The last time Todd McLellan and the LA Kings suited up for a game was on March 11, nine months ago. Like the rest of society, the NHL and the rest of the sports world have been flipped upside down. Facing the unprecedented times, McLellan has been focused on two things: keeping he and family healthy and preparing for the 2021 NHL season.
"My life has been good from a family and health standpoint," McLellan, entering his second year behind the Kings' bench, told Jack Harris of the LA Times.
"But from a professional perspective, it's been a roller coaster. We came back to Los Angeles and started working in late August, early September, and have been meeting almost on a daily basis, discussing different parts of the game, our lineup, looking at what other teams are doing and trying to stay hockey busy," McLellan told Harris.
Coming off of a 29-35-6 season in his first year with the Kings, McLellan is happy with the progress he's since he took over, seeming to be further ahead in all areas. But that's no silver lining when it comes to wanting to win this season, according to McLellan.
"Game 1, there's gonna be two points on the line and we haven't played for 10 and a half months. It's not going to be easy. Nobody expects it to. But it also can't be an excuse. We're going to try and do everything we can to put them in a situation to be successful, healthy and ready."
Though the Kings finished last season abruptly, it did end with a seven-game win streak, giving McLellan hope that they can keep that winning feeling going when the season starts.
Video: The road forward for the LA Kings after the NHL pause
"We have to re-establish everything. We have to re-establish and remind players there's a right way of doing it and then go from there. So I think we're closer to getting back to camp and, not necessarily starting over, but picking up from where we left off."
McLellan is also hopeful that the high note that the Kings finished on last season is a sign that the rebuild is starting to show promising signs.
"The players that are coming back this year, they're long-term players for us," McLellan said. "I heard [General Manager] Rob Blake talk to each of the individuals saying, 'Listen, we are basically done with the initial phase of the rebuilding.' We've moved players around and out and brought different players in. It's time to turn the ship and let's start growing all of this.
Admittedly, McLellan knew it was going to take time for he and the organization to become comfortable with his coaching style, mindset and structure.
"We feel good about where we're at right now, structurally. We feel good where we're at right now with the coaching staff being prepared and ready for a camp. The players that have been here [training] in L.A. for extended periods, we've started those relationships up again and we've been able to watch them skate and in the gym. That part feels normal. It's just the game reward, the wins and losses haven't been coming. We feel like we're in a better spot right now than we were last year at training camp time because we've laid some more foundation work down."
Going hand in hand, McLellan realizes the importance of the start to this season compared to his first season with the Kings.
"Our start to the season has to be better than it was last year. I anticipate that we can take care of that just with clarification and reestablishing how we want to play. I think last year, it took us a while to grasp everything. There was so much that we were behind the eight ball. We can do that quicker this year. But there's a blanket answer to all of that: We have to improve in every area of the game and grow it."
Again, McLellan and the Kings face the all-important question: Is this the year that they get back into the win column and push for the playoffs?
"Do we want to move forward and grow the program and push the team forward and push up the standings? Of course we do. There's no doubt that we do and that we want to accomplish that this year. But we've got to see where we're at and put fair expectations on everybody," McLellan said.
As for when McLellan and the Kings will have that opportunity, we still don't know. But when they do, they'll be ready.