The Los Angeles Kings have fired head coach John Stevens, per an announcement from the team. Willie Desjardins has been named the interim head coach.
Willie Desjardins named interim Head Coach of the LA Kings, John Stevens relieved of his coaching duties.https://t.co/s84Ssu841g
— LA Kings (@LAKings) November 4, 2018
Assistant coach Don Nachbaur was also let go as part of the upheaval from general manager Rob Blake. Marco Sturm, who has been serving as the head coach and GM of the German National Team and whose 14-season NHL career included 17 games with the Kings, will move into the vacated assistant role.
Kings Trending Down
Disappointment Has Followed Stanley Cup Success
The Kings are not far removed from the pinnacle of NHL success, having won Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014 with Darryl Sutter as their bench boss and Stevens as an assistant. Since then, however, they have struggled to make much noise, as they have missed the playoffs twice in the past four seasons and recorded only one playoff game victory in the other two seasons combined.
Stevens was in just his second season as LA’s head coach. In an effort to break out of what had become a stale and slow style of play, Stevens guided the team to a 98-point season and wild-card postseason berth in 2017-18, but things ended in ugly fashion via a first-round sweep at the hands of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
This season has gotten off to a nightmarish start for the Kings, so much so that Stevens’ firing seemed imminent just a month into the season before the organization indeed pulled the trigger on Sunday. The club’s 4-8-1 record puts them at the very bottom of the NHL. As has been a common issue for the past few seasons, they have struggled to score, as they’ve lit the lamp just 28 times in their 13 games.
Kings’ Offense Running Dry
The free-agent acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk figured to spark the Kings’ offense, but that has not come to fruition. While he has done his part in leading the team with 11 points, Los Angeles has not gotten enough offense from other key sources.
Anze Kopitar, coming off a brilliant 2017-18 campaign in which he scored a career-high 92 points, has stumbled out of the gate and picked up just six points in 12 games. Sniper Tyler Toffoli has only three goals in 13 contests. Dustin Brown’s absence through the first 10 games did not help, and even though he’s been a spark plug with four points in three games since his return, the need for significant change still loomed over the franchise. That feeling was likely not assuaged by Stevens at one point making comments about the team not working hard enough.
“This is a critical time in our season and our results to date have fallen well below our expectations. With that in mind, this was a difficult decision but one we feel was necessary,” said Blake regarding the firing of Stevens. “We have a great deal of respect and appreciation for John’s time with our organization. He was a key part of our past success, and we have tremendous gratitude for his many contributions.”
Stevens’ short tenure as head coach of the Kings (not counting a four-game interim stint in the 2011-12 season) ends with a 49-37-9 record. For the organization, a second coaching change in 19 months signifies a team still in transition and trying to find its way. For now, Desjardins will try to pick up the pieces of what is quickly spiraling into a lost season for Los Angeles.
Willie Desjardins Taking Over
While other candidates could ultimately end up being the longer-term solution for the Kings, Desjardins will do his best to right the ship while he is the interim head coach. The 61-year-old has recent NHL head coaching experience, having held the post for the Vancouver Canucks for three seasons between 2014 and 2017.
His first year saw some success, as he guided the Canucks to a 48-29-5 record that was good for second place in the Pacific Division. However, Vancouver fell in a six-game first-round defeat against the Calgary Flames. After that, Desjardins endured two losing, rebuilding seasons with the Canucks before being let go after the 2016-17 campaign.
Beyond his NHL experience, Desjardins has an extensive head coaching track record in the WHL—mainly with the Medicine Hat Tigers—and with the AHL’s Texas Stars (the Dallas Stars’ affiliate), where he won a Calder Cup in 2013-14 right before landing the gig with the Canucks.
The Saskatchewan native will have his hands full in trying to get the Kings back on track. At the end of the day, the Kings are an older team that is likely in need of more significant roster change over the long term, but perhaps the changes behind the bench will spark them in the short term.