Phillip Danault has a new home with the Kings. Now he just needs a new residence
Phillip Danault is standing on the Manhattan Beach Pier, shorts and sunglasses on, happily unrecognized. The sun is out, the pier overlooking the Pacific Ocean and surfers below. It’s a slow moment in the middle of a fast day, at the start of a whirlwind week.
Danault is asked about finding a house.
“We have two days,” he says.
“Actually, we could have three, but with the plane and everything, we have two,” his wife, Marie, says.
“It’s kinda crazy right now,” Danault says.
“We’ll do our best,” Marie jokes.
Danault is just under two weeks removed from signing with the Kings in free agency, coming here from Montreal, where he played for most of the last six seasons, culminating in a Stanley Cup Final berth this season. His signing, on a six-year, $33-million deal, represents another step forward by the Kings — a franchise trying to speed its transition from young and rebuilding back to contending.
They’ve also traded for forward Viktor Arvidsson from Nashville and signed defenseman Alex Edler from Vancouver.
Danault is easily cast as a defense-minded center. That was the role in which the Canadiens played him. When the Kings called him, right as free agency hit on July 28, part of the appeal to Danault was being used as an offensive weapon.
“I still think I have lots and lots to give and L.A. was seeing that in myself as well,” Danault said. “That’s what I liked too. They were seeing me the way I see me.”
Danault’s agent, Don Meehan, told him and Marie to have someone watch their child during the early hours of free agency. Indeed, the phone started to ring. The Kings called him first and were aggressive in their pursuit. Soon enough, a Zoom meeting was set up with Danault, team President Luc Robitaille, general manager Rob Blake, coach Todd McLellan and Jake Goldberg, senior director of hockey operations .
“Not about gaining a more offensive game, it’s just they were seeing the offense that I didn’t have the chance to use in Montreal as much, I think,” Danault said. “Cause they were putting me in that certain role — which was OK, we went to the Cup. But I feel like I had another gear.”
It’s easy to draw a parallel between the situation in Los Angeles, where Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte are waiting in the wings as highly touted young centers, and Montreal, where Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki took strides under Danault’s tutelage. When Danault toured the Kings’ practice facility in El Segundo, his locker was next to Turcotte’s.
The atmosphere here, where Danault can be a leader without the world falling on his shoulders, seems to fit him.
“I don’t think I can have more pressure than I had in Montreal,” Danault said. “… Montreal is pressure, which I love, but it’s gonna be a different pressure (in Los Angeles). I put enough pressure on myself.”
The time for all of that, though, will be once training camp starts in September. Right now, there is a slight preoccupation. The house. The move. Meeting everyone in the organization.
Danault’s day starts around 9 a.m. in a gated parking lot at the Toyota Sports Performance Center. Someone makes a joke about the weather and he’s shown the parking lot, then frisked inside. Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter — two former Kings — are working out in the gym. Danault says a quick hello, then it’s a walk down another hallway for an introductory meeting with Blake.
That is how the next hour will go — walking through the facility, sitting down with a few more senior members of the organization, shaking hands and exchanging introductions with everyone. It is a lot, but, it’s pointed out, not quite as much as when Danault was traded from Chicago to Montreal, when a throng of media met Danault getting off the plane.
Playmaker Brandt Clarke, drafted eighth overall by the Kings, competed against pros in Slovakia. The Ducks chose center Mason McTavish third overall.
“Everyone knows you, so it’s a different pressure,” Danault said of Montreal. “You do a mistake, you’ll hear about it. ... It’s either a real high or a real low.”
Last season, when the Canadiens made their first Cup Final since 1993, was the high. The team had to wait inside the Bell Centre for crowds to clear before they could leave after clinching a series.
It’s a different vibe in El Segundo. Here, he’s dealing with a reporter, a photographer and a content person for the team. He tries on a jersey, meets Brendan Lemieux in the locker room, then goes up another hallway and to the right, walking into the practice area. The main sheet of ice is filled with kids, the next with a handful of pros — new teammates and otherwise — here to get work in over the summer. Toffoli is about to get on the ice and another brief conversation ensues.
The tour is almost over. The Danaults are shown the Ontario Reign’s gym — which doubled as a COVID-testing room for the last year, meet one last person, then are given the keys to their rental car.
This process is not wholly unfamiliar to the Danaults. Though he’s spent the last six years in Montreal, Marie estimates they’ve moved 14 times during his career. This one, though, is bigger — they’re crossing the continent. Everything from the weather to the language will be different.
Both Phillip and Marie are fluent in English, but they hail from Quebec. In the house, they speak French. Their 2 1/2-year-old child speaks French.
“It’s like wearing slippers in Montreal,” Danault says. “Everyone speaks French.”
Los Angeles is new, different. Danault is used to the bitter cold and snow of the Northeast. “It’s also weird to live beside the beach all the time,” he says. He may take up surfing — he’s already learned wakesurfing, so that feels like a logical next step.
The conversation vacillates between living arrangements and hockey. They’ll look at four or five houses on Tuesday, hopefully finding one they like, with space for their dog. The plan is to go back to Canada this week, enjoy Quebec for the rest of the month and get back to California in September. They’ve sold their house, but still need to pack.
Jon Gomez, the Kings’ senior communications manager, mentions that Arvidsson will be in town next week. Around that time, Edler will be in Vancouver to get his stuff and figure out how to get it down Interstate 5.
It’s a good reminder. As Danault slows down and settles in, the whirlwind will move onto someone else.
The NHL said it will investigate an allegation made by Evander Kane’s wife that the San Jose forward bet on his own games and has intentionally tried to lose for gambling profit.
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