First Coaching Casualty... And Not the Last
For the first time this season, there's been a coaching casuality in the NHL. The St. Louis Blues fired head coach Davis Payne yesterday and replaced him with veteran coach Ken Hitchcock, who just a day earlier, was rumoured to be hired again by the Columbus Blue Jackets as heard on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada's installment, 'The Hotstove'. Nonetheless, Hitchcock is the new bench boss in St. Louis and although it's the first coaching change, it certainly won't be the last this season.
Although not yet considered contenders, the St. Louis Blues were expected to do very well this season and get back into the playoffs. And why not? With a roster that includes the likes of Patrik Berglund, David Backes and TJ Oshie, the expectations for the Blues were reasonable. Even with goaltender Jaroslav Halak struggling, newly-acquired Brian Elliott is certainly pulling his weight between the pipes.
However, at 6-7-0 and 14th in the West, the Blues felt they had to make a change and unfortunately for Davis Payne, that meant his job. This is bad news for Kings' fans who would have liked to see Ken Hitchcock behind their team's bench as he is no longer available. Having said that, though, as impressive as his resume is (two finals appearance which includes a Stanley Cup ring), it's a case of, "What have you done for me lately?" and over the last few years, Hitchcock hasn't made much of an impact on the teams he coached, most recently the aforementioned Blue Jackets.
So, what does this mean? It means that all of the other 29 GMs in the league better take notice. Some of those GMs have nothing to worry about given how well some teams are doing while others are a little more patient knowing that their teams are where they want them to be in terms of progress. If you ask me, however, the former nor latter should apply to the Los Angeles Kings. With that said, Dean Lombardi better wake up and start taking notice at what's going on around him.
Terry Murray is a player's coach and that's a good asset to have for a time. At this point, though, it seems as though Murray has been tuned out by most of his players. I obviously don't know that firsthand but the Kings need to start heading in a new direction. After all, the St. Louis Blues are a team that's just looking to get back into the playoffs this year while the Kings are a team that's looking to go beyond the first round as simply making the playoffs just isn't enough.
Theoretically, one would think it's the latter team who would fire their coach after a disappointing start. In this case, however, it's the contrary. Yes, the Kings are still two games above .500 but they are only three points ahead of the underachieving Blues.
Certainly one advantage to having Hitchcock as a coach would have been his knack of teaching his teams to be better-disciplined, an aspect that the Kings can certainly build upon. Unlike Murray, Hitchcock may be what you'd call a 'player's coach' but neither was Scotty Bowman or Herb Brooks and their respective resumes speak for themselves, albeit the latter had more success at the collegiate level than at the professional one.
This isn't about who should be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Kings but whether should be a next one this season and the answer is a fairly unanimous 'yes'. Overall, the Kings played a better game in their last outing but an undisciplined opening period along with allowing a late-game-tying goal where the team looked, all of a sudden, sluggish and deflated is something that needs to be worked on and, thus, unacceptable.
I hope Dean Lombardi has heard the news of the coaching change in St. Louis because now is the time to sit down and ask himself if the coach he has right now is really the coach that is capable of taking his team to the next level. I'd suggest ask the fans but as NFL Hall-of-Fame head coach Marv Levy once said, "If you start listening to the fans, you're going to wind up sitting with them." But if Lombardi doesn't open his eyes and make a change soon, he won't even get to do that.
Photo: Courtesy of Michigan Tech News