They have a combined 2,420 regular-season NHL games and seven Stanley Cup rings, and one of them owns a catchy nickname, “Mr. Game 7.”
That’s the raw data behind a change in the Kings’ dressing room, the off-season departures of three veteran players — forwards Jarret Stoll, Justin Williams (Mr. Game 7) and Mike Richards — leaving a void.
Beyond the numbers, what about the emotion on the ice; the soft skills needed for the hard battles off the ice? In other words, there’s the importance of a team’s leadership group behind the scenes, striking that delicate balance of communication with the coaching staff and management.
With training camp about to open Friday in El Segundo, how they go about replacing those influential voices is one of the main concerns for the Kings.
Williams, who won the Cup twice with the Kings after winning it once in Carolina in 2006, signed with Washington on the opening day of free agency in July. Stoll reached a deal with the New York Rangers in August.
Richards, whose contract was terminated in June because of a cited “material breach,” only played 53 games last season. Despite diminishing contributions on the ice, his leadership skills were still valued.
Besides the potential of filling those holes on the ice with Milan Lucic, Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff, among others, captain Dustin Brown — the longest-tenured Kings’ player and public face of the organization — is expecting other support. As alternate captains, defenseman Matt Greene and center Anze Kopitar should help shoulder the spiritual load.
“You can look at it as guys leaving or you can look at it as an opportunity for guys who have been waiting in the wings to take the reins more,” Brown said. “We still have a lot of our key guys — me, Kopi, Greener, Carts [Jeff Carter], Quickie [Jonathan Quick] have all been big leaders on this team for the last few years.”
Stoll might have been a fit for one more season, but his drug-related arrest in April in Las Vegas shut down those considerations. The Kings had been trying to trade Richards before he was arrested at the Canadian border for alleged possession of a controlled substance.
Even before those issues, the Kings were poised to make changes after missing the playoffs last season.
Brown, meanwhile, senses the time is right for defenseman Drew Doughty to take that great leadership leap and expects Kopitar to be “a little more vocal now.” Doughty, who finished second in Norris Trophy voting in June for the league’s top defenseman, is still young and won’t turn 26 until Dec. 8.
“Part of it is just biding your time,” Brown said. “Drew made steps last year. Now this is a big year for him, with those guys leaving, to really take on a leadership role in the room. I think he needs to make a big step this year, the way things have changed with our team.
“Talking to him and knowing him well enough, he’s probably pretty excited about the opportunity.”
Doughty was hardly silent in the room during the Kings’ two Stanley Cup championships.
“He is a talkative guy,” Brown said. “It’s more his maturity and what he is saying and when he is saying it as opposed to maybe four or five years ago. . . . He is pulling our ship, more so than last year. Like I said, with the changes we’ve had, it’s important for him. We all know what he is capable of doing on the ice.”
Brown’s rookie season in 2003-04 feels light years ago. He was named the Kings captain in 2008 — the youngest to wear the “C” in franchise history — and, after all the years, isn’t averse to tweaking his leadership style.
“What I’ve done and how I’ve led will probably change a little bit this year as well just because we don’t have those vocal guys,” said Brown, who will turn 31 on Nov. 4. “I have no problem being vocal. In years past I haven’t had to because we’ve had guys that filled the role. I think everyone will learn from it.
“Like I said, if you’re done growing as a player whether it’s on or off the ice, you’re out of the league pretty quickly.”