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.
What has changed all of the sudden? Since Brownie came back things were better-ish...— Chesapeake Films (@joelfranco) November 4, 2018
Send him out on a high note? Odd timing after the best game they’ve played all year.— Robert Perez (@robperez4) November 4, 2018
Thought they got a reprieve after last night. But changes were needed... some changes to roster needed too.— Leo B (@LeoBar6) November 4, 2018
Not that I'm against this, but timing is odd, after a win and all.— Andrew Lichtmann (@rxdrewthejew) November 4, 2018
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.
It's not new to me-It’s part of the business-John, thanks for mentoring me re Preparation/Communication/Coaching/Family Values-I have never seen you be disrespectful-John, thanks for all you have done for @LAKings Part of the business yes, at times, the worst part of the business pic.twitter.com/s1Zy4LEWwh— Jim Fox (@JimFox19) November 4, 2018
Sometimes a shakeup is necessary, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a tough day for John Stevens and Don Nachbaur. Good people and wish them the very best. They worked their tails off. #LAKings— Patrick O'Neal (@Patrick_ONeal) November 4, 2018
Those who know - like, those who really know - understand that Stevens, similar to Terry Murray, and obviously Darryl Sutter, had fingerprints on the Kings' identity-driven zeniths earlier this decade. Heavy influence on LA's structure, detail and defensive-minded success.— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) November 4, 2018
Setting aside results (this is a results-oriented business), John Stevens & Don Nachbaur both exemplified class and professionalism. Can't express enough how welcome they made me feel in my first season. Both really great people.— Alex Faust (@alex_faust) November 4, 2018
Also imperative to note that John Stevens was classy and accommodating to work with. When I asked him last week about his job security (or lack thereof) he said he knew that’s part of the job.— Helene Elliott (@helenenothelen) November 4, 2018
Yes, indeed, coolest coach I've worked with at the major-league level. Real bummer. But I get the business side of it as well.— Robert Morales (@RMoralesPT) November 5, 2018
As I often like to say, class act. He was/is a complete class act. Treated everyone with respect and dignity. Was telling the Philladephia guys that when they were here (which they knew , of course) https://t.co/MUxxR5cv1A— lisa dillman (@reallisa) November 4, 2018
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.
This is an upgrade?— The Big Nudge (@The_Big_Nothin) November 4, 2018
What does Desjardins bring as a coach? I know he was a successful junior coach but he didn’t accomplish much during his stint in Vancouver.— Hockeywood-novel.com (@HockeywoodKings) November 4, 2018
Sounds like some great concepts but with these current players how is that going to work? Weren’t they trying to run an up tempo system with Stevens?— Judge Smails (@mot1777) November 4, 2018
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.
Seen a lot of people suggest new coach shouldn't be "interim"— All The Kings Men (@KingsMenPodcast) November 4, 2018
Kings are a cap stressed team with roster moves potentially imminent but ultimately unavoidable & less than 70 games to find out if they playoff team or retool candidate
Not shocked it's an interim position
As for the interim tag, the sense seems to be that if Desjardins, with Marco Sturm as his assistant, fare well behind the bench, the interim tag could be removed. Failing that, the door is still open for LA to conduct a more extensive search/hiring process.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) November 4, 2018
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.
Been around Marco Sturm the last few years as he’s coached on the International stage. He should be a prime candidate for the Kings coaching job next season.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) November 4, 2018
Blah, blah, coach fired, some other NHL coach hired, blah, blah.— Katya Knappe (@KatyaKnappe) November 4, 2018
MARCO STURM is in the NHL as an asst coach. That's the damn interesting part.
Marco Sturm eh? That’s a certainly interesting hire. The guy knows his job and even as an assistant he is a great add to the coaching staff.— Aivis Kalniņš (@A_Kalnins) November 4, 2018
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?