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Fans, media react to Los Angeles Kings firing of John Stevens

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The general reaction? “Wait, what? Now?”

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NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

John Stevens losing his job as a result of the Los Angeles Kings’ 4-8-1 start wasn’t completely a surprise. The losing streak, combined with the team’s uninspired play and befuddling lack of chemistry meant that his job was on the hot seat, and Stevens knew it. The timing of the termination was a surprise, though, coming after some much more cohesive team play and evident buy-in up and down the lineup.

The fan reaction to the change was largely one of why now — either because the team was playing better, or because the change should have been made already.

This change had been set in motion earlier, though, and while Rob Blake wouldn’t outright confirm it, nothing the team did on Saturday had any effect on John Stevens’ job. So if the team on the ice was finally playing to save not just their season, but their coach as well: sorry, guys. You were too late.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first reactions from people around the team were overwhelmingly bittersweet. Of course no one wants to say a bad word about someone who is suddenly unemployed, but John Stevens was universally regarded as a good person, first and foremost. Blake himself called the decision “awful. It’s terrible, very difficult.” In the world of hockey, men being proclaimed as “good guys” are a dime a dozen, but Stevens is one of the handful about whom no one can ever find a bad word to say.

The hiring of Willie Desjardins was met with some surprise, as his name wasn’t particularly on anyone’s radar, though he undoubtedly wanted to return to the NHL. Per Lisa Dillman in The Athletic, though, Desjardins had previously been interviewed by Rob Blake for an assistant coach position in 2017, and Blake overall had a good impression of Desjardins as a coach.

Fans, however:

We’ll have a more in-depth look at Willie Desjardins later today, but the general reaction has been “why him” and “what can he do for us”, both valid questions. Coaches with more lengthy NHL head coaching experience are out there, but the general feeling, per Lisa Dillman’s report, is that the Kings were unwilling to offer someone a long term contract, preferring to see how this season plays out instead. That took names like Alain Vigneault off the table, as well as Dave Tippett, who still has strong connections to the pending Seattle team.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the coaching change has been the addition of Marco Sturm, current head coach of the German men’s national team. He’s not well known as a coach over here but attracted a lot of attention for the work he did with the national team in the Olympics, and is viewed as a potential rising star in the NHL coaching ranks.

As for media response to the coaching change, the reactions have largely centered around the fact that Stevens losing his job is just a band-aid for a larger problem within the organization.

Los Angeles Times reporter Helene Elliott, who first broke the news of Steven’s fire, was quick to point out that some blame still lies with Rob Blake. Even though he is somewhat handcuffed by the remnants of Dean Lombardi’s moves (contracts, trades, drafting), the team was “handicapped by the forwards’ overall lack of skill and speed.” A new coach can still only work with the roster he’s been given, and the Kings’ roster has more challenges than really should be expected.

In The Athletic, Josh Cooper reports that Willie Desjardins has a similar player-first mentality to John Stevens, in that he’s a very positive, fair coach. So, again, the anti-Darryl Sutter, though perhaps with slightly more motivating energy than Sevens ever displayed publicly. Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller, who played under Desjardins in Vancouver, said he “[d]oes pretty well with getting the guys to believe in themselves.” The idea that Desjardins has continually pushed teams to play above their expected skill level comes up repeatedly.

Kings Insider Jon Rosen emphasized the concern about the team’s “diminished compete level”, particularly among veteran players, with games only having an “intermittent emotional involvement from the players.”

Can a different coaching staff — now a group of men entirely disconnected from the Kings’ past success and any lingering remnants of Darryl Sutter’s systems — get players to buy in again?