An Open Letter to Willie Desjardins:
My hockey senses weren’t hurt a few weeks ago when Rob Blake hired you as our interim coach over the phone. I mean anytime you can lock up a coach with a 61-81-22 over his last two NHL seasons to right a sinking ship you have to do it, right? Besides John Stevens was a train wreck since the last game of the 2017-18 season. And, yes I wasn’t so welcoming when Coach Q. got the boot in Chicago and I begged Rob to hire him instead of you. But now I need your help.
If the rumors are true and the Kings have some master tanking plan, I hope that you start telling the truth in your ensuing presser after lackluster games. Don’t feed us lines like, “The guys haven’t quit” after 7-3 blowouts or “We played just okay” after losses to teams that were 0-8-0 in their previous eight games before getting the gift of playing the Kings to break the streak, or “[Kovalchuk only played six minutes tonight] because I didn’t like the potential matchup with McDavid/Draisaitl” when you get the last line change at home. Also, don’t let the media—who have suddenly turned on the same players who produced 98 points the previous season—sell the “old and slow” / the “Kings are riddled with injuries” story lines for you.
That’s a boatload of crap.
All you have to do is look at Boston and Anaheim. They are loaded with injuries, yet somehow they survive and hold down a playoff spot. Maybe those rationale quotes you throw out after games aren’t lies, but they seem like little white ones. We’ve all been there. It only works for so long.
Look, every Kings fan is seeing what’s happening. The Kings are 3-6 since you got here, which is roughly the same record as John Stevens carried into his firing. You’ve produced that .333 winning percentage without calling out a single King, getting fired up behind the bench, kicking over a stick rack, or complaining to reporters about lost Kings pride. Over the past few weeks, you’ve routinely played musical chairs with the lines and moved career fourth liners like Kyle Clifford to the second line any time we needed the opposing team to make a run. You even moved incompetent Derek Forbort to the top D pairing in recent games. To top it all off, you somehow broke our 400-goal scorer Ilya Kolvachuk who hasn’t recorded a point since your first game as coach,
At this point, I insist that you and Forbort are invited when we retire the jerseys of Jack Hughes or Vasili Podkolzin in 25 years. We couldn’t have done it without you both.
Honestly, what you are doing to Kovalchuk is a crime, punishable by the hockey gods. Despite you jerking him around and putting him on the fourth line, he still leads the team in points. Mind you, he’s the leading scorer and hasn’t produced a point since you attempted to put your fingerprints on this team.
Hello Willie? No disrespect, but just like in the NBA when you have a shooter in a slump you let him shoot himself out of it. You don’t limit his shots or reduce his time in the game. You also don’t move your power play specialist to the second unit and let your special teams sink to last in the NHL.
Colin Lewis, my colleague at Jewels From The Crown, emailed me yesterday and pointed out that Kovalchuk has never played that far down the line up either here or in the KHL. He sent me the line combos (5-on-5) that appeared in the Vancouver game (courtesy of Left Wing Lock).
He agreed with me that it looks like you’re just throwing things together to see what works. Maybe it’s because you don’t work out lines in practice like you’re supposed to. Maybe it’s because you seem to be aiming for the “I’m losing my marbles” Mafia Boss angle to give some depth to why you are doing what you’re doing. All we need is for you to wander around Staples Center in your bathrobe to complete the look.
Am I complaining? Heck, no. You couldn’t have asked for a better leader for an undercover tanking mission. So why not admit this at the next press conference. Which brings me to my last point.
Nobody handles the media better than you, Willie. Nobody.
Everyone is eating up your old guy routine. The radio guys love you, the Twitter pundits love you, the TV guys love you, the announcers love you, and as long as those people are happy, who cares what the fans think?* Keep the press happy and they’ll distract your fan base from the bottom line, no matter how disturbing that bottom line might be. You know, like your franchise dipping from 98 points to 15 points in 22 games the next season. Or how you’re crying about injuries when your team didn’t get nailed any harder by injuries than some older teams still vying for the playoffs. Or how you’re legitimately behind the 8-ball without Hughes or Podkolzin because you can only bottom out on your fan base once (and only once anymore).
By the time this season was falling apart, confidence was long gone. I mean, LONG gone. I didn’t mind losing because it was the simplest way to improve; others couldn’t stomach the thought of turning on their favorite team. But now, I refuse to exonerate you as a coach who can’t win, while others continue to make excuses for you. Wherever you stand, every Kings fan has one thing in common: Our hopes and prayers are inexorably tied to the Ping-Pong balls this coming summer. Get the first or second pick and everything’s is just dandy. Get the third pick and everything’s not.
Either way, it’s the franchise’s first significant moment in over a decade that doesn’t involve a Stanley Cup.
Do the right thing Willie.
* - However, even my daughter is blaming the players, bad contracts, Petersen’s long rebounds, and quote your practice style as gospel. This caused a two hour text argument after the Vancouver game. Bravo Willie!