John Stevens has officially been hired as the new coach for the Los Angeles Kings per Helene Elliott, filling the void left by the firing of Darryl Sutter. In a hiring that is neither shocking nor particularly adventurous, Stevens will move up from his previous position of associate coach to head coach for Los Angeles. In the wake of another disappointing season for the team in which they missed the playoffs, both GM Dean Lombardi and Coach Sutter were quickly fired. Both had been crucial to the success of the franchise, landing the team its first two Stanley Cups in 2011-12 and 2013-14. Kings’ ownership had apparently not interviewed anyone other than Stevens for the gig, although they had talked to a potential assistant in Jim Montgomery.
Stevens boasts a solid, if uninspiring, overall record of 122-111-34 in the NHL. His previous head coaching experience with the Flyers left murmurs of discontent following his departure, which only grew more pronounced as that squad then challenged for a Stanley Cup, seemingly reinvigorated by his firing. However, he now has his successful assistant tenure to add to his Calder Cup winning resume. There is a lot to be said for familiarity, and when Los Angeles takes the ice this fall, it will do so without the practically iconic Sutter behind the bench, and also likely an overhauled player roster. For those leaders who still remain from the championship squads, a familiar face behind the bench in a new era full of uncertainty may provide some semblance of comfort.
Under Sutter, the Kings were a dominant puck possession force, but despite their successes, often struggled to find consistent offensive production. They finished 8th, 3rd, 4th, and 6th in the four seasons before this one in Corsi For %, a solid indicator of puck possession and time spent applying offensive pressure. Yet, they finished 22nd this season, netting only 126 goals, good for a terrible 26th in the league. Jeff Carter was the only forward to break the 60 point mark, and some of the defensemen had horrendous plus-minus and Corsi showings (Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin). The team looked sluggish for long stretches of time, and the squad often lacked killer instinct. Injuries certainly didn’t help their cause, but the strong play of Peter Budaj in relief for Jonathan Quick cannot be easily scapegoated for the team’s collective failures.
Stevens will need to prove early that he is capable of changing the mindset of this Kings’ team. They have arguably been too complacent in the past two seasons with low-scoring affairs and being on the playoff bubble. Ownership is hoping his positive attitude and strong existing relationships with players will enable him to have success when the Kings start anew in October.