Note to reader: Due to
unbridled anger scheduling conflicts, I was forced to write the inevitable “John Stevens has been fired!” column on October 20th. That was after the Kings were embarrassed by Buffalo and Stevens uttered the now famous, “I have to be honest. I don’t have an answer at this second.” Yes, actually I wrote this two weeks before they relieved him of his duties. Further, please excuse my insolence when reading. I know John Stevens is maybe the nicest guy in hockey and he had a quiet hand in the two Stanley Cups the Kings won, but for goodness sakes the wheels really fell off on his watch. I refused to be silent when it’s already been bad enough watching him botch my beloved team since the game against Dallas on the final day of the the 2017-18 season. Really, that was the beginning of his end. So Coach Stevens, I want to say that we wouldn’t have these two Stanley Cups without you. You were a great assistant coach. Truly, thank you! To all reading the column after the firing, I appreciate your understanding.
And now, without further ado, the future Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award winning column, “See Ya, JS…”
When we were leaving the Sabres game, a couple of Kings fans were walking ahead of us and humming the words “Lose for Hughes, Lose for Hughes, Lose for Hughes, Lose for Hughes,” almost as if they were chanting the words to a top 40 song.
So much for Champions of California Hockey.
Not only is the defense gone, not only do we only have one playoff win since Brownie raised the Cup the last time, but our fans are singing the names of potential lottery saviors eight games into the season. And if that’s not bad enough, my daughter (the girl who can see a rainbow and sunshine in almost any loss) wasn’t even remotely appalled.
”It’s like they were inside my mind,” my son said with resignation. “I say we trade everything not nailed down and keep Stevens for the whole season. Let’s go for Jack Hughes.” That’s when he sent me this video:
I found that comment mesmerizing: Not that my son wanted to trade everyone not named Drew, Quick, Dustin, or Anze, but his unbiased confidence that keeping John Stevens gave the Kings the best opportunity at finishing with a high lottery pick. Honestly, what more do you need to know? If we’re gunning for Hughes next spring, either we could be unashamed about this mission, fire John Stevens and hire Bob the Security Guard from Lot 1 … or we could keep Stevens and guarantee six more months of blowout losses, defensive breakdowns, motionless offense, clueless excuses and an NHL coach juggling lines every few shifts like he’s forgotten how to coach at all. Unfortunately for Hughes lovers, Rob Blake and the Kings owners imagine that their team still has a chance -- and they might be right, given the lack of team success in the Pacific Division this season -- so Bob the Security Guard from Lot 1 is out.
And so is JS.
JS must be relieved. In private, at least.
He spent the playoffs against Vegas and this season coaching with the same look that I used have when I was working up the courage to ask the cute waitress out when I was in college. On opening night, his team looked disjointed and lost as they wandered to an overtime loss as his players seemed to refuse to shoot the puck all game. That was followed by a predictable nail biter win against Detroit (!), a miserable game against Winnipeg (16 shots on goal), a shutout against Montreal, wretched losses to Ottawa (!) and Toronto, then an ugly 7-2 loss to the New York Islanders (with the entire Kings team getting lustily booed at the end of the second period).
JS followed-up the Islander game by calling out the team for lack of effort and saying all the things that indicates the team had quit on him. Then tonight, he pulled out his “I don’t have any answers” line tonight after pulling his goaltender with almost five minutes left and down 4-1. Ugh, I’ve never been so upset at a Kings coach. For those of you unaware, the Kings have had 23 previous coaches, so there’s a lot to choose from.
[Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, the John Stevens era!]
Meanwhile, all of the Kings pundits and journalists I respect were doing their rationale trying to figure out “what’s wrong with the Kings?”, with tweets that easily could have been written about Sharks, Ducks or Capitals. You see, it’s not hard to tell when your coach stinks. You typically know when your players are constantly saying things like “We just need to sustain that intensity for three periods,” “We need to play the kind of defense we’re capable of playing,” “I think we’ve got some soul searching to do,” “We’ve got to figure some things out,” and my personal favorite, “We can’t seem to score first," (which is a specialty of John Stevens’s coached games).
All of this athlete talk is a huge misdirect. Every word of it. Players from well-coached teams never say these things. If those quotes look familiar to you, or if those tweets look oddly familiar to others that have been written about your own team, then your coach is underperforming and needs to be shown the door.
So why did the Kings retain JS last summer, you ask? Maybe because there wasn’t an available coach out there who was noticeably better. Except the guy who just won the Stanley Cup and was a free agent (OMG, we could have had Barry Trotz). If you owned an NHL team, would you pay three people to perform the same job for you? Especially when the players and the media purportedly admire and respect your coaching? Of course not. It’s easier to cross your fingers and hope he improves, right? What followed that Vegas sweep in the playoffs was inevitable: JS spent the preseason tinkering with lineups until team chemistry was shot. If JS didn’t have a master plan last season, he certainly doesn’t have one this season and it’s only getting worse.
Look, it’s never fun to write that someone should lose his job. By all accounts, JS is a tremendous fellow -- that’s the main reason both local columnist and the radio guys kept spinning his B.S. and enabled him to go this long without the criticism he’s earned. Even this week, after these Buffalo and Islander games, the writers who understand hockey and all its subtle nuances endorsed JS and collectively absolved him of all blame.
[Note #2 to the readers: This is the end of the pre-written column and fast forward to yesterday.]
Boy, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast.
This was the talk at home on Sunday — a Ron Burgundy-type reflection on some swift action from GM Rob Blake. Many wanted John Stevens gone, but few thought they would do it 13 games in. My daughter wrapped it up nicely while she took a break from Dapper Days at Disneyland: “Everyone thought Rob wasn’t going to do anything, but he has great awareness of the issues on the team and a win wasn’t going to derail what he thought would ultimately make the team better.”
Note #3 to the reader: Now that JS has actually been
fired relieved of his duties, I’ll say something nice about the interim coach and point out that his best quality is that he’s not John Stevens.
When Willie Desjardins steps behind the bench for his first game as Kings interim coach, it’s worth mentioning that he coached Team Canada to a bronze medal in the last Olympics with former King Ben Scrivens as one of his goaltenders. He’s well respected in coaching circles and anyone who can coach a team to a championship in Medicine Hat is legitimate in my book.
Welcome aboard Willie D., our 25th coach.
The king is dead, long live the king.