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Another coach is out as Kings dismiss Desjardins

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In the least surprising (but still kind of grim) coaching news of the day, the Willie Desjardins era is over for the Los Angeles Kings.

Desjardins, 62, went 27-34-8 as interim head coach of the Kings, taking over after Los Angeles fired John Stevens. It was a dismal time for all involved, particularly Ilya Kovalchuk, who clashed with the ‘stached head coach in a fairly public way.

The Kings’ release tops other teams wording of “relieving” coaches of duties by “thanking” Desjardins for his time as interim head coach. How nice.

“Today we thanked Willie Desjardins for his effort and dedication while serving as our interim head coach,” GM Rob Blake said via the team release. “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.”

If you ever want an example of how quickly things can change in the NHL, consider this:

  • In 2014, Desjardins rejected an offer to coach the Pittsburgh Penguins, instead choosing the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Since then, the Penguins won two Stanley Cups. Desjardins coached two different teams over four seasons, never making the postseason.

Or, in picture form, from:

Los Angeles Kings interim coach Willie Desjardins reacts to a question from reporters after his first practice with his new team on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Los Angeles. Desjardins is taking over for the fired John Stevens with hopes of improving the Kings' NHL-worst start to the season. (AP Photo/Greg Beacham)
via AP

to:

via Getty

Life comes at you fast; hockey comes at you even faster.

In a way, it almost feels like the Kings’ stock as a viable contender has plummeted along with Desjardins’ as a coach. With the Panthers and Sabres also among those looking for a new coach, the Kings face a challenge in identifying their next head coach. Granted, the Kings face arguably a different set of questions, as they must weigh their aging, expensive roster (Anze Kopitar is 31 and Drew Doughty is 29, and they’ll cost $21 million combined starting next season) with the possibility that they might need to do at least a minor rebuild.

It’s not looking like a straightforward, easy situation, but either way, it was abundantly clear that Desjardins wasn’t the solution, either.

Other firings on Sunday

Sabres part ways with Phil Housley.

Panthers fire Bob Boughner.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Kings’ bizarre handling of Kovalchuk situation

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

•  Ilya Kovalchuk is one year into a three-year, $18 million contract with the Los Angeles Kings and things are not going well between him and the organization at the moment. Right now the Kings’ handling of the situation just seems bizarre. (Los Angeles Times)

• The Ottawa Senators are looking to add a director of hockey operations for what owner Eugene Melnyk calls, “another voice.” (Ottawa Citizen)

•  The NHL’s current playoff format is definitely controversial because of some of the early round matchups it creates that eliminate some of the best teams in the league earlier than they otherwise would be. (TSN)

• Like Connor McDavid a year ago, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is having an MVP caliber season, but one with an asterisk. Mainly because his team is not very good and will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (The Hockey News)

• This year’s Philadelphia Flyers team has been an analytics nightmare. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

Patrik Laine had a chance to snap out of his goal-scoring drought but decided to set up a teammate instead, an unselfish act that was a smooth move. (Winnipeg Free Press)

• There are some signs of health for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ injured defense. (Sportsnet)

•  The Boston Bruins have been crushed by injuries for most of the 2018-19 season but they are starting to get some reinforcements back. (Bruins Daily)

• ACHA looks to lose “club hockey” label at Texas tournament. (NHL.com)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Svechnikov making huge impact for Hurricanes

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For the better part of the past decade there have always been two things consistently holding the Carolina Hurricanes back.

The obvious one that always got the most attention was the fact they could never get their goaltending situation quite right.

Cam Ward never recaptured the magic he had during his rookie season Stanley Cup run, and there always seemed to be a revolving door of potential replacements that just could not fill that role.

The other big factor, one that always seemed to get overlooked in an endless barrage of “why can’t this team ever find a goalie,” was the fact that for all of their dominance as a puck possession team on the shot chart, they never really had any forwards that were great finishers. Jeff Skinner was really good for a few years, but he was always the only one and he could never do it all on his own.

The emergence of Sebastian Aho as a bonafide star, as well as the in-season trade for Nino Niederreiter, have helped address that issue in the short-term. But there is another player on the roster that might make an even bigger impact in that area in the future, and he is starting to make his presence felt as the Hurricanes enter the stretch run of the regular season and look to secure their first playoff berth since the 2008-09 season.

That player: No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov.

When the Hurricanes picked Svechnikov at the top of the 2018 draft there was obviously a great deal of hope that he could become a superstar player for the organization, and maybe the type of elite goal-scorer every contending team needs to win.

His performance as a rookie should give Hurricanes fans — and the team itself — a lot of hope that he can blossom into that type of player.

Perhaps sooner rather than later.

He is not going to win the Calder Trophy because Vancouver Canucks phenom Elias Pettersson seems to already have that award locked up (while goalies Jordan Binnington and Carter Hart are making pretty strong runs of their own), but we should not overlook just how good his rookie season has been. Because it has been outstanding, and probably better than you realize.

His overtime goal on Sunday night, lifting the Hurricanes to another come-from-behind win where they turned what looked to be a frustrating loss into an improbable victory, was his 20th of the season, a mark that is good enough for third on the team behind only Aho and team captain Justin Williams.

That alone is impressive for a rookie, but also consider the fact that he is still only 18 years old.

Hitting the 20-goal mark at this stage of his development puts him in some pretty exclusive company.

First, he is just the 22nd player to ever score at least 20 goals in the NHL as an 18-year-old.

Eleven of those previous instances took place between 1980 and 1993 when goal-scoring in the NHL was at its peak. He is one of just eight players to do it since 1994, a list that includes only Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Steven Stamkos and Patrik Laine.

Not impressive enough?

Consider that his shooting percentage of 11.6 is the second lowest of any of the previous 18-year-olds to top the 20-goal mark, which should really be seen as a positive sign for the future as it indicates that he isn’t really benefitting from a strong run of good luck, or that any of this early success is a fluke. He is generating more than 2.30 shots per game, which is the fourth most of any rookie in the NHL this season regardless of age even though he is only averaging around 14 minutes of ice-time per game.

When you take his ice-time into account his ability to generate shots and chances (and goals) looks even better.

Of the 150 forwards that have played at least 900 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season, Svechnikov ranks 33rd in total shot attempts per 60 minutes, and 22nd in shots on goal per 60 minutes. The biggest part of scoring goals is actually putting yourself in a position to take shots and having the ability to get them on net. At 18, he is already showing that he has the ability to do that at a top-line level. 

Over Carolina’s past seven games, he has five goals, including Sunday’s game-winner and two in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche where he had a hand in every goal the Hurricanes scored (he scored two of them himself).

The Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s best teams for three months now and have an exciting young core of players in place.

Out of their top-12 scorers this season, only four of them (Justin Williams at 37, Michael Ferland, Nino Niederreiter, and Jordan Martinook all at 26) are over the age of 25.

Six of them are age 24 or younger, including the 21-year-old Aho and still 18-year-old Svechnikov.

Together, those two are looking they could be one of the league’s most exciting duos for years to come and be the foundation of a team that might finally put hockey in Carolina back on the NHL’s map.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

What is Kovalchuk’s future with Kings?

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When Ilya Kovalchuk returned to the NHL this season both he and the Los Angeles Kings were probably expecting better results than this.

The Kings, after making the playoffs a year ago, have been one of the worst teams in the NHL and look like a franchise that is in dire of need of a rebuild. They changed coaches early in the season, made a handful of trades, and have a ton more work to do this summer to hit the reset button on a franchise that has become completely stale.

Kovalchuk, meanwhile, has managed just 14 goals and 31 total points in his 60 games and has found himself as a healthy scratch on more than one occasion, and especially recently as the team tries to look toward the future in what has become a lost season.

That coaching change earlier in the season, which saw Willie Desjardins take over behind the bench for John Stevens, seems to have been a turning point in Kovalchuk’s season, at least based on what he said on Friday when talking about his latest healthy scratch.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“After Willie came here, I don’t have a chance,” Kovalchuk said. “I play five, six minutes a game. A few games I play with Kopi. We did well. We score all five games, but then he decided to change and I never play again much. That’s the way he sees the situation. He’s the head coach and he’s responsible for results.”

There is some evidence to back up that claim as it relates to his playing time.

In the first month of the season Kovalchuk was playing close to 20 minutes per game and had eight points in his first 11 games under Stevens. In the five months that have followed under Desjardins his average ice-time by month has been 15:09, 14:17, 17:25, 16:13, and most recently 14:46 in March. There was an injury mixed in there that robbed of him some games, but he has also found himself as a healthy scratch as the team dresses seven defenders and only 11 forwards, and has also had four games this season (all under Desjardins) where he has played under 12 minutes, including three under 10 minutes.

Given his age, reduced role, and obviously declining production, as well as the fact the Kings are clearly looking to rebuild it should certainly bring his future with the team into some sort of question.

He still has two more years at more than $6.25 million per season remaining on his contract. He also has a no-movement clause and a limited no-trade clause in the final year, according to CapFriendly.

So he would hold a lot of cards in where he might end up playing if it is not Los Angeles.

Still, he told the media on Friday that he is not looking to move on and that his family has settled into the Los Angeles area.

Again, via the Los Angeles Times:

“It’s another challenge for me,” Kovalchuk said. “I’m even more motivated now because [this has happened] … like, it’s not fair to me but I’m not going to cry in the pillow. The sun’s up and the kids are in school and they’re happy and that’s most important thing. I will find a way to go through this, for sure.”

All of it together creates an interesting situation for everyone involved. If the Kings really do go through with a full-on rebuild it is hard to see how Kovalchuk would fit in those long-term plans, especially if the current coach isn’t willing to play him and he isn’t happy with that role.

While he may not be the 45-50 goal scorer that he was during the first part of his career in the NHL, we also don’t really know what he is still capable of at this level because he might have in the worst possible situation for offense this season. Not only because of the way he has been used, but because the Kings are once again one of the league’s worst offensive hockey teams. He may not be actively searching for a fresh start on another team, but it may be the best thing for everybody involved.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBCSN: Anaheim looking to build off recent success vs. Kings

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Battle of the Bottom Feeders will feature the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night.

The Kings sit dead last in the Western Conference while the Ducks come in at the 14th spot, one better than their Sunday night foes. Both teams have struggled mightily to score this year, too, with Anaheim dead last with 156 goals for and Los Angeles only three tallies better at 159.

Still, the Ducks haven’t packed it in yet. They’ve won three of their past four outings after losing five straight and came off a monster 8-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Friday for their highest single-game goal count of the season.

The Canadiens started Carey Price in that game and the Ducks saw that as bulletin board material.

“They saved [Price] for tonight, so we took that as a challenge,” Adam Henrique said after the game. “You never want to be the team that somebody thinks they can come into your building and win.”

Ryan Getzlaf will be featured on Star Sunday for the Ducks. His team’s struggles have been mirrored in his own play this season, with no goals in his past 10 games and just two in his past 29.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

For the Kings, any win will be a welcomed change as they come into Sunday losers of 13 of their past 14 (1-9-4), including six straight.

This will be the first season since 2003-04 that neither of these teams has made the playoffs and the Kings haven’t won a playoff series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2014. Los Angeles has missed the playoffs in two of the past four seasons.

The addition of 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk, who signed a 3-year, $18.75M contract in July ($6.25M AAV), hasn’t panned out as intended. The Russian has just 30 points in 57 games this season (14 goals, 16 assists). He has just one goal in his past eight games.

Drew Doughty will be the Kings’ representative on Star Sunday. He’s second in the NHL averaging 26:50 time on ice per game this season. His plus/minus rating has seen a whopping 53 point swing this season, going from plus-23 last year to minus-30 this season.

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Brian Hayward (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Anaheim.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck