Where there is smoke, there is typically fire.
When it comes to the Los Angeles Kings, head coach John Stevens is increasingly feeling the heat as his talent-laden roster has failed to play good hockey for an extended period of time. Currently, the Kings are embroiled in a disastrous six-game losing streak that has seen the team plummet to the bottom of the Western Conference standings. With this latest plunge, Stevens has seemingly lost a locker room filled with Stanley Cup champions and other notable hardware, which recently triggered a mysterious closed-door meeting.
The team’s saving grace is that we are still in the early stages of the NHL schedule, and the 2018-19 season is still entirely salvageable. With this in mind, it might be prudent for Kings general manager and vice-president Rob Blake to ignite a search for Stevens’ successor before the heat becomes a raging inferno.
Stevens Knows a Change Could Be Imminent
As I had surmised earlier this month, a slow start to the season for the Kings, following a quick playoff exit last summer and an equally paltry preseason performance, would prompt coaching change discussions. Stevens himself knows that the writing could be on the wall should the losing persist for much longer.
“Well, it’s the nature of the beast. We’re in this business to get the most out your team to win hockey games, and we haven’t performed very well. It’s not something I’m going to get up and worry about.” Stevens told the LA Times. “When you get into this business, you know that you’re going to be held accountable for the success of the team, and I totally get that. I put all my effort into trying to help these players play their best and the team perform their best, but that comes with the territory. If that happens – and it happens a lot – I knew that getting into the business.” (from “During six-game slide, scrutiny of Kings coach John Stevens ‘comes with the territory'”, The LA Times, Oct. 27, 2018).
Potential Kings Coaching Candidates
Luckily for the Kings, there is a healthy contingent of head coaching candidates that could potentially be solid fit should Stevens get the ax.
Teaser alert: I am not including Darryl Sutter in the list of candidates. Although, it would make for a cute narrative.
The Path of Least Resistance: Dave Lowry
Dave Lowry was hired to Stevens’ staff in May of 2017 after completing a highly successful five-year run as head coach of the WHL’s Victoria Royals. Because of his winning ways, the 53-year old was also appointed assistant coach for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and was head coach in 2016. Additionally, Lowry served as an NHL assistant to Brent Sutter with the Calgary Flames from 2009 to 2012.
Promoting Lowry would seem to be the least disruptive approach to take. Going this route would allow for the Kings to retain some semblance of continuity and negate any potential culture shock associated with an external hire. Playing devil’s advocate, I would say that continuing on with something that isn’t working is not the most pragmatic approach to take.
The Shiny New Convertible: Sheldon Keefe
Sheldon Keefe is a name that is consistently mentioned as a young coach on the precipice of getting his first shot as an NHL head coach. The 38-year-old has helped cultivate a youthful Toronto Marlies AHL squad over the past three years to become a perennial power. His efforts culminated in a 2018 Calder Cup championship after defeating the Texas Stars in a thrilling seven-game series.
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) June 17, 2018
Keefe would likely resonate quite well with the light smattering of youth within the Kings current roster, along with those who are not far away. The concern is that the team is largely constructed of veterans that have their sights firmly set on winning in present-day, rather than undergoing a dreaded rebuild.
The Proven Retread: Alain Vigneault
Alain Vigneault has just about done it all…except win a Stanley Cup. Over the course of his 15-year NHL head coaching career, Vigneault has served as bench boss for the Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks and, most recently, the New York Rangers. Over that time period, his teams made the Stanley Cup Playoffs an impressive 11 times, including a 2014 Stanley Cup Final defeat to your beloved Kings.
Depending on his willingness to once again take on the stress associated with being an NHL coach, Vigneault would be a “plug and play” option that has been able to get the most of proven NHL stars in the past. That being said, there is usually an inherent stigma with a coach that was just sacked – which the 57-year old Vigneault was last summer. Having the Kings buy-in to someone who just experienced “failure” may be more daunting than would first appear.
Judgement Day Is Looming for Stevens
In a perfect world, the Kings turn things around by playing solid, winning hockey and make a push for the playoffs. In turn, rendering this article futile and allowing Stevens to retain his job. In reality, Stevens could very well not make it into the first weekend in November should the team fail to show up at home against the Rangers (Sunday) and Flyers (Thursday). Either way, something has got to give, and soon.