I’m at the keyboard upset and stunned. There is no outline for this article. I’m prepared to go stream of consciousness to deliver this Perspectives column. I’m out of ideas on how to make this season fun or find something that will take away some of the bitterness that’s set in.
There have been so many low points this season that I’ve lost count. Stopped getting mad. Waived the white flag early and often in games. But, Saturday’s game was the lowest. Five first period shots. Six second period goals allowed. Special teams that are anything but. I could go on and on. At least we had Jonathan Quick and Dion Phaneuf fighting until the very end.
The highlight of that afternoon debacle was this tweet:
After two, the Kings are down 7-0. If you live somewhere where the weather is at all decent, go outside and do something other than watch this game. Hug a kid. Pet a dog. Set something on fire and tweet a picture of it, labeled as the Los Angeles Kings.— Jewels from the Crown (@JFTC_Kings) January 19, 2019
It was such a bad day I pet a dog, and I’m allergic to 95% of them. It was that kind of day. There was even this from the lovely Stacia Robitaille:
There’s no words; other than, the loyal fans of the #LAkings are truly the best fans out there. Things will change.— Stacia Robitaille (@StaciaRR) January 19, 2019
Of course, there’s some consolation in these piles of losses. The famous Lose for Hughes mantra rings with every failure, but that brings some more angst. My angst is directed towards the brain trust of the Los Angeles Kings. The last two coaching hires (John Stevens, Willie D.) have been nothing short of disastrous. Gabe Vilardi was supposed to the the next Anze Kopitar. As much as I love Ilya Kolvachuk, he was probably not the right guy to guarantee $18 million and a no movement clause.
So when I hear Lose for Hughes I think about these recent draft tidbits*:
- The Kings drafted Christopher Gibson (pick 49) over Nikita Kucherov (pick 58) in 2011.
- The Kings drafted Andy Andreoff (pick 79) over Johnny Gaudreau (pick 104) in 2011.
- The Kings drafted Alex Lintuniemi (pick 60) over Brayden Point (pick 79) in 2014.
Although it seems the front office brain trust wouldn’t be to blame if we fail in this grand tanking scheme that everyone knows is going on, but no one will say:
One of the real fallacies in hockey. GMs don't really make the draft choices. Instead, they heavily on their amateur staff - especially after the first round. What Blake should really be judged by is asset management and trades made from today though the next 18 months. https://t.co/iPUY9yogkh— The Mayor John Hoven (@mayorNHL) January 19, 2019
How convenient. Now we have to blame the poor amateur scouting department who never get to see their families Great. Just great.
All of which brought me to this: Willie Desjardins is the worst NHL coach I’ve ever seen.
Believe me, I’m not trying to go all revisionist history on the Jim Anderson Era. Who was Jim Anderson and how bad was he? Anderson was the first coach in the history of the Washington Capitals. They were an expansion team. Despite what the Vegas Golden Knights are doing, an expansion team are supposed to be bad for a while. Anderson couldn’t even make it through an entire season. His record? Well, it was 4-45-5. He never coached in the NHL again.
Willie D has failed on a much grander scale—he was the anointed guy to bring some semblance of order to the once feared Kings. His struggles seem apocalyptic in comparison to Anderson. He has no concept of special teams play, zero acumen for team chemistry, and his awareness level is as low as it gets. I mean, after all, he’s not going to get hired next year; yet, he doesn’t play the young guys to prep them for the future and he cowers in public to the veterans who barely look like they give a damn game after game. He’d rather scratch Matt Luff after he scored his seventh goal in limited action and keep Tyler Toffoli and his matador defense skating on the second line.
Quick recap: The Kings scooped Desjardins off the coaching scrapheap after guiding the Vancouver Canucks to their worst offensive performance ever. For those of you not keeping track at home, those Canucks scored 178 goals when the league average was 228 (or, 22 percent less that the league average). Those Canucks also went 2-13-3 in their last 17 games including an eight-game losing streak (0-8-0). They slapped an interim coach tag on him and convinced the Kings Faithful he would be coaching for his job all season. And for one instant, it was a brilliant move: I can still see Ryan Kesler in his postgame hallway presser muttering, “We just got bullied out there. They played their game and they pushed us around and we really had no response.”
We blanketed our new coach with accolades, as his face broke into an enormous grin on the bench. When the game ended and he disappeared behind the bench that night, he was every bit the conquering hero. Just the man we needed on the redemption tour.
Little did we know then, things had peaked. Over the next two weeks, the Kings went 1-3-1 and looked worse than they did under the beleaguered Stevens. He continuously shuffled the lines, making curious decisions to put grinders on scoring lines, and gaslighting Kovalchuk for a month, all the while undermining the trust of the veteran core.
You could argue that Desjardins was handed an impossible situation with a slow, aging Kings team. Shoot, they said that about his Vancouver Canucks teams. But I am here. I see Willie D. adhering stubbornly to his system: shuttling guys like checkers pieces, micromanaging every bit of team chemistry, sticking with the four forwards/one defenseman power play alignment, and overplaying Kopitar, Brown, and Doughty in blowouts. In short, slowly sucking the life from his players. And as the mountain of losses built, his infomercial scripts about “needing more energy” and “the guys didn’t quit on the game” make him sound like a cheesy used-car salesman.
Poor Willie never seems to understand that you have to treat professionals like men, adapt your system to their talents, and apply a level of accountability. You can’t stay positive in defeat while your veterans are simultaneously calling performances “pathetic,” “embarrassing,” and worse through expletive-filled interviews. You can’t be half-awake during the games, and you definitely can’t B.S. the fan base looking to dump their tickets on StubHub for pennies on the dollar.
So why am I ranting about this now? Because the greatest era in franchise history is coming to an end. The Kings are on the threshold of making bold moves that will leave us with assets instead of players. They are playing for draft picks. High ones I hope. This is difficult enough without watching the resurrection of the Jim Anderson Era.
Enough is enough.
So as I angst about the upcoming 2019 NHL draft and how the Kings handle their selections, I am imploring them to make the right decision in their upcoming coaching hire. We can’t afford another John Stevens or Willie Desjardins.
* - A big thank you to my son for the research on the draft faux pas.