Our look at the Kings in the final edition of the season preview ends with the coaches and GM Dean Lombardi. Let’s start from the bottom up.
“Old Vein, New Blood.”
Within the business world, there are two common schools of thought on building around a CEO – build the subordinates with strengths the center lacks or surround the center with those of like mind. The Kings’ hiring of John Stevens echoes the latter.
John Stevens was a career AHL defensive defenseman. He played only 53 games with the Flyers and Whalers combined. He coached the Philadelphia Phantoms for 6 years and won the AHL Calder Cup in 2005. In 2006, he took the helm as Flyers’ head coach, replacing Ken Hitchcock. The Flyers were nothing shot of awful that season (56 points) but rebounded the next with 95 points. They lost that year to the Penguins in the conference finals. The Flyers fired him in December of 2009. John is familiar with coach Murray. Very familiar. Murray was his assistant for part of John’s tenure with the Flyers.
Who is John Stevens? A former defenseman who came up through the Flyers’ system and whose strongest trait is to teach defense. That should sound and look familiar. I don’t expect Stevens to bring a different look or style to the Kings’ defense. What I expect is Terry Murray will have his like-minded assistant preaching from the same book.
“Just score baby!”
That’s what Jamie wants. That’s all he should want. As a fifth year assistant with the Kings, Jamie runs the Kings’ powerplay. This past season saw the special teams reach a 20.8% conversion rate for seventh best in the league. That’s pretty good. That also means the pressure will be on to match or exceed that mark. Kompon doesn’t come into this season with too many new faces on the powerplay unit with the exception of possibly Willie Mitchell on the second with one of Thomas Hickey, Jake Muzzin or I suppose (but doubt) another rookie. I struggle to see Scuderi or Greene on the powerplay. Doughty and Johnson should be the regular firsts. The Kings may mix it up from time to time and play four forwards. Hopefully, Jamie can capture that magical special teams that blew us away through most of the Kings v. Canucks first round playoffs. Hopefully, Jarret Stoll can keep his shot about three feet lower than usual.
Looking back at the playoffs, was it as simple as Kompon putting Doughty and a more mature Johnson together? No. It was giving the opposition different looks verses running the same dump and chase, cycle, point shot formation. The Kings were creative on the powerplay and it forced the defense to make adjustments on the fly that they were either incapable or unprepared to make. If the scrimmages and drills I saw in training camp are any indication of the adjustments on special teams, look for Kopitar to take his game down low and be involved in the traffic. Dustin Brown may be the puck carrier into the zone and the first pass high to a defenseman or down low to Kopitar. Doughty and Johnson – more lateral movement. Shooting into the defender’s skates won’t do it. We need lanes and each of their skating ability should open one more times than not.
The Kings’ success depends much on that powerplay. That powerplay relies on Kompon’s competence and creativity.
“I shuffle and therefore I am.”
I kid Terry.
He killed me last season.
Between riding Quick too long and hard, the incessant line shuffling, parental love for Randy Jones and the head ache inducing dump and chase, I attribute 20% of my 10-15 gray hairs to coach Murray…of course, Terry has a few gray hairs of his own which speak of experience, wisdom and a few ups and downs in his long and forked coaching career.
Do I expect coach Murray to change? Maybe.
More importantly, I expect the new team makeup will force changes. He can’t ride Quick anymore because he now has Bernier. He can still juggle lines but has more options this season versus last. I hope, if nothing else, that will bring stability to the first and third line while the second and fourth may be doomed for weekly adjustments. Randy Jones is in Tampa Bay now and I already have LAKingsNews security personnel in position at the airports to shoot to kill if there is any potential for a return…except for November 4. I nearly keeled over in shock when coach Murray announced that he intends to play a puck possession game this season.
So, is it possible that for the first time in longer than I care to remember, I am actually relaxed about the Kings’ coaching? Again, maybe…that is until Williams moves to the fourth line, Westgarth comes to the second and Surly and I put our face in our respective beers.
“Take the rest of the day off.”
Two things you can never deny about Lombardi. His passion & the commitment to his vision. I asked Dean during the Hockey Fest “State of the Kings” about the CBA, specifically what impact, if any, the CBA has made and continues to make on his decisions & what he foresees will occur in the upcoming CBA…yes, that was me who asked that question, the one that got him riled up and into a zealous and fiery recitation of his views on free agency, the role reversal of veterans making less money and the kids making more as well as the various serious problems with the current CBA and the league’s direction. Surly & I smiled more than once when he told the listening audience the concern that his statements would get him fined while he at no time actually held back about his views on the subject. It’s hard not to like Dean and I do. Surly does as well. He is committed to his path for this team and so are we. Mistakes along the way? Yes. Many. Cloutier, Blake (the signing, the money and the NTC), McCauley, and Crawford. But there is also Jack Johnson, Jonathan Bernier, Wayne Simmonds, Ryan Smyth, Justin Williams, Surly’s man crush Kyle Clifford, the patience to be bad so the team can get better and eventually good, the building and infusion of character and integrity in each player and coach (“not one jerk in the room”) as well as (with the Blake, Cloutier and McCauley exceptions) decent management of the cap in an era teams are either struggling under economic imposed budgets or drowning in their gluttony.
Dean still has some unfinished business. Specifically, we still need that 2nd line center and 1st line left wing. I have faith and I do believe one of them will be in our possession before the trade deadline.
Dean is the Man. Like it or not, he guides this ship and when the Kings (when, not if) reach that next plateau of success and push onward, I want to see him at its head. I sometimes remind Kings fans when they complain about Lombardi that he has a thankless job. If the team succeeds, most of the success is bestowed on the players and coaches. If the team fails, you always look to the top. Surly and I talked with Dean for 15 minutes off the record at Hockey Fest. Trust me boys and girls. Failure is not an option.