearson- Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli line stands to be a huge factor in the team’s success.
Episodes 1 through 4 are available now with the balance to be scheduled to be released through Labor Day. And yes, those trailers that were produced were my idea with the help of iMovie. I hope they made you chuckle because the reality is that we’re playing in the toy aisle of life. Given what goes on in the world these days, you need the occasional laugh. My outlook for this season will follow sometime during camp and I plan to be a consistent voice again for the next 82 games and hopefully beyond.
A BLAKE DEBRIEF
In a win for us all, President Luc Robitaille and Blake have kept the transparency level high as he enters his second season in LA. While no team is fully transparent with respect to information, Blake lifted the shroud of secrecy that enveloped this team in the final days of the former regime and he appears at ease giving details about the roster.
Backstage before Thursday’s presentation, Robitaille pronounced the current roster a Stanley Cup contender and stated that while there was interest in Max Pacioretty (a story which seems to change daily despite being two months old), he is comfortable with the current roster. He went on to say that the Cinderella story of last season, the Vegas Golden Knights ascension to the Cup Final was a good thing for the sports. For those who said it was a bad thing for an expansion team to get to the championship round, Luc countered with the fact that Vegas’ run attracted the casual fan, created excitement and made the in-arena pre-game presentation an event.
After a detailed two-hour presentation about team direction and areas of improvement, Blake joined us with a mixed bag of news.
The most concerning is the injury update on the prized possession of their prospect group, Gabe Vilardi.
Vilardi continues to deal with a back injury that makes him doubtful for next week’s rookie camp but from the sounds of it, this injury may be one of a chronic nature (think Rick Nash). Blake described the situation as follows:
“He has a back injury he is going to have to take care of all of the time….for us to give him the understanding that he has to work on this every single day…we need him training in the summer rather than rehabbing.”
Not the best news for some who had ticketed Vilardi as a significant contributor this season but he’s far from the only player to manage through back issues. Nash has managed to score 437 regular season goals but if Vilardi’s status bears watching in training camp. Additionally, Derek Forbort experienced a minor back injury and Blake will have further guidance as camp opens.
The better news on the health front is that Jeff Carter is 100% healthy; as are Trevor Lewis and Dustin Brown coming off off-season surgery.
Blake aligned with Robitaille on the Kings championship aspirations and stressed a strength of this team carried over from his predecessor: strength down the middle. For those who would like to see Adrian Kempe on the wing, that appears to be a distant possibility as Blake reinforced that Anze Kopitar/Jeff Carter/Kempe depth is a its top strength combined with Drew Doughty’s virtuosity and Jonathan Quick’s big game performance and tenacity.
But without question, the spotlight will shine on Pearson and Toffoli in the early going, Blake’s presentation included six team targets for the upcoming season – but only one was outlined in red:
- Get secondary core to the next level.
Assuming a return to form by Carter and when asked specifically if this meant Toffoli and Pearson increasing their productivity, Blake admitted that Carter’s absence affected both players and the overall lack of scoring on the wing was the primary reason for the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk.
It’s impossible to win the NHL with just one line producing offensively, the best teams have three lines that have skill.
While the Kings third line may still be a work in progress, it’s essential to get productivity from the group known as That 70’s Line. Assuming good health, I think the LA season boils down to how well this trio performs.