The Los Angeles Kings put an end to the John Stevens era on Sunday afternoon, firing the coach just 13 games into his second season behind their bench. Given how horrendous they looked in their first-round playoff exit a year ago, and how much they have struggled this season, some sort of a change somewhere in the organization seemed inevitable. The coach is usually the first place teams look in a last-ditch effort to save a season that is teetering on the brink of falling apart.
Maybe Stevens wasn’t the right coach for the Kings.
Maybe the team needed a different voice and some new ideas and a new approach and a new system.
But even if all of that is true there should be no mistaking that the Kings’ decision on Sunday is nothing more than a short-term band-aid on what has become a run-of-the-mill franchise with a growing list of long-term problems.
[Related: Kings fire John Stevens]
Last February I argued that the Kings were one of the aging, veteran teams in the NHL that were in dire need of a top-to-bottom overhaul. They were short on high-end talent, short on youth, short on speed, and still trying to play a brand of hockey from an era that no longer exists.
Their solution over the summer: To bring a 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk back from Russia following a five year absence from the NHL.
And that was it.
And while Kovalchuk has been as good as the Kings could have possibly expected him to be (he actually leads the team in scoring with 11 points in 13 games), he alone was never going to be enough to fix a stagnant offense that looked like it was playing a completely different, and not to mention vastly inferior, game than the Vegas team that skated circles around them in the playoffs. An offense that has finished higher than 14th in goals scored once over the past decade. An offense that, more often than not, is in the bottom-five of the league.
Unless he brought a time machine back from Russia that could transport him back to 2009 he was not going to be able to make the Kings younger or faster, two of the biggest issues currently plaguing the current organization. He was just going to be another mid-30s player that is a fraction of his former dominant self on a team built around mid-30s players that are fractions of their once dominant selves.
Here is the current situation the Kings are facing on the day they fired their coach.
- They are at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, already eight points out of a playoff spot, and facing a daunting mountain when it comes to making the postseason. This after missing the playoffs in two of the previous four seasons and not making it out of the first round since 2014.
- They are the second oldest team in the NHL and still play at a glacial pace.
- They have one of the biggest salary cap numbers in the league and do not have any big contracts coming off the books after this season.
- They only have three players on the roster right now under the age of 25 that have appeared in more than eight games this season. Those three players — Austin Wagner, Michael Amadio, and Adrian Kempe — are all averaging less than 12 minutes of ice-time per game and have combined for three points this season.
- They have seven players over the age of 31 signed for at least three more seasons.
- The key players that are still in the prime of their careers, specifically Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, are simply … okay. They are decent middle-six players, but if either one of them ever gives you 50 points in a season it would be considered a huge success. They are not core players to build around.
Anything there that excites you?
Just about the best thing you could say about this Kings team right now to offer any sort of short-term hope is that Anze Kopitar has yet to play his best hockey this season, and that they are finally getting Dustin Brown back in the lineup after he missed the first month of the season.
But is Brown going to be able to repeat his 2017-18 performance, which is looking like a pretty significant outlier given where his career has gone over the past four years? Is Kopitar going to be able to provide enough offense to drag the rest of the team behind him again?
And that’s not even getting into the fact they are going to be playing backup goalies for the next few weeks as Jonathan Quick remains sidelined.
Whether it is John Stevens, or Willie Desjardins, or some yet-to-be-named coach that is sitting at home waiting for a phone call, it is going to be a huge ask to expect them to make something out of this current setup.
Even after firing the coach, the Kings are still a team in need of a rebuild.
It is a team that has been in need of a rebuild for maybe two years now.
Unfortunately for them no one in the organization seems to realize it yet.