Note to players making more than $3 million per year: just because you’re playing the system and it’s all about the team and you’re paying attention to the little things DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T TAKE OVER A GAME AND STEAL A FEW

The nice thing about buying-in to the system is that, in theory, if you take the leap of faith, the system works. And, lo and behold, the system does work. For the most part, the Kings are the best team they’ve been since the beginning of the decade, and for the most part the players have committed to Terry Murray’s system. It helps to know that, when the game isn’t going well, you can redouble your commitment to the system, and that’s all you have to think about: your job. Same goes for when you’re up 6-0 and there’s a temptation to sit back. No. You still play the system.

The other advantage of playing with this kind of team discipline is that it helps reduce the anxiety that comes from being a young, inexperienced team with young, inexperienced leaders. The system gives the young players something to hang their hat on.

But I realized tonight that my frustration watching Kopitar and Brown — I’m going to resist characterizing their play and just focus on results — is not so much that they frequently seem to be drifting or uncertain, or that they miss the net when I want them to NOT…it’s really just the small matter that for some reason they aren’t putting the team on their shoulders and winning some of these games all by themselves.

And that’s irrational, isn’t it? Why should I expect that of these two players, and not of Frolov or Stoll or Handzus? (Let’s pretend that Handzus hasn’t been on a tear the last month or so, and that all three of these players aren’t lately putting up better numbers than Brown and Kopitar.) It doesn’t make sense for me to expect the players to buy-in to the team system and ALSO that they should take it upon themselves to be difference makers. Because that’s contradictory, right? That’s basically saying, play the system but don’t. Right?

No. Wrong.

Because the way Kopitar is supposed to be winning games all by himself is not by ignoring the system or going rogue, it’s by buying-in even more, which means doing all the things he was doing at the beginning of the year, moving his feet, hitting, accelerating, driving to the net, crashing to the net, shooting at the net not past it, so that screens and crashing and traffic actually mean something and have an effect.

(p.s. shooting wide is not buying-in; because what happens when you shoot wide is you are trying to pick the corner and use your skill to make the perfect shot; instead of trusting that putting it on net with traffic is going to lead to the kinds of goals the team is built to score. That’s why Smyth is standing there, or Handzus, getting his ass kicked. When you miss the net because you’re special and you can make the perfect highlight reel shot, you’re hanging everyone else out to dry. You miss the net, and they’re just standing there. The other team breaks out. One-goal loss.)

I get the feeling from listening to Kopitar talk that he thinks he’s doing his job if he’s doing the little things, buying-in, back-checking, covering all the x’s and o’s. That’s, as they say, necessary but not sufficient. The platitude that if they keep doing the little things then the bounces will start going their way is wearing thin. Said platitude has the infuriating virtue of being true. As far as it goes. And it’s extra frustrating, at least for me, because I feel slightly mean expecting poor Kopitar and Brown who have given their all to the system to take on the even greater burden of making wins happen out of thin air.

Nevertheless, I expect it. And, frankly, the expectation is built into their salaries. What is the expectation exactly? It begins with the fact that Kopitar and Brown have superior abilities. They are more skilled than many of their peers. They are faster, stronger, smarter — pick your attribute, they have more of it. That’s why they were picked when they were picked. That’s why they get, as they say, the big bucks. When Parse, Richardson, Moller, Simmonds or Segal are as effective as our leaders, it is in fact a failing of the leaders. (I don’t mean in a single game; when it happens every once in a while, it’s called secondary scoring; when it happens for a few months or even a few seasons, it’s called a leadership vacuum.) Because Kopitar and Brown pushing themselves to excel within the system must yield more goals than Parse, Richardson et al doing it. Because they’re better. And they’re paid accordingly.

My guess is that being a 22 year old multi-millionaire superstar hockey player in a foreign country is mildly terrifying on a daily basis. Even more so now that there is an actual expectation that the team is going to win and you are going to lead them. And let’s not forget the pressure created by the fact that you (Brown, now) publicly called out your boss on the need for a genuine top-six left wing, because (boo hoo) it’s hard for you to play over there. Passing the buck, never a good idea. Bosses remember that. Who among them has had the thought that, hey, they went out and got just what we asked for, and we’re having the same trouble as last year. We know that Lombardi did not appreciate the Dustin Brown wish list. He said as much last summer. He made a comment to the effect that those two players should be taking it upon themselves to get the job done.

So far, they have not. And while I’m not really of the belief that this so-far disastrous homestand is the season in a nutshell, I have already said that the mini-season of the 20 games leading up to the break will likely decide whether the Kings are in the playoffs or not, and so will determine where at least one or two of the current Kings play for the next several years.

Back to my point about the pressure they’re under: I think there is a huge temptation to hide inside the system, to let the system (that is to say, the coach) take over the entire burden of leadership. It would be kind of nice if they could get a leadership pass just by buying into the system and letting the system magically win the games for them. That would be easier than the actual job, which is to lead.

And, again, I don’t mean to say they should be “taking the law into their own hands.” That’s not leadership. Leadership would be, for example: playing within the system with all knobs set, a la Spinal Tap, to 11. Because Brown’s 11, Kopitar’s 11, that’s louder, bigger, just plain better, than everyone else’s 11.

I don’t want to see players make themselves smaller within the system. I want them to make themselves bigger. Because they are bigger. They need to play bigger.

Because, frankly — and I mean this in the best possible sense — these guys have not won and don’t actually know how to win. (win=playoffs; win means winning like teams like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, New Jersey, manage to do year after year, not just being “better than last year”) When they have won then they will know. But as it is now we’re basically like Ripley in Aliens in the middle of landing on the alien-infested planet and she asks the squad commander how many missions he’s run and the guy says “forty [pause] all simulated.”


  17 comments for “Note to players making more than $3 million per year: just because you’re playing the system and it’s all about the team and you’re paying attention to the little things DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T TAKE OVER A GAME AND STEAL A FEW

  1. January 12, 2010 at 12:08 AM

    Brown, intelligent?

    His giveaways, turnovers, single handedly killing momentum through idiotic passes through the neutral zone, and poor angle shots right in the crest of the goaltender put his hockey sense right up there as one of the dumbest hockey players I have seen in a Kings uniform. The game tonight against San Jose further confirmed that. Then, add his complete failure to take responsibility, give Hammond boilerplate jargon rather than tell him that he played a poor game, that he must get better, that he will get better and lead the team back into the W column and you have a failure on and off the ice.

    Brown as Captain may be one of Dean’s biggest regrets as it should be.

    • quisp
      January 12, 2010 at 10:11 AM

      Okay, I retract “smarter” — not because I think he’s an idiot — but because I don’t think he’s smarter than Moller, Parse, Simmonds, Doughty, Handzus…to pick several names that come to mind.

      The failure to take responsibility except in the most generic sense is infuriating, but really I can’t worry about it too much because I think the world would really be a better place if we never heard these people speak at all. Unless we could hook up shock collars that would go off every time they said “take away their time and space,” etc.

  2. quisp
    January 12, 2010 at 12:22 AM

    Then it’s even more likely he’ll be shipped off than I think it is. And, as I mentioned earlier today, Brown, Kopitar, Frolov, Parse and Quick are the only Taylor picks left. People say Brown is untouchable, but I think really they’re fooling themselves. And the fact of the Olympics coming up, with Brown wearing an A, means his stock is higher than I think it is likely to be in the next few years.

  3. roadtripper
    January 12, 2010 at 12:30 AM

    I posted some of this on Rich’s site, but here it is again…

    a thought…

    Like the Sharks did with Marleau, I think it’s the perfect time to pass the C from Brown to Smyth. Let me explain… I believe it would set Brown free, sort of speak. Let him “just play hockey!” It can’t hurt, I don’t think, if he’s a big boy who would truly do anything for the team. Smyth doesn’t even necessarily have to do anything different, as he truly leads by example and already has the respect of the youngsters on the team.

    And like Marleau has done this year I think it truly would free Brown up to just play hockey, and we’d see a better “hockey player”!!!

    I think when you have a kid running kids you’re simply not gonna get the same respect and “go to battle for you” mentality that you would with a well-respected vet like Smyth. When we made Dustin the captain it made sense, I guess, because he was out hustling everyone and was one of our top skilled guys. But Smyth is here now and I believe, before we totally give up on Brown and ship him off, the time is indeed right for this move. Just as an example, IF he were to go to Atlanta, or ?, I seriously doubt he’d be made their captain. He’d just be a good hockey player without that pressure, and we’d probably be pissed we got rid of him, if you know what I mean.

    Your thoughts???

    ps – nice place you have here!

    • quisp
      January 12, 2010 at 10:15 AM

      I think it’s a valid point. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make him getting traded any less likely. Marleau is not necessarily the happiest guy in the world, and I read his success this year not so much as “thanks for helping me rediscover myself” as “fuck you.” He’s a UFA, and I think if the Kings were in another conference from the Sharks Marleau would aleady be a King.

      I think Brown is an excellent third line winger, a pretty good second line winger, and a lousy captain. Three runs at Kopitar by Clowe last night, and where was the response? That’s but one measly example.

      • roadtripper
        January 12, 2010 at 11:03 AM

        agree agree agree

        so then, slightly different topic…

        add to that the crosscheck to Doughty’s ear… (the no response here REALLY pissed me off!!!)

        So, was there no response because TM doesn’t want the instigator penalty to put us on the PK? If that isn’t it then where was Ivanans? Well I think we all know he can’t figure out the timing to “his job.”

        I thought TM was heading in the right direction as far as having a tougher team. (I HATED watching Palffy beat down night after night until he limped out of town because Andy Murray and our wonderful captain, Blake, wouldn’t retaliate!!!)

        If Westgarth was up do you believe last night/this situation would be resolved?

        Trust me I understand the whole PK things, BUT……..


      • quisp
        January 12, 2010 at 11:15 AM

        roadtripper –

        for some reason i’m not getting a reply button after your reply below, so i’m replying above it.

        i don’t think TM is telling players not to instigate. He and Lombardi are always extremely supportive and encouraging whenever the team steps up to defend a teammate. Part of leadership on the ice is knowing what’s needed and taking the initiative. The coach doesn’t or shouldn’t have to tell you, go get that guy now. It’s up to Brown, Stoll, Simmonds, Johnson, SOD, Greene, Ivanans, Segal. You need to have a retaliatory capacity and you have to have the PK to kill off instigating penalties and the PP to make them pay for the penalties (like thornton’s) they take.

  4. January 12, 2010 at 4:06 AM

    Superb post Quisp, though I am with Bobby in that Brown is by no means an intelligent player.

    Otherwise, bang-on. I’m warming a degree or two game by game to trading Brown. That C is definitely weighing him down. Shame on whoever led Brown to believe he was ever better than a big galut (is that how you spell that?) muscle-man with speed.

    Interesting point about hiding within the system. That is the most rational and least slanderous explanation I have heard for their many woes. And just when I was starting to like Murray… (Just meaning October).

    • quisp
      January 12, 2010 at 10:19 AM


      But I want to underline: I don’t think it’s the system’s fault. Or Murray’s. Just because Brown and Kopitar are not stepping up within the system doesn’t mean that they’re not stepping up because of the system. And it’s not a reason to tear down the system. The system is the reason the Kings are so much better than they have been in years. And I guess “the system” really means “the coach.” The problem is not the system. The problem is the experience of the “core” group.

  5. bbtsj
    January 12, 2010 at 8:12 AM

    With either 6 minutes gone or left in the second period last night, Kopi comes up the ice, with the puck on a 2 on 2, he’s got a half step on the d-man who has yet to turn. He’s got him beat. Under every circumstance Kopi should lower that shoulder and at worse draw a penalty. Instead he shoots from the circle. It’s that drive and determination that’s been missing from Kopitar. Remember the good ol’ days of October when Kopi was going to the net all the time? Good times. But in doing so, Kopi isn’t hiding behind the system, he’s just hiding.

    You know me, I hate (underline, bold, italics, caps) hate TM’s system, keep the puck on the perimeter and shoot from the point, safe safe safe, even on the PP. (Which is a big part of the appeal for me of Simmonds, Parse, and Moller, they are take it to the net, go to the front and EXPECT a pass, kind of players.) But the system really does smother this. There’s no reason to go to the front if the puck is supposed to stay along the boards; you’d actually be out of position. So what’re they supposed to do? If they try to create (which is higher-risk), they’re not playing within the system. And Kopi is a good guy, a good kid, a coach’s kid (but not the spoiled-brat type), who tries to do what he’s told. So yeah, Kopi could do more individually, no doubt, but frankly, I really think that this is being actively DIScouraged.

    And I’ve been off the Brown bandwagon for quite a while now. Poor vision, bad with the puck (2 on 0 with Kopi last year, penalty shot this year are extreme examples of this), wild shots, just not seeing the play (shooting wide right with a teammate in position for a rebound to his left), always on the near-post instead of the far-post or slot. He does not have the smarts or the skill to be on the PP (last night he single-handedly killed off a minute of a PP with his poor puck-handling and turnovers). He brings energy and physicallity (which the fans love) and he’s local (which allows him to be the team’s year-round ambassador, which management loves) and that’s why he’s got the “C”. Sorry, but Brown couldn’t steal a game in any system. Kopi yes, Frolov(!) yes, Brown, no. You’ve got to be able to stick-handle to steal a game.

    • quisp
      January 12, 2010 at 10:31 AM

      Your example of Kopitar shooting instead of driving is excellent, and I agree it’s not about the system at all, it’s about Kopitar’s mental state, timidity, fatigue…something…the system does not say to take low percentage shots from other area codes.

      Re smothering:

      TM’s model does not say to keep the puck to the perimeter as some kind of over-riding golden rule. And it doesn’t say “don’t try to create.” But it defines where the opportunities for “creativity” present themselves. It’s like you’ve got a jazz tune and your soloist thinks he can’t take the solo during the solo break because he’s not supposed to solo over the verse. The system makes creativity possible. Why is Moller able to get to the open spots, or Parse, or Richardson? Because they are moving their feet. Because they have a knack for finding the gap, the crack in the defense, whatever. Brown and Kopitar have that knack, too. But, at least in Kopitar’s case, I think he’s taking the path of least resistance (and Moller, for example, doesn’t do this), i.e. the shot when he enters the zone, instead of plowing through, lowering his shoulder, driving, etc.. Why make that choice, when you CAN drive to the net, when you CAN lower your shoulder?

      I don’t believe Kopitar is being discouraged from being creative or driving to the net or “doing more.” Look, maybe he’s just not that swift and he’s having to think too much and it just gets overwhelming. Maybe it’s making him too “left brain” — analytical, as one often is when one is trying to learn and be a good little pupil and all that — when to do what he needs to do it needs to be “right brain,” instinctive…which is what happens when you’ve encorporated what you’ve learned. It goes from left brain to right; like when you drive home from work and you get there and you don’t remember driving. The first time you make that drive, left brain; the thousandth time, right brain.

      But I doubt that Lombardi or Murray have that long to wait it out. It’s not like Kopitar has several more years to learn the system. Everyone will be fired by then.

  6. falmer
    January 12, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    I’m OK with Brown having the C. I don’t think they will trade him. We’ve seen what he can do when he’s on his game; he’s clearly not on his game this year. I think it’s a “growing pain” sort of process. He’s young. I’m patient.

    As I’ve said before, I have my doubts about Kopitar “getting it” in the most important way. This is related to Quisp’s point about winning. Not that he should “get it”, but it would really be nice if he did. Maybe he can learn from the characters guys around him? Only time will tell.

    In short, I feel this team lacks a hero. It doesn’t have to be the most talented, skilled or experienced guy. It can be anyone. But someone has to step up. If they do, others will follow.

    • quisp
      January 12, 2010 at 10:35 AM

      he wasn’t on his game last year either. I am sure he will get over it. I just don’t know when.

      agreed totally re the need for a hero. so far our heroes are all rookies, Doughty, Moller, Parse, Richardson, Quick…I even saw Johnson trying to take over the game last night. That was probably the best thing about last night. A little teaser of JMFJ as he was in college and when he was Crosby’s protector. Maybe he’ll seize the mantle and be our next captain.

      • falmer
        January 12, 2010 at 1:26 PM

        agreed about JMFJ. He and, especially, Doughty both seem to have that intuition for when someone needs to step up. They also have the courage to do so on occasion. You can sense when they respond to certain situations because they’re usually the only ones doing it, and suddenly there’s a glimmer of hope, of possibility. They sometimes stand out in the most desperate of situations. If only they could win a few games by doing that, then we could talk about heroes.

        It’s not too soon to want more from this team. But maybe it’s too soon to expect more?

  7. bbtsj
    January 17, 2010 at 10:07 PM

    Bring Back –

    As fate would have it, I blathered extensively on this very topic last week

    Yeah, Quisp, that’s why I called your attention to this, to connect the dots. “I hope Kopi would become this player”, but “Kopi don’t do it”, this is a crappy scrambled egg of a message.

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