Verbeek Cronin

The Ducks have officially closed the book on the 2023-24 season and have turned their sights towards the fall.

Following the team's exit meetings Monday morning at Great Park Ice, general manager Pat Verbeek and head coach Greg Cronin each spoke with local media to share their thoughts on Anaheim's season, the growth of its young core and a busy summer aimed to building a roster fit for playoff contention.

Pat Verbeek

On upgrading the roster

Obviously the easiest way to go about this is to look at the free agent market. Now, am I closing off any opportunities as far as trade? No. I'm looking, not closing that off either. So we're going to explore multiple ways of how to accomplish that. I've also talked about having a improvement in our bottom-six forwards as well. I'm looking for more speed, a little more grit to add to our lineup in the bottom half. And then I'm also looking for a top-four defenseman. So are those are the kind of areas I'm looking to make improvements to the team.

On acquiring a top-four defenseman

If you look at our lineup, we have a lot of left shots. So I'm looking for a right shot defenseman.

On Greg Cronin

I've got a super long time for Greg Cronin. Got a lot of respect for him. Very competitive, very passionate guy. Love his approach to life and his approach to our hockey team. I'm very happy with the job that he did this year. There were a lot of things that were positive. Guys had career years and we certainly improved our competitiveness, our work ethic and the overall culture has taken big strides. Do we still have work to do? Yes, we do, but overall I'm very happy from that aspect.

On the bottom-six

There are a couple different elements. Obviously, successful playoff teams have a good distribution of scoring from their bottom six forwards. Just take a look at Vancouver. I mean they've got guys that, and there's other teams as well that you can look at that their bottom six forwards are contributing and helping the top six forwards when it comes to having to perform under pressure all the time to provide that scoring. Obviously we need to score more goals overall as well to be able to help our team win more hockey games. So I'm looking from that aspect as well.

On the team's growth

I think I'm looking at doing little things incrementally in the sense that, and so it's not going to happen all at once. I have to allow our younger players to grow. I have to allow our younger players in San Diego to grow and they are taking nice steps to where I'm looking that these guys are going to be possibly fighting for jobs soon and are bringing the elements that I'm looking to add to the Ducks. So there's certain things I'm that I'm looking for. That could be two or three players, it might be just two players. I'm not a hundred percent sure yet. That's why I am going to sit down with Greg and I'm going to sit down with our scouting staff and go through that process of talking all these things through, knowing that they've seen our team play live and making those improvements through those processes.

On injuries

Well, I don't think it stunted on an individual player basis. Obviously when you have those guys out, it hurts production. That's where it really hurt. I think it hurt us never having the lineup that you kind of pencil in at the start of the year or you plan on. That's difficult.

Now every team in the NHL deals with that, so it provides opportunity for other players to put their stamp on things. So ultimately to win a Stanley Cup you have to be really good, but you got to be lucky too, to deal with and overcome some of the injuries, and be lucky not to have those injuries at the right time or at the wrong time, so to speak. Hopefully we can remain healthy. Some of the injuries we had were kind of freakish really, at the end of the day, but that's part of the business. It's also part of why you have to build an organization deep so that when they do go on the injured list, you can bring someone in that can fill the spot for a bit.

On the team's young talent

Well, I see them entering the mix. I got one game with Cutter watching him and there's already instant chemistry with Leo Carlsson and Alex Killorn. It's part of these young guys coming in and I've talked to all these guys, in certain things they need to continue to get in the gym and become stronger because it's an 82 game schedule versus some of the guys were playing 40 games at max.

You could be on a little bit of a rollercoaster next year things with you're going to go through, things that you haven't experienced. So expect it and be prepared mentally for it and also be prepared to grind through it. This isn't an easy league. Every team they go through ups and downs. It's hard to be at your best for 82 games.

On using Carlsson on the penalty kill

Yeah, there's just stuff that obviously I have an advantage from my playing days to kind of relate and one of the things is that Leo's long. He's got the long reach, he's a really smart player. There's certain things that I look at on penalty killing that is advantageous. I also see Cutter doing the same thing, being involved in the penalty killing. One of the things that puts power plays on edge is knowing that the players they're playing against have the ability to knock the puck down, take it the other way and score shorthanded. That hinders the effectiveness of power plays knowing that they have to be careful in how they attack and if there are turnovers it could go in their net.

On having multiple forwards with the ability to play wing or center

Well I think at some point the beauty of it all is Greg's going to have a lot of options. I think that he's going to be able to do a lot of experimenting. I would look at some of this stuff during training camp with a lot of the exhibition games that we got and he can explore and experiment with some of the line combinations, some of the chemistry that could get developed with guys playing in different positions. I think Greg has a lot of options at his hands and certainly we'll be able to discuss and watch and learn and see what combinations could work out.

On the coaching staff

I always go through this process and I always do a review over the course of the season, so I'll meet with Greg in the near future here and do a lot of reflecting and discussing and we we'll go from there.

On naming a captain

I think it's certainly something we're exploring and we're discussing actively right now. I think for the last two years, I got a really good handle on how the room's working, who are the voices are and all of that sort of thing. So like I said, we're going through that process right now to make a decision, but I think at some point we will name a captain this summer.

GM Pat Verbeek on Ducks season, future plans

On the team's future

I'm looking to make improvements to the team. Certainly I feel really comfortable right now. We're going to get another draft under our belt. Obviously it's another potentially really high pick for the draft. So I feel really comfortable where our organization is from a depth standpoint and I feel comfortable with the progress that our young players have made. Even with the veteran leadership, we're in a good spot and I want to start to make a push, a strong push to where we're competing and we're in the conversation and making the playoffs next year.

On goaltending

Ultimately, I think we're going to come to a point to where we've got to win hockey games and it's going to become competitive. It's a situation where whoever's playing the best could be taking the net. We're kind of getting close to that spot right now.

Obviously Dostal played a lot of games, probably more than I would've envisioned when he got here, but I think now we're in a good spot. We have two goaltenders that can play equally well and now it's going to be, I think a really good thing in the sense to where there's competition within the lineup and that's going to bring out the best in everyone and our team.

On John Gibson

He's a professional, shows up every day to work. I've got no issues with Gibson and his compete, his professionalism as a player. Obviously we're all in the same place. We all want to win. So I think that's our main goal together is we want to get to a spot where we win.

Greg Cronin

On what he learned in his first season as an NHL head coach

I am always trying to learn things. I am an observer. I obviously have my principles and my standards, my coaching ideology that I think allowed me to get hired here, but the observation part of it is to see how they are received by the staff and by the players. I don't think you can be blind to that. Your message is only as strong as the reception from the messenger or whatever you want to call them. The message, it's funny, I was watching a thing on Nick Saban in Alabama when he got there like 15 years ago and obviously he had tremendous success at LSU and then he was with the Dolphins, and his big message is about getting better every day. I know it's kind of cliche-ish, but he's very passionate about it and the measurability is driven by the detail and the execution. Without taking that word for word from him, that's my style - try and motivate people to get better every day. I try to coach to a championship level. You may not have the pieces or the talent to win at a championship level, but try and coach up to that standard. 

And in a lot of ways I learned quite a bit about the individuals on the team and who could respond to different messages. I think in the messaging, the consistency was there in terms of the standard we wanted to play to and the controllable piece of it, the effort part of it and the compete. The ability to actually execute it shift to shift was an interesting journey.

I learned a lot about those things and we just had player interviews. The players shared with me their journey this year with me, with the coaching staff and the challenges they experienced playing in a new culture where there was a visible standard that was being promoted every day. Before the season started, I told Pat this, wins, losses, ties, I can't tell you exactly what it's going to translate to, but I will tell you there's definitely going to be transparency in what we're doing here and the players will know exactly where they stand in terms of that measurement. 

On consistency in messaging

You want wins now. You want the results right now. And it's not like a two plus two is four for math and player development. It's not that accurate. There's a great thing Urban Meyers used to say about the human element. He said humans are limited by laziness, selfishness and a lack of discipline. That was part of his mantra when he was at Florida. I think you can say that about human behavior in all aspects of life, particularly when you're pursuing goals. I can say with confidence that 95% of the time our guys competed hard. 

Now did they compete as hard as I wanted them to or we wanted them to as a staff all the time? No, I mean again, that's part of that human element. Why wasn't it there all the time?

I do know that we're in a situation where there's a lot of young players and their habits have to be dialed in. Some of those habits are like preparation for games, like how they're preparing, how they're visualizing, how they're absorbing pre-game information. A lot of that's maturity. 

Where does the coach step out of that coaching role and allow them to figure that on their own? That's part of it. And then the other part of it is what's the older group doing? What's the leadership group doing to help them prepare themselves to win a game, to play the best they can for a game? 

I'll give you an example. If I'm a centerman, I'm going to take a face-off. I better know who the other four centermen are on the other team and what shots they are. There were times guys didn't know and that to me is not that they're lazy, they don't have discipline or they're selfish, it's just that they didn't think of it, they weren't aware of it. And that's where you hope that the leadership group is. Once they're aware of it, they're reminding those players on those things that you have to do to put yourself in the best position to be successful on that night.

On Frank Vatrano

Frankie's a low maintenance person and player. He's 30 years old. He's got a wife, he's got a kid and he's passed through that development phase that all of our young guys are going through now. He's been through organizations where they expect to win. The Boston Bruins had a profound effect on him in terms of leadership, accountability, standard-bearing and doing everything to an extraordinary habit within the concept of team they play. He played with Chara, with Bergeron, Marchand and Krejci, so those guys left a huge impression on him. That's why he is low maintenance. 

So when you're asking him a question about what happened in a specific play, particularly during the game, his answer is basically a reflection of that experience. He's also a very competitive person, so he's never going to negotiate or compromise his competitive nature. I think for anybody that watches the games, that's expressed in the way he forechecks, the way he backchecks, the way he blocks shots and the way he kills penalties. That's in his DNA. 

Now whether he had that when he was playing at UMass-Amherst or not, I don't know. I didn't see him then, but I'm guessing he did because he's an undrafted player. Somebody saw that in him and thought those qualities would translate into a useful NHL asset and that's what he's played himself up to. His shot is obviously his biggest offensive weapon and he was deployed in situations on lines and on the power play with [assistant coach Newell Brown], that he could use that shot. 

On Trevor Zegras

Z is in that sweet spot. He's like third or fourth year in the league right now. This year was a brutal year for him. He got injured, he missed a bunch of games early, comes back and breaks his ankle. He had a lot of adversity. I do think, and I said this back in October when he came to training camp late, the messaging for me was about, 'Hey, your offense is always going to be there. You got a super IQ on the ice, you make plays, but your focus on defense has to be equally as invested as your offensive focus.' And he tried. He did what we asked him to do. I think analytically, he did a really good job those first 10 or 12 games, whatever it was. He wasn't getting the points, but I was really impressed with his compete level and I was impressed with his defensive details. 

So comes back and the poor guy breaks his ankle. Now he's behind the eight ball again. It's an 11 week absence. And then he comes out and again, I thought he was terrific. I don't know how many games he played until the end of the season, but he was visible. I think he probably had close to a point a game if I'm just thinking out loud. His plus-minus was good. So he did a lot of things that I think reflect a lot of growth as a person and as a player and I'm really excited for him. I'm excited to see how he works off of this in the fall. 

On accountability

I always say when you have a really good team, you need less of the coaches and more of the leaders. We're not at that point yet. 

Now [another reporter] was asking what did I learn? I learned that sometimes my message can be really harsh and I can be blunt, and we've talked about this in different [press conferences]. 

Some people, it doesn't matter how old they are, some people don't like blunt messages. Some people prefer it done in a more gentler, private manner. I don't know that until I actually hit them with a blunt message. So my philosophy is you can always pull back, right? You can be blunt early and then you can pull back. So in terms of the messaging, did I remind them? Yes, there's a number of ways to remind people. One is my philosophy is you remind them right away with a blunt message...It's up to them how they receive it, but the message comes from me directly and then there's a response. If the response is a positive response, then they continue to play and they learn.

Everything I ever say is about the team. This is great for the team and your behavior's got to reflect a team first behavior. So I try to take myself out it and put them in a position to analyze their behavior based upon the team. If I had done some things differently this year, maybe after the first blunt message I would've just [benched] guys. I would've sat them out and I would've said, 'this isn't working and you just need to sit, watch a few shifts and gather some information while you sit there.' I didn't do that probably enough, but I did do it. I think Z got benched early in Columbus and I think he was awesome about it. He was terrific. 

And I talked to the team again later on in the season about that dynamic. What's the best way to exhibit change? You probably didn't even notice, but some guys sat a few shifts at a time and I did it just to remind them that this has to be an exercise in doing what's right for the team. The other issue about locker room management, it's a good issue. We don't have a captain. We have some alternates they rotate through. I think we need to have a captain. We need to find a leadership group that can hold teammates accountable to these standards that I spoke to earlier. And there's a lot of different ways to do it. It's not about yelling and screaming or confronting and that type of thing. Sometimes it's just a message of we can't do it this way. This is not acceptable.

Alex Killorn on first season in Anaheim

On a commitment to defense

At training camp, with the systems, I had stuff spray painted on the ice that, to me, were symbolic of areas that we need to value. Everybody saw them. They were there every day for training camp and there was a reason behind it, because those circles in front of your net, that's where teams score goals. You have to defend those areas and then you need to get into those areas to score goals offensively. There was some spray paint along the hash marks and the face off circles, becuase those areas on the ice, when you carry a puck, whether it's a breakout or it's an offensive zone, low high carry, if you make the right decision in those areas, it's probably going to be a [positive] two or three seconds afterwards. If it's not [the right decision], then there's going to be a consequence and it's probably not going to be a good one in terms of keeping possession or losing possession. 

So I think everybody knew what the systems were. I don't think it's so much of that. I think it's more about, how can you get these guys to execute these things with the detail that I believe you need to to give you this highest percentage chance of getting that puck back or defending that puck. Now that's a conversation. 

I think that, in some ways, it's a mystery. Why do some guys pick it up right away and they're able to have a fluid transition, and other players kind of do like a heart rate monitor? They're bouncing up and down with it and that's where you need patience and you need to be, I guess unique and innovative in how you talk to that person. Right?

I didn't know the kids [before the season]. We have no history. What they all said when they came through here the last few days, next year is so much easier because they know me, they know my style, they know my standards. I know them, I know their reactions. And you don't know this, but the last 20 games or so, I kind of stepped back and I went into an observing mode. I wanted to watch them and particularly, who is responding? Who can make adjustments? Who's able to actually play to this highest level? Let them do it organically. I don't need to be riding them all the time. Let's just see what happens and have trust that they'll be able to figure out on their own. 

I don't have kids. It's kind of like letting your kid ride his bike without the training wheels. Let them do it. If they fail, they fail. We're out of the playoffs. So in this environment we're going to learn more about them...Going back to what I said about when Pat interviewed me, there was transparency in what we were doing. There was accountability. So some of the guys that came in the last few days, they say, listen, I know exactly what I need to do this summer to increase my ability to play in this system. That's the only thing they can control at this point. And that was music to my ears. They understood that they may not like sometimes being held accountable. 

Most people don't like being told they need to do something differently than they've done before. I'm just telling you that. Just for a funny example, I cross my arms like this - my right hand goes under my left bicep. If you go the other way, it's awkward. You can try it but you don't want to go the other way because your body's been telling you to do it that way for however long you've been doing it. So it's no different when guys do things on the ice that are way more complicated than putting your arms across your chest like this. Now you're telling them to do something different because the way they were doing it is not the best way to do it. So there's this spiritual tug of war that takes place and it takes time. Some guys figure it out like that. 

On penalties

That's a great question and it might go back to one of those ones about needing to sit a shift or two. Clearly what we did this year wasn't working. We kept taking penalties. 

Probably should have sat some guys. You hate to do it because sometimes you can lose a guy. He gets all wrapped up in his head because he's sitting. But I talked to Pat about this at length...Sometimes, you don't even say a word to him. Just let him figure it out. Short-term pain, long-term gain.