NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Los Angeles Kings.
Los Angeles Kings coach John Stevens has a familiarity with his roster that most first-year coaches don't.
Stevens, named April 23 to replace Darryl Sutter, joined the Kings coaching staff in 2010 and has been with them for all the good times: the Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014, the awards earned by goaltender Jonathan Quick (2012 Conn Smythe Trophy, 2014 Jennings Trophy), center Anze Kopitar (2016 Lady Byng, Selke), and defenseman Drew Doughty (2016 Norris). But though Stevens knows mostly everyone, he made a point of meeting with his players after being promoted.
"One of the first things I did was sit down with each guy and anybody who hadn't left (for the summer) to make sure I had a chance to have a good conversation about where they were at with their game, what our expectations were, and what we were doing moving forward," Stevens said.
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"Obviously having a relationship in place already is helpful. But I think if you are a new coach, you look forward to those opportunities to sit and really hear each player talk and hear what they have to say."
Stevens' hiring is part of a major organizational shift. Rob Blake was promoted to general manager from assistant GM, replacing Dean Lombardi. Executive Luc Robitaille was promoted to Kings president and will oversee hockey and business operations.
Although they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in three seasons, going 39-35-8 and finishing fifth in the Pacific Division, the Kings mostly stood pat in the offseason, at least when it came to player moves. Their biggest addition was forward Michael Cammalleri, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract July 1. Cammalleri, who played the past three seasons for the New Jersey Devils, began his NHL career with the Kings in 2002-03 and was traded to the Calgary Flames prior to 2008-09.
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The Kings hope he can help improve their offense; they finished tied for 24th in the NHL last season with 199 goals. To that end, Stevens added Pierre Turgeon, who scored 132 points in 1992-93 with the New York Islanders, to his staff as an assistant coach, saying he will serve as offensive coordinator.
Improvement will need to come from within.
Stevens said he believes Kopitar, for one, can rebound after finishing with 52 points (12 goals, 40 assists), his lowest total in his 10 full NHL seasons.
"I think we'd all agree he had an off year last year," Stevens said. "I've talked to him quite a bit over the summer. I know he's training hard. I think he's excited to put last year behind him and get going this year and make amends."
Having Quick for a full season should help the Kings back on track. He sustained a lower-body injury in the season opener at the San Jose Sharks, missed more than four months, and played 17 games last season, going 8-5-2 with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.
In 2015-16, Quick won 40 games and had a 2.22 GAA, and the Kings allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL (192). Last season, they allowed the sixth-fewest (201).
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Stevens had nothing but praise for fill-in goaltender Peter Budaj, who had 27 wins for the Kings last season before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 26 for goalie Ben Bishop (who was traded to the Dallas Stars on May 9), but said Quick's contributions go beyond stopping the puck.
"The one area that was maybe overlooked by people on the outside was that Jon has a real presence on our team," Stevens said.
The Kings signed Darcy Kuemper, formerly of the Minnesota Wild, to a one-year, $650,000 contract July 1 to back up Quick.
As for whether the Kings should be considered Stanley Cup contenders, Stevens said, "I wouldn't have taken the job here if I didn't think we could win. This is not the same team that won two Cups. But there are an awful lot of pieces that are still here. Our challenge is to get some of our top guys and their games back to where they were."