Surly & Scribe Chat With Helene Elliott, Part I

I had the pleasure of interviewing Helene Elliott on September 19 of last year. If you have not read it, you are missing out. My goal then was to get to know the experienced and decorated L.A. Times Sports Columnist whom L.A. Kings fans applaud or frown toward for her no-nonsense articles. She was warm, charming, classy and so very generous with her time and the interview brought perspective to the person behind the opinions. This year, we again caught up with Helene. From Mike Richards and Simone Gagne to the Ryan Smyth trade, Dustin Penner’s off season, the pursuit of Brad, the Drew Doughty contract drama, and so many recent and continuing stories, we had much to discuss. Surly joined me in the interview and, on August 5, we chatted with the Hockey Hall of Fame journalist. You’re in for a treat. Here is part I of the interview. Part II will come tomorrow.

Scribe: We talked in September of last year. You identified the center and wing positions as the L.A. Kings’ greatest needs, in that order. With Mike Richards, Dustin Penner and Simone Gagne, assuming Gagne stays healthy, do you consider those needs addressed?

Dustin Penner at Kings Practice

Elliott: Depends on which Penner we see this season. Do we see the Penner we saw last season who wasn’t in tip-top shape, to put it mildly, or do we see the Penner who comes into camp in shape, playing for a contract and inspired, the one who uses that size, uses those hands and contributes.

Scribe: Do you consider Penner’s production to be more or less important to the Kings’ success than the issue of Gagne and his health?

Elliott: I think Penner is a key because of the size and because he has had 30 goals seasons before. I do believe he is the key in a lot of ways. Losing Ryan Smyth is not something the Kings planned on. But, even if Ryan Smyth had returned, they would have needed to add some production from the wing. I would like to see more speed on the wings but Dean does not seem to think it is as important as I do and we will let him be the General Manager and see how it turns out.

Scribe: Let’s talk about Gagne. He can skate and has the speed but his health has continued to be a question. Categorize his health. Do you consider him a “big if”, such that you would be surprised if he remains healthy or is he akin to any other player, no more prone to injuries than anyone else?

Elliott: The fact that he came back at the end of last season, played and played well means there is less of a concern at this point. He did play high-caliber hockey and you look at his numbers, they were pretty good. I don’t think there is any carry over from last season and I wonder when you talk about a player who is injury prone, like a Justin Williams, well, is there a common thread here? Is there a knee that he is always injuring or a shoulder or something chronic and there really isn’t. These are just guys who aren’t the biggest guys, they are going to get hit, they are going to suffer shoulder, knee and all kinds of injuries. Hockey is a dangerous game and it’s going to happen. I don’t think there is more worry for a player like Gagne than anybody else.

Scribe: Justin Williams is the definition of freak injuries, Helene. I swear he is going to have a left ear injury that will cause him to miss games.

Elliott: [laughs] That would not surprise me.

Scribe: Dean Lombardi and one of his favorite people, Paul Holmgren, called the Mike Richards trade a “good hockey trade,” expressing it was a win-win for both teams. Do you agree?

Elliott: What are they going to say? What do you expect them to say? “Gee, I really had some worries about this, but I did it anyway?” The thing that disturbed me is they brought Mike Richards into town for a press or news conference and I saw a tweet from Richards afterward and it said, I was in town for three days and all they did was ask me about that garbage, referring to the Dry Island stuff. I was at that press conference and there were other questions besides that. If he is complaining about that, this is going to be a very long season.

Scribe: What are your thoughts about the trade itself? Were you surprised?

Elliott: In a way, yeah. It was more likely that Carter was on the block than Richards. In the last three years we have seen whispers about leadership and most of the time, the whispers are not true but sometimes there is a germ of truth to it and I think we are going to find out this season.

Scribe: The overwhelming majority of Kings’ fans love the trade. There is a vocal minority who declare trading Schenn was a mistake and it goes against Dean Lombardi’s claim of building from within. They say, “what is the point of drafting good players high in the draft if you are just going to trade them?” What are your thoughts on that?

Elliott: I got emails from people that said Schenn is going to be a Hall of Famer. I went, “whoa, calm down here.” [laughing]. “I get it, you don’t like the trade, but let’s blow this into proportion, please.” It is an interesting move for a GM who came into a team where there was no depth, whose motto was to build through the draft but Dean believes, and maybe right or wrong, this team has reached another stage, this team has progressed to the point where you take these assets, where you take these draft picks and you turn those into the needs or pieces that will fill the needs that you have and have not been able to fulfill any other way. I am not quite sure they are as far advanced as Dean thinks they are but we’ll find out.

Scribe: Were you surprised the Kings went after Brad Richards after landing Mike?

Elliott: I was a little surprised. They certainly had the cap room to do it but I also was not surprised when he went somewhere else. There is still that problem of luring premium free agents here that hasn’t quite been solved. As much as the team has improved, they still need to get over that hump of making sure players believe this is a good place to play and this is a place they can win.

Scribe: Do you see anything other than a Stanley Cup or, at least, another round in the Finals doing that?

Elliott: Probably not. Although, having Mike Richards come here could help. He is a credible player around the league and for him to be here may say a lot to other players but they need to go more than a round. Look at last season and I think you can say, if it was not a step backward, it was certainly a step sideways. Statistically, they were not off by much but when you watch this team and watch it progress as long as we all have, there was that sense they should have gone further than one round.

Scribe: Last season did feel a bit like a country line dance didn’t it, as we ended in the same place?

Elliott: Absolutely. You can say, “we lost to a very good team,” etcetera but at what point do you stop making the excuses and just make the progress?

Scribe: Are the Kings a better team today than they were last season?

Elliott: That is impossible to say. Right now, Drew Doughty is not under contract.

Scribe: Assume he is under contract.

Elliott: I am curious to see what happens on the powerplay. Gagne should certainly play a big role there. Remember in losing Ryan Smyth, they lost a player who is slow, yes, aging, yes, but he stood in front of the net, took punishment and led the team in powerplay goals. I wonder who is going to replace that?

Scribe: Assuming Drew Doughty signs, comes into camp in shape, are the L.A. Kings skilled enough on paper to be a contender, that term being defined as top four?

Elliott: I would still like to see more speed, frankly. Look at the teams that went far into the playoffs. Except for depth up the middle, which the Kings may very well have now, you will see speed and I don’t see a whole lot of it here. I think this season, they have to go deeper than one round.

Scribe: Do you want to see more speed in the top six, bottom six or both?

Elliott: Top six. The bottom six is your grinders, role players, look around the other teams in the division, you will see speed in a lot of places but you really need it in the top six.

Scribe: Your initial reaction when you learned Ryan Smyth asked for a trade for “family reasons”?

Elliott: You know, I understand he has to do what is best for his family. My only question with it was how he handled it by initially denying that he asked for a trade. He spoke with Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal and his quote was something like, “holy cow! I never asked for a trade!” and I thought that was badly done. He could have said, “you know what, my family just prefers to be in Canada and I am going to honor that request.” Nobody is going to begrudge him for making his family happy.

Scribe: How did you think it was going to turn out when you first heard about it?

Elliott: You knew from the start the Kings were going to be at a disadvantage. Immediately. Everyone in the world knows this guy wants out plus he had the right to approve where he was going to go and he wanted to go to Edmonton. So, the market was limited and Dean Lombardi had very little leverage. At that point, the best outcome for Lombardi was to clear salary cap space and that is what he tried to do.

Scribe: Which led us to this interesting grievance that has now been filed. Do you consider this Lombardi v. Tambellini grievance a fascinating subplot or something less?

Elliott: I think it is an interesting look at how NHL teams operate, whether it is Lombardi v. Tambellini I am not sure, but you look at it and the first player they were going to take, Brule, was not procedurally cleared to play and they give him another guy and you say, “you know what, it’s Lombardi’s fault, he should have been sure Fraser was ready,” and Lombardi himself admitted he just signed off on it, because it was the Sunday night after the draft, they wanted to get out of town, Tambellini had assured him Fraser was going to be cleared to play within the next few days so Lombardi was going to sign off on it and there it went. But, it also becomes a trust and honesty issue. Every NHL team has an obligation when they trade a player to turn over that player’s medical records and to accurately represent what that player’s medical situation is going to be. According to the Kings, that is not what the Oilers did.

Scribe: Here comes a tough one…

Elliott: Oh oh…

Scribe: You are the Kings GM

Elliott: [laughs] Oh oh…

This seems like a good place to stop Part I of the interview. Part II will come tomorrow.

(all photos by the wonderful Kasey Spatz)



Categories: L.A. Kings News

Tags: , , , , , , ,

38 replies

  1. During the interview, was Helene wearing her Ryan Getzlaf jersey, Selanne slippers, and sipping out of her Bobby Ryan mug?

    • Coincidentally, you will get the answer to that question in part II…and given the tone of your comment, the answer may surprise you ;)

      • Thanks Bobby! I’ve been a Kings fan since the early 80’s and even workrd for them in the early 90’s. It was always rumored that when the Kings were sold to AEG, Helene had some “issues” with Tim Lieweke (who didn’t?), and it changed the way that she reported on the Kings. I suspect, however, that the Ducks success and subsequent SC win simply made them more accessible and, frankly, a bigger news story than the Kings. As a Kings fan, however, that pissed me off and I seem to always read way too much into her dry, overly objective style.

  2. It is an interesting move for a GM who came into a team where there was no depth, whose motto was to build through the draft but Dean believes, and maybe right or wrong, this team has reached another stage, this team has progressed to the point where you take these assets, where you take these draft picks and you turn those into the needs or pieces that will fill the needs that you have and have not been able to fulfill any other way. I am not quite sure they are as far advanced as Dean thinks they are but we’ll find out.

    … I agree with this quite a bit, but I’ll take it one step further – I’ll say that I’m positive they are not as far advanced as Dean thinks they are.

    I understand that Helene is in a different position, and has to take things closer to the middle. She doesn’t have the freedom to say what I can.

    I got emails from people that said Schenn is going to be a Hall of Famer.

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard anyone who opposed the Richards trade referring to Schenn as a future Hall of Famer – just my 2 cents. My feeling was then, and continues to be, that Schenn is just as advanced as Richards was at the same age, and perhaps more so – and I also feel that there’s a lot more to Simmonds than what we’ve seen up to this point.

    At any rate, this is a very enjoyable and stimulating interview. Helene’s a very sharp cookie; I’ve spoken with her a couple of times and she has just the right amount of intelligence and cynicism. She’s been covering sports for a long, LONG time and her experience has made her knowledge of several sports quite broad-based. I think a lot of people who bash her would come away quite impressed if they actually took the time to talk with her. She’s a good one in a sea that includes some very bad ones.

  3. Kings just signed Ethan Moreau.

  4. I’ve never liked her and her arrogance is annoying.
    Hammond might be a mushroom, as you like to call him, but he’s still better than this tool.

    • “I am not quite sure they are as far advanced as Dean thinks they are but we’ll find out.”

      “Except for depth up the middle, which the Kings may very well have now, you will see speed and I don’t see a whole lot of it here.”

      —-H. Elliot

      Two statements that couldn’t bottom line the Kings better. Two statements that you will never hear from Rich or find in among the mostly inane comments found on Insider.

      My best guess was Elliot was on hockey long before Hammond and perhaps before you. Her hockey acumen clearly shows in both this brief interview and in email responses she sends in response to readers who comment.

      Love her or hate her she supported and reported on Kings hockey when there was little else aside from AP summaries and five words once every two weeks in the LA Times “Morning Sports Brief’

      • It’s easy to be pessimistic. 29 teams fail every season.

        When was the last time the Kings have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons with one of the youngest rosters?

        I believe the Kings have the roster to win a Stanley Cup. Do they have the coach that can get them there? I dont know.

        The Kings are not a slow team, they play a slow style. Big difference. If Murray opens up the style, no one will complain about the team speed. Smyth and Handzus were by far the slowest players last season and they have been replaced by Gagne and Richards. Penner, Westgarth, Greene, Scuds and Mitchel would be considered the slow players now. Who else is slow?

        • But is it really pessimism? Certainly the team appears better on paper and the situation on wings is better then its been in years. I am very comfortable expecting at worse a game six second round.

          Point taken about the system being an anchor on team speed in general. In respect to the slower half add 37 year old Moreau, Richardson and perhaps Clifford. Also, Williams who is very crafty but not what I would call speedy.

      • Blah blah blah is.all I hear in my head while reading a post.from a trojan horse kings fan, support your team( if its your team ) and dont tear down the hopes of other fans who ( watch their team win or lose ) you sound like a senetor in that you say you love this country but when the cameras are off you bash us with new taxes and take your beloved country down the shiter with sanctions and other b.s, . Sorry nut I could give a ( blank ) of your opinion bobbie ryan, but oh well , she is horable, she bashes us as much as posible, she is very much so not unbiased, she is wrong 85 percent of the time, she may think she knows hockey, my 11 year old knows more, go kings go , pick a team and stick with it usha#17

        • You hear blah blah blah in your head? You should have that checked out. May be serious. :)

          • Nope bla bla bla, its a trick I learned wene I got maried and had kids, all I here amungst the chaos is bla bla bla, it helps, we dont fight and I get some time to time, on another note, im sorry to usha #17 for my brash and unintaginized attack of his charicter, I simpl

          • Before I hit yhe wrong button, I was saying lol, that I simply want kings fans to ralley behind their troops together, everyone is entitled to their opinions, nut some need to ne left in the closet. Im sure ill grow to love this site, you guys actualy respond to coments, not just to moderate you, thanks

        • Yeah! Who does that USHA think he is, with his capital letters, punctuation, coherent writing and contrarian attitude? Trojan horse, indeed!

          • Mmmm when I blog, I pay little attention to spelling, gramer or punks, ( im not in high school ) nor do I care if you spell corectly or not, the point is a propper, yet educated post, since you want to talk gramer to me, then say so sir, Im a grad of princeton, I blog for fun , its not a spelling contest, nor is it a pissing contest, I simply want team unity. If you read my follow up post I apolgized for my actions. I wish to stop this now, I dont have time to deedle around, with crap I already know,

          • Keep the hits coming, man. These posts are priceless…

          • Hahaha! This is definitely the proper blog for humor!

        • Well my Princeton lad, might I suggest a tuition refund from the writin’ department and a job with your alum buddies in the intelligence service spinning news for the masses.

          Had you considered using the name Lacoon in place of Irish lak? Having clearly missed that beat you might ask for a kicker to that refund and doing an extra 5 minutes of start/stops.

          My team, humm? I can’t recall Kings fans being quite so belligerent yet I wouldn’t wish to see miss a game, Boyo, so remember, its FOX Sports, not FOX.

          Might I suggest we mollify ourselves an indulge in a fine purchase of the newest, latest and greatest King jerseys for you and your fine son. Ah, it is with little doubt that you and your wee one will both look bloody grand in black with a big old home plate coat of arms on your wee chests. Humm, black, irish….right, bloody perfect!

  5. For this being a kings blog, your posts seem a bit ( stupid ) bash rich all you want, he reports news, not pure speculation, my guess is half you people got kicked off insider, because of pure desire to bash one anothet. While this blog sight gets 10 reponse posts, la kings insider breaks 1000, I wont post here after this, but for rich and all the insiders, give it up, you get your info all twisted , the kings will play awsome this year, mike richards is the man, simone gagne is going to shut people up, and all you haters go be a ducks fan, we dont need you, sincerly a 20 year fan, and a loyal kings insider.

    • Who bashed Rich?

      edit: Nevermind, I see the post from Albi. Please don’t assume that comments from readers translates to us. Nobody bashed Rich. You may not know this but during the Kovalchuk fiasco, Rich could not get much information from Dean. At one point, Dean told Rich to “take the rest of the day off” after Rich asked Dean for information. I joked that Dean was treating Hammond like a mushroom (eat him shit and keep him in the dark). That’s it. That is the only time that has come up. Jacob & I value what Rich does and Rich does a lot. Like you said, he reports news the teams gives him.

      Hope you come back and don’t take what people say in comments too seriously. If you do that with any blog or site (including that of Insider) your head will explode.

      • Good point, im just sick of kings fans bashing their own team, ( why ) . You sre a good man thank you, oh when I brought up the rich thing it was from another feed, were and I quote ( insider used to ne cool, but now its mostly a cluster (.your word here ) thanks to rich and his almost all the time stupid posting followers. But ohh ok , I gues ill get over . Thank you man ill be back, I just want to talk kings facts and keep it positive.

        • I like Hammond’s website. I just can’t do the comment section over there anymore. Too scattered for my taste. They get 1000+ responses usually when Rich doesn’t post for a few days, and I don’t find it fun to go through 1000 comments, when many of the new ones are in the middle, it becomes hard to keep track of in my opinion. I guess if we had a lull in posting (and a MUCH larger reader base, lol), a comment section on this site would suffer the same problem. If it ever got to that point Bobby and I may be forced to implement the chat/forum function we loosely discussed adding to the site. But even on the Insider, this is mostly a summer problem. With him on vacation for a while and not all that much to talk about, the comments get bloated. Its a problem that doesn’t exist in the season.

    • 20 years? So you only climbed on the bandwagon only after we acquired Gretzky.

      Impressive, jumped on the bus late and now you act like you own it.

      Which also means that you missed out on years of Ms. Elliot’s reporting work and have no idea of the type of coverage or lack there of which hockey historically got in Los Angeles.

      Further you have no idea what it was like to be one of the seven or eight thousand who showed up to game after game at the Forum where fans were allowed outside to party together between periods, etc.

      Go back to your walled city Lacoon.

  6. Let’s get back to talking about the interview

    • Ok.

      As far as Helene, I do find her to have an anti-AEG, anti-Dean slant but I can’t say she is completely without reason with regard to AEG. I think that far too often she wants the Kings to sign the big free-agent or make the blockbuster trade if only to give her something to write about, and that she has forgotten the ridiculous days of Beverley, McMaster, (and to some extent, Taylor) when chasing over-ripe players with future considerations was the norm. On the other hand, I have the distinct feeling that she tailors some of her articles with the intention of riling up a passionate fan base and I can’t really blame her for that…it is a business after all.

      That said, I do think she knows the game and in my personal communications with her she has been gracious, witty, and open to having a continuing dialogue regarding the team and her perceptions of it. I’ve emailed her four times and each time she has responded and carried on a friendly but serious discussion/debate.

      Overall, I appreciate her work covering the team for a paper that doesn’t really give a shi’ite and it doesn’t bother me that she’s not a homer. Looking forward to the second part of the interview!

      • Good idea.

        I think it was a great idea to invite Helene. I’ve always appreciated her work reporting hockey while working for a newspaper that has no interest in spending money on the LA hockey beat.

        As for fans who claim she is disloyal to the Kings, I ask if a reporter can afford loyalty to anything other then the reporters belief in the accuracy of his or her story?

        In respect to AEG, I have a bias against them. I feel too many years were spent using the Kings as loss leaders for downtown real estate ventures. Ticket prices soared while no thought was given to developing a winning team.

        Times are different now, the team is improving and we see quality hockey on most nights, but its hard to forget that for years AEG abused a loyal fan base with subpar product that was hardly worth the price of a ticket.

  7. Bobby & Surly, your blog is amazing and I love the way you write, the passion you show, the way you love the Kings and hockey.

    I’m italian, and your way of being hardcore, diehard fans seems to me a lot more european/soccer-like than american. You always have a positive attitude towards our guys, and your articles/stories are always wonderfully written and f*****’ entertaining.

    I followed you since day1, so I remember well when you started calling Hammond “mushroom” (LOL)…but about Elliott, I simply never liked her, that’s it.

    Keep up the great job.

  8. What the hell is she talking about as far as speed in the top six goes?

    Kopitar? Very good speed. Maybe not quick in his first couple strides, but has a great top gear.
    Williams? Quick and shifty. He’s not the fastest skater, but he is easily above average.
    Gagne? Extremely good skater and has always been considered fast.
    Richards? Quick from a standstill, and has good top end speed. His skating style looks a bit awkward and choppy at times, but he has the ability to break away from defenders very easily as evidenced by a good number of his highlights.
    Brown? I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone consider Brown to have anything but good speed.
    Penner? He’s the only questionable one, but when he gets going, he can get going pretty fast if he wants to.

    I really don’t get where she’s coming from with them needing more speed in the top six. They greatly improved their speed just by subtracting Smyth and adding Gagne and Richards.

    • I think she is referring to great speed, not just good and not “not slow”. Our best skater in the top 6 is Gagne. Everyone else falls in the good range, except, as you observed, Penner.

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  1. Part II of Surly & Scribe’s Chat With Helene Elliott « S U R L Y & S C R I B E L.A. Kings Hockey Blog
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