So far this off-season, a few rumours were circulating about the status of Los Angeles Kings' assistant coach John Stevens. While his name hasn't been tossed around to the same extent as that of Willie Desjardins or Dan Bylsma, but there was some thought that Stevens would be interested in taking a head coaching job elsewhere. After all, now that he's fresh off his second Stanley Cup title in three years, most teams would be salivating for a bench boss with such a pedigree. But John Stevens will not be going anywhere, and the same can be said for assistants Davis Payne and Bill Ranford, who all signed new contracts this week.
For Stevens, not only is he remaining in Los Angeles but he has been promoted to associate head coach. Head Coach Darryl Sutter and President & General Manager Dean Lombardi made the announcement on Wednesday.
“Our coaching staff has been an integral part of the success of our team the last three years,” Lombardi told Mike Kalinowski of LAKings.com. “We are extremely pleased that they will remain part of our team and continue together as we strive for excellence.”
In terms of Stevens' contributions, he's been second-to-none in the four year he has been in Los Angeles when he was first hired as an assistant to then-head coach Terry Murray. An NHL-drafted defenseman, the 48-year-old Stevens has dedicated his coaching expertise to the Los Angeles blueline and he has done a phenomenal job to say the least. Stevens has even excelled defensively with some of his team's forwards, including Anze Kopitar who has just recently been nominated as a finalist for the Selke Trophy which goes to the NHL's best defensive forward.
As part of strengthening his team's defense, Stevens has been instrumental in helping develop the younger defensemen, which includes, among others, Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov. Speaking of the latter, the Kings took a risk in trading one of their best defensemen Jack Johnson in 2012 to make room for Voynov. The Russian blueliner proved Dean Lombardi and company right for making such a bold move as, with Stevens' tutelage, helped the Kings win their first-ever Stanley Cup just a few months later.
With Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene both set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, it is possible that the Kings will have a new look on their blueline next season. But for Stevens, his work in Los Angeles has usually resulted in success. Last summer for instance, defensive specialist Rob Scuderi left the team to return to Pittsburgh. But while they did struggle on the defensive side early in the season, the Kings picked up their game and Stevens helped his current defensemen come together and play as more of a unit than they had before. What fans saw this past postseason in Los Angeles's stellar defense is largely the work of John Stevens.
Also under Stevens, the Kings have ranked among the league's best in both Goals-Against Average and Penalty-Kill Percentage.
Davis Payne, meanwhile, is coming off his second season in Los Angeles and his first Stanley Cup. The 43-year-old oversaw Los Angeles's offensive attack which, at many times during the regular season, was timid at best. But the Kings did find their scoring touch once the playoffs began. Their 3.38 goals-per game average was good enough for tops in the entire NHL during the playoffs while their 23.5 percentage on the power-play ranked them sixth in the league during the postseason. This success was orchestrated by Davis Payne and because of that, the Kings are keeping him.
Bill Ranford is also staying put for good reason. The former Conn Smythe winner just finished his eighth season in Los Angeles, helping the Kings to their first-ever William Jennings Trophy, awarded to the team with the fewest goals against during the regular season.
Back in November, the Kings and their fans found themselves under a fair deal of stress as netminder Jonathan Quick was expected to miss nearly two months with a lower-body injury. Considering how much Quick had played for the Kings over the previous few seasons, it was next-to-impossible to imagine life - albeit temporarily - without Quick. But off-season acquisition Ben Scrivens came in and did an admirable job in goal, posting back-to-back shutouts while earning points in nine of his next 10 outings. Then, rookie Martin Jones came in and tied a record for freshman netminders beginning a career without a loss at 8-0-0.
While Scrivens, Jones and especially Quick deserve a fair deal of kudos for the success in between the pipes for the Los Angeles Kings, Bill Ranford is owed a great deal of credit as well being a 15-year NHL veteran himself and a winner of two Stanley Cups.
The adage that immediately comes to mind when reading about this story is that if it isn't broken, why fix it? It may not be as evident as the chemistry between the players but Stevens, Payne and Ranford all complement each other very well.
"In the 35 years of being a sports fanatic, I have never seen a true team like this," Kings fan Kevin Minder told me. "There was no panic, no animosity towards each other, not a selfish one in the bunch, just one common goal....To win it all! Still blows my mind how they are there for each other."
Mr. Minder went on to compare the 2014 Los Angeles Kings to the 1980 US Olympic men's team saying the late, great (1980 US Olympic head coach) Herb Brooks would be proud. Few Kings fans would find difficulty agreeing with Mr. Minder's statement.
For the once long-suffering fans of the Los Angeles Kings, they have come such a long way from seeing a defense that included the likes of Jere Karalahti and Maxim Kuznetsov, an offense that included Derek Armstrong and Brad Chartrand and goaltending units that have included far too many underachievers to mention to witnessing an overall team with such few flaws, that their team is quite possibly the envy of many of the other 29 clubs.
In a salary-cap era, keeping players and even coaches together year after year can prove to be a tall task. But the Los Angeles Kings know that if they want to keep succeeding at the highest level, they will need to keep much of their core together for as long as possible. With this news, fans can appreciate that their team is still committed to winning - and that is an attitude most teams would love to inherit.