We interrupt what should have been another Line Change on the Fly article to bring you a relatively comprehensive analysis on the Terry Murray firing and subsequent John Stevens hiring. Those articles will be rerouted to this Friday and Saturday. You can blame Dean Lombardi for the change in schedule, or Drew Doughty. Yeah, it’s all Doughty’s fault…
Earlier this evening, it was announced head coach Terry Murray would be relieved of his duties by the Los Angeles Kings. The long-time bench boss, who was one win away from hitting the 500 victory plateau, will be replaced by assistant coach and former Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Stevens.
While Stevens will be employed on an interim basis, it is important for us to take a look at his possible impact on a Kings squad that ranks 29th in goals forced. So will he be able to turn this maligned and underachieving group around?
His reign with the Flyers was one of peaks and valleys. Stevens took over for fired coach Ken Hitchcock just eight games into the season and led the team to the worst season in team history — the team finished with only 56 points which helped them select James van Riemsdyk.
From there, Stevens would lead the team to one of the better comeback seasons in NHL history as the Flyers made the conference finals. After leading the Adirondack Flyers to a Calder Cup during the lockout, many of his star players such as current King Mike Richards as well as Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger helped lead his team back to respectability. In other words, his teachings can translate across leagues as in theory across teams and Conferences.
However, as we previously explained, his tenure with the Flyers was one of peaks and valleys. Despite a 120-109-34 record, Stevens went through two 10-game long losing streaks and was fired after the Flyers won just one of their past seven games. When he’s going strong, he can be a top coach in the League, when he’s off, he simply is not.
After giving a bit of background on the former Flyers defenseman, let’s take a look at how his teams stacked up in some important fantasy hockey categories:
We chose to omit his final season due to such a short sample size but it should be noted that his teams have taken a nosedive in the past. You can also see that his strong teams in ’07-’08 and ’08-’09 ranked quite favorably in all goaltending categories. It also shows that Antero Niittymaki and Martin Biron were much better than their results.
One could argue that the team’s in Philadelphia were much more talented with Richards, Carter, Umberger, while veterans Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul created a well-balanced attack. However, the Kings as currently configured are no slouches with Richards and Gagne as well as superstar Anze Kopitar, captain Dustin Brown and solid supplementary players Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams.
Furthermore, the Kings are much more talented between the pipes with Jonathan Quick becoming an elite starting goaltender, backed up by an elite up-and-comer in Jonathan Bernier. So, if Stevens stays as interim coach, the team could in theory put together a string of wins.
By comparison, let’s see how Murray stacked up in his three-plus seasons in the City of Angels:
Murray’s second season was especially good as he had 10 forwards with 10-or-more goals scored, and Drew Doughty posting an incredible 16-goal, 59-point campaign. Everything seemed to come into place, including the improvement of Quick, who as you can see has helped drive down the team’s goals against and save percentage in every season. However, after that season there appears to be a drop off.
Well, a drop off could be one way of putting it. The other way of putting it is the team simply was not that good after losing key members like Michal Handzus, Wayne Simmonds, Ryan Smyth and Alexander Frolov over the last two seasons. Their depth was depleted making their excellent season look like a mirage in an otherwise underachieving couple of years.
Another theory was the loss of Williams and Kopitar last season which sent them into a tailspin and made them easy victims of a first round playoff exit. The not-so-distant memory of their failed season combined with coming out of the gate flat urged GM Dean Lombardi to make a move — a decision he assuredly did not want to make.
Nevertheless, one of two things will happen. The first option is Stevens lighting a fire under this club, improving their offense while giving up a bit more defensively. In this instance, Kopitar, Brown, Williams and Dustin Penner would benefit from more freedom on the ice.
The second option is what has happened in Washington, Carolina and Anaheim, which is a continuation in the trending play. Although this scenario appears somewhat unrealistic when considering the plethora of talent in Los Angeles, it is certainly possible. However, losing Mike Richards and many of the team’s top defenders likely played into the team’s current slump — a drought which allowed the team to push only three goals against rookies Matt Hackett and Richard Bachman.
According to Lombardi himself, Stevens has an indefinite timeline as head coach. He could be with the team for the rest of the season or replaced shortly by a bench boss like Darryl Sutter. For now, it looks like he will be the guy to lead this team back to respectability which likely means a boost in offense while a slight regression in defensive play.