Confirmed: Willie Desjardins will not return to the Kings next season
In other news, water is wet.
In a move that surprises no one, the Los Angeles Kings have declined to offer Willie Desjardins a new contract. While Rob Blake spent most of the season not ruling out Desjardins as a possible hire for the 2019-20 season, the combination of poor results, unclear on-ice structure, and puzzling player decisions made it clear very early on that Desjardins would not be afforded another chance with this particular team.
Desjardins, introduced as the Kings’ interim head coach on November 4, 2019, after John Stevens was relieved of duties, had a rocky start, losing six of his first 10 games. Two of the four wins came in overtime. Things didn’t get any better from there. Desjardins finished the season with a 27-34-8 record and very quickly appeared as though he was already resigned to his fate as a one-and-done coach.
Whether it was the frequent benching and scratching of Ilya Kovalchuk, the insistence on running an 11 forward/seven defenseman format towards the end of the season, limited usage of young players down the stretch when the Kings were already eliminated, or that very public shouting match with Jonathan Quick after a failure to challenge a goal against, Desjardins’ tenure with the Kings wasn’t marked with many feel-good moments. The wins often seemed to come despite Desjardins, not because of him, and the good memories — major milestones for players like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, for example — generally didn’t have much to do with the on-ice product.
While we’ll have more on the short-lived Desjardins era over the course of the week, what’s clear is that Rob Blake has his work cut out for him. The general consensus on the Kings via the media is that no coach could have won with this roster as presently constructed, but they perhaps could have won a bit more, and built a bit more of a foundation for the future, had the man at the helm of things this season done a bit better of a job.
Blake, via the Kings, released a brief statement today, saying:
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.
Former San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McClellan appears to be the frontrunner for the job, but with other teams likely courting the experienced coach, it’s no sure thing as of right now.
The future of the Kings franchise may be altered more by the next head coach than it will by wherever the Kings land in the draft lottery. Whether the next bench boss has a wealth of NHL experience or none at all, he’s going to have to be able to find a way to connect with this team’s veterans and bridge the gap between the experienced core and the next generation of NHL regulars.