NHL coaches can change lineups but they can’t change rosters.
John Stevens is no exception.
The recently dismissed coach of the Los Angeles Kings was given less than a hundred games to turn around a team still resting on the laurels of two Stanley Cup championships. . .under a different coach.
Stevens, who coached the Flyers from 2006 to 2009, had been an assistant under former Kings coach Darryl Sutter during those title years.
Due to the success of the Kings, Stevens received offers from other teams to take over their programs but, ever the loyal soldier, he decided to stick around Los Angeles, knowing his day would probably come.
When that day arrived, Stevens was aware getting things back on track would not be easy.
For instance, goaltender Jonathan Quick has been oft-injured the past few years and this season is no exception.
Also, the overall age of the team is one of the highest in the NHL.
When Stevens took over last season, he managed to get the team to the playoffs – barely. The Kings were quickly sent packing in the first round by the Cinderella Vegas Golden Knights.
This year seemed to hold promise at the outset.
The Kings won the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes and were expecting big things from the Russian free agent, a proven performer in his first tour of duty with the NHL.
And a talented cast of characters, featuring Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter were all back and healthy.
But the first warning signs of trouble came with a very slow start.
Stevens maintained a calm presence behind the bench and reportedly didn’t tip over buffet tables as the losses mounted.
Maybe he should have.
Thing is, the Kings didn’t show enough patience with this reserved but intense coach, didn’t give him enough time to stamp his brand on a team which needs an overhaul.
Claude Giroux, the only current Flyer to have played for Stevens, indicated he was sorry to hear the news about the coach’s termination.
“He’s a very intense coach, demands a lot from his players,’’ Giroux observed. “When I came in the league, I was just a young player. I remember one day, he pulled me aside and said, ‘if you’re not the hardest working guy in practice, you’re not going to play.’
“That kind of pushed me to work hard in practice. Looking back, I was pretty lucky to have him.’’
Truth be told, Stevens is a winner.
He took the Philadelphia Phantoms (now Lehigh Valley) to the 2004-05 Calder Cup. He was also an important teacher on the Kings’ title clubs.
Doughty says as much.
“When he was my ‘D’ coach, he did help me with some things for sure and made me a better player and a better person, so I guess I did some thinking on my own on just kind of how we could have done better to keep him here because you never want to see someone go and get fired,” Doughty said.
Clearly something was off. But to gas somebody less than 20 games into the season coming off a year where the team made the playoffs seems a bit much.
Yet, in this day and age where results mean everything and there’s a “what have you done for us lately?’’ anybody is fair game.
Just ask Chicago’s Joel Quenneville, who was let go a few days after Stevens despite three Stanley Cups on his resume.
Stevens will find work before too long and may even get another kick at the can as a head coach.
He just needs to find the right situation. Los Angeles wasn’t that place.
Maybe these teams’ general managers should take a look in the mirror and question whether they did enough with their rosters to keep their teams in contention.
“When a team’s not doing well, they try to change things up,’’ said Giroux, perhaps mindful that his own coach, Dave Hakstol, may face a judgment day of his own one of these seasons. “Obviously Quenneville’s been there 10, 11 years. Sometimes they switch things up to move forward.
“I don’t know what the reasons were for both of them but they’re real good coaches.’’
Around the NHL
The Uber driver who released a recording of Ottawa players in his vehicle badmouthing a coach calls it “the dumbest decision of his life.’’ Well, the lesson to be learned here, according to several Flyers, is to never let your guard down. There are cameras and recording devices everywhere. The rule of thumb should always be: “Watch what you say.’’. . .
Not sure why there’s been so much controversy about the Evgeni Malkin-T.J. Oshie collision the other night. Pittsburgh’s Malkin raised his shoulder just as Washington’s Oshie was about to make contact, basically decking the Capital player. Malkin got a match penalty but no supplemental discipline. We say none should have been given. If Oshie is going to engage a player with Malkin’s reputation, it’s buyer beware. . .
N.J. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur enters the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday and you won’t get an argument from the Flyers. Marty owned the orange and black, going all the way back to the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. He finished with a 50-31-6-4 record against Philadelphia, including a 2.37 goals-against average and 12 shutouts.
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