L.A. Kings promote John Stevens to head coach

John Stevens. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings have promoted associated head coach John Stevens to become their next head coach.

Kings spokesman Mike Altieri said the team will introduce Stevens at a news conference Monday.

Stevens replaces Darryl Sutter after serving as an assistant to two Kings head coaches over the past eight seasons, which included the franchise’s only two Stanley Cup championship runs. Los Angeles has won just one playoff game in three years since its last title in 2014.

Stevens was the Kings’ interim head coach for four games early in the 2011-12 season after Terry Murray was fired and before the hiring of Sutter, who became the winningest coach in Kings history and the only coach to lead them to a title.

The Kings fired Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi nearly two weeks ago in a remarkable housecleaning after the regular season ended without a playoff berth. But owner Phil Anschutz’s organization subsequently promoted the two most likely internal candidates to replace them, preferring stability with Stevens and longtime assistant general manager Rob Blake over an extensive franchise overhaul.

"We believe John has the ideal qualities to lead our hockey club," Blake said in a news release. "His wide array of coaching experience, including success as an NHL head coach and his inherent knowledge of our players and those in our development system, is very appealing to us. We are confident he is the best person to lead our hockey club forward."

The Kings also will retain goaltending coach Bill Ranford.

Stevens, the 50-year-old former Philadelphia Flyers coach, was long considered Sutter’s likely replacement, though the firing of Lombardi and Sutter earlier this month put everything into question. When Blake fired assistant Davis Payne and retained Stevens one day after his own promotion, the new GM made it clear Stevens was the favourite for the job.

The shift from a hard-nosed disciplinarian like Sutter to a players’ coach like Stevens is a drastic one for Los Angeles, which has missed the playoffs twice since winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014. When Lombardi and Sutter were fired, Blake was named GM.

ESPN first reported Stevens’ promotion.

Stevens’ greatest task will be finding new ways to generate offence from largely the same roster for a low-scoring team that was focused on defence-first, two-way hockey during Sutter’s largely successful tenure. Los Angeles’ 201 goals this season — down 24 from last season — were tied for the fifth fewest in the NHL.

Blake opened his tenure in charge by identifying scoring as the single most important factor for the Kings in the upcoming seasons.

"John and I had very productive dialogue this last week in relation to his head coaching philosophy and specifically how he would implement a strategy to activate our players offensively while maintaining the defensive philosophies we have come to be known for," Blake said. "I am confident that we are both in agreement on how that can be executed."

The Kings have an elite core of top talent with defenceman Drew Doughty, forwards Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar, and goalie Jonathan Quick. But they have little financial room to improve their roster, with several underperforming veterans signed to lucrative long-term contracts by Lombardi, largely in gratitude for their work in the Kings’ championship runs.

Stevens spent parts of four seasons as coach of the Flyers (2006-2009), reaching the playoffs twice including a trip to the Eastern Conference final. In 2005, he won the Calder Cup as coach of the American Hockey League’s Philadelphia Phantoms, the team he led to that title as captain in 1998.

Stevens was fired by the Flyers in December 2009 and hired as Murray’s assistant with the Kings in June 2010, joining a large group of former Philadelphia-based coaches and executives in Lombardi’s organization. Murray was a former Flyers coach, and assistant general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant general manager who eventually returned to take over the Flyers’ hockey operations.


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