You know, maybe I should have waited a bit on doing that last post previewing the game between the Kings and Bruins tomorrow where I talked about how I wasn’t going to address the coaching rumours until something actually happened, and talked like Murray was actually going to be behind the bench for that game…
That’s because, just minutes after I posted it, it was confirmed that Terry Murray will not be behind the Kings bench for that game. Yes, in his fourth season with the Kings, in the midst of a four-game losing streak and a disappointing season so far, the Kings fired head coach Terry Murray, a decision Dean Lombardi admits he was left with little choice but to do.
Now, of course, not all of the blame lands on Murray’s shoulders. A lot also lies with the players. After all, was Murray the one shanking shots wide? Missing open nets? Failing to cover on wrap-arounds? Taking stupid penalties? Taking ridiculous windups on shots so the shooting lanes close (ahem, Doughty), over-passing, getting too cute, and passing up easy shots? No. However, was he responsible for the players who were? Was he responsible for changing the attitude and culture on this team? Was he responsible for getting this team ready to compete every night (he even admitted that he wasn’t a motivator and that was the job of the players)? Was he responsible for making adjustments to emphasize his players’ strengths? Was he responsible for making in-game adjustments when things aren’t working? Yes, he was.
Quite simply, this just wasn’t good enough. Terry Murray looked lifeless behind the bench most of the time and showed no emotion, and sometimes, his team resembled him on the ice. As one NHL source put it, Murray needed to do more with two franchise centres, a franchise defenseman, and solid wings in LA. The Minnesota Wild are doing way more with far less. Yes, the Kings went through tough stretches like this last season too, and found ways to pull out of it. This year, though, expectations were far higher, and Lombardi could wait no longer hoping for them to pull out of it.
It’s not that early in the season anymore. We’re 29 games through an 82-game season. The half-season mark is right around the corner, and this is a team that was expected to contend for the Stanley Cup this season. Well, the Kings are 13-12-4, for 30 points in 29 games. They are fourth in the Pacific Division, 12th in the Western Conference, and 21st in the NHL, not to mention having the worst offense in the NHL. It just wasn’t good enough, not with the pressure that’s on this team to perform and make a long playoff run this season.
As much as I ripped on him and I thought there needed to be a coaching change, this needs to be said about Terry Murray. He did a good job for this franchise. When he took over after the 2007-2008 season, he was inheriting a team that was coming off a season where they finished tied for dead last in the NHL, and allowed the third most goals in the NHL, surrendering an average of 3.21 goals against per game. Murray came in and stabilized this franchise and turned them in the right direction. He was a great, patient teacher for a young team, and taught this team how to play responsible defense. He got them back to the playoffs.
Terry Murray served his purpose here. When he was hired, he was largely seen as a bridge coach. A coach who would come in and teach this team defense and help mentor this young team and get them back to the playoffs. Well, mission accomplished. Unfortunately, he’s not the coach who can take this team to the next level. He took them from a bottom-feeder to a playoff team, but that was as far as he could take them. As one unnamed Kings player said today in regard to the firing “I think it had to happen. We were dead.” Now, the Kings need a coach who’s going to take them from playoff team to championship team. Terry Murray wasn’t going to be that coach.
But, he ran his course here and did exactly what he was supposed to do here, and for that, I thank him. I sincerely, deeply thank Terry Murray for what he did for this franchise. I wish him the best of luck in the future, wherever it leads him. He truly does seem like a good guy, and he can be good coach with another team in this league if he chooses to resume coaching one day. He’s just not the right coach for this team anymore.
Meanwhile, John Stevens, who has served as an assistant coach for the Kings since the start of last season, will take over as head coach on an interim basis. Previously as a head coach, Stevens coached the Philadelphia Phantoms, former AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, from 2000-2006, leading them to a Calder Cup championship in 2004-2005. After the 2005-2006 season, Stevens was promoted to an assistant coach with the Flyers. Shortly after the next season (2006-2007) started, the Flyers were a disaster, so Ken Hitchcock was fired and Stevens took over as head coach. The Flyers were a mess that season, finishing dead last in the NHL, but the next season, Stevens helped the Flyers immeditately re-establish themselves as they finished sixth in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. The next season, the Flyers finished fifth in the East, but were eliminated in the first round. The next season, Stevens was fired under very similar circumstances that Murray was fired, and around this point of the season as well. The Flyers made big off-season moves and were supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender, but were underperforming so Stevens was fired. He was unemployed for the rest of that season before being hired as an assistant coach with the Kings before last season. By the way, that year, the Flyers ended up not really turning things around after the coaching change, barely qualifying for the playoffs, but then making a playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals… A preview of what this season holds for the Kings, perhaps?
Overall, Stevens’ record in parts of four seasons with the Flyers was 120-109-34. Stevens is a similar coach to Murray (just a lot younger) in the way that he has a very similar system and a very calm demeanor. Which may be bad in the sense that more of a change may be needed, but on the other hand, perhaps just more of a fresh face at the helm was needed for this team, rather than a change of system (although I think that is needed as well). I just hope that he’s better at personnel decisions, match ups and in-game managing and adjusting than Murray was. Besides, John Stevens didn’t get to be a coach in the NHL by being dumb. He’s a smart guy. I’m sure he sees that what Murray was doing wasn’t working for this team anymore and that it got him fired, so I’m sure Stevens will at least tinker with things, rather than essentially beating his head into a brick wall. Maybe it will be a good thing that the whole system and demeanor behind the bench change so they don’t need to learn a whole new system and whole new type of play, but at least the person does. Hopefully that’s all that the Kings need to turn this around, and this should be quite the wake up call. Dean Lombardi had a meeting with the players today where he ripped into them and was furious at having to fire Murray, so hopefully the players get the message that now there’s no excuses. They got rid of the coach. If they don’t start performing now, they’re going to be next.
That said, I don’t think Stevens is going to end up being the long-term coach. This is his job until they find a new coach, but when will that be? Will it be soon? Will it even be this season, or will they wait until the summer and re-evaluate? My guess is that they will find their new permanent coach soon. This season is too important for the Kings, Dean Lombardi could be the next to go if the Kings don’t make it at least out of the first round of the playoffs, so he’s going to want to have a full-time coaching staff behind the bench that’s he’s confident in and comfortable with. Is he comfortable with John Stevens and the rest of the current coaching staff on a full-time basis, or even to lead this team to success for the rest of this season? I’m not sure about that. Now that Murray’s gone, I think he’ll want to go out and find another guy who he likes. I don’t think he brought John Stevens here in the first place to be anything more than an assistant coach. Who that coach is and when he gets hired remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is if Stevens and the rest of this current coaching staff will be retained under the new head coach, once they find one, or if he will want to bring his own coaching staff in.
So, these are interesting times to be a Kings fan. Who will the next coach be, and when will he be hired? For now, let’s see how the team responds to this, starting Tuesday night in Boston. Also, it will be very interesting to see if the team improves offensively now that Murray’s gone. This should be one of the best offensive teams in the league, instead they are the worst. This is going to be an interesting team to watch to see how they respond to this.