LA Kings Vice President and General Manager Rob Blake released the following statement:
“Today we thanked Willie Desjardins for his effort and dedication while serving as our interim head coach. We wish Willie and his family nothing but the best going forward. The process for hiring our next head coach is underway and we look forward to conducting a thorough search for the right person to lead our team.”
There’s no other way to slice it. Willie Desjardins’s 69-game tenure as coach ranks among the most disappointing in Los Angeles Kings history. He finished with a record of 27-34-8 as part of the Kings total take of 71 points (31-42-9).
There’s plenty of blame to spread around, and General Manager Rob Blake did his head coach no favors with some patchwork roster construction, not hiring an assistant coach that could help on the offensive side of the puck, and staying mostly silent while players quietly simmered and fans loudly pointed out their utter disgust with the product on the ice.
But the fact remains the coach did himself no favors immediately scapegoating one player (Ilya Kovalchuk) with the hopes the team would unite with better play. Desjardins hit town with a ton of hype after the Canadian National Team performed so admirably in a starless Olympic. He was simply not good enough behind the Kings bench and was under fire late in the season with bizarre healthy scratches, 11/7 lineups, and run-ins with fan favorites Jonathan Quick and Kovalchuk.
The Kings are still a long way away from the postseason. It took 90 points for Colorado to claim the last playoff spot in the West this season. Fans regularly complained that Desjardins didn’t show much passion on the bench or in media interviews. Plenty of coaches are vanilla in press conferences, with today’s players basically not accepting of coaches throwing them under the bus to the media as, say, John Totorella does after every questionable loss.
A more vocal coach wouldn’t have really mattered this year, but stretches like the one where they lost 16 out of 18 with messaging such as “we have to get the young guys going” and “we played well other than a few minutes in the third” would have made all of this feel a lot better.
Desjardins could have used some reaction from his team, but seldom received any outside of postgame tirades and that’s on the players. This was a soft team, which Blake has to address. Still, Desjardins just didn’t make enough good decisions and overplayed his aging core night in and night out.
The constant line manipulating was a painful spot with his players. You can do all the fiddling you want at practice but when you get into a game, players want consistency, keeping the lines running together for a handful of games to see if chemistry develops. Too often, Desjardins would have some new trios and they would be gone by the end of the first period.
Was Desjardins catering to the GM with his peculiar over-reliance on Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Dustin Brown? Why were young guys regulated to eight minutes a night in meaningless games? Why did Kyle Clifford spend half the season on the second line while Ilya Kovalchuk played limited minutes and was eventually left behind on the last Canadian road trip to “work on his skills”?
The young guys situation was a head coach foolishly going with veteran players over rookies who would have been better. And Desjardins completely overused Kopitar and Doughty to the point where the former Norris Trophy finalist’s season cratered to the tune of a minus-34 rating, and our Hart finalist’s production plunged 33% on the offensive side of the puck.
The Kings didn’t tank games as much as obliterating any chance of winning them before they even hit the ice most nights. And, if things were going too well on a particular night Willie D. had all the tricks to alter the outcomes of tight games. You know, like slide your offensive players to the 4th line, forget to call a time out, overplay your key superstars, challenge a play that won’t possibly be overturned, play unproductive players game after game. Every part of this should be on interim head coach Willie Desjardins’ epitaph.
However, the last 69 games probably illustrated that this is a case where Desjardins is a good man better suited to be an assistant rather than a head coach.
The Kings are reportedly targeting Todd McLellan as their next top man, and as Los Angeles fans fully understand, hiring a former Sharks coach usually works out pretty, pretty good.