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John Stevens won't be replica of Darryl Sutter with Kings

Coach says he's 'driven to win,' embraces challenge of returning Los Angeles to prominence

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- There is a curious link between the past two coaches and the current coach of the Los Angeles Kings, from Terry Murray to Darryl Sutter to John Stevens, who was introduced as coach at Staples Center on Monday.

When Sutter replaced Murray in December of 2011, he needed a place to live. Murray's place in Manhattan Beach was there to rent, so Sutter moved in. Stevens was an assistant on Murray's staff, and he stayed on with Sutter. So who did Stevens consult when he was interviewing for the coaching job with Kings general manager Rob Blake after Sutter was fired on April 10?

Sutter.

"I actually met with him when I was going through the process, wanted to get his thoughts and guidance, quite honestly," Stevens said.

Still, this isn't merely a younger version of Darryl Sutter, although Stevens occasionally used Sutter's pet phrase, "quite honestly."

 

[RELATED: Kings hire John Stevens as head coach]

 

"Darryl is one of a kind; they didn't hire me to be Darryl or not be Darryl," Stevens said. "I've been here for seven years and they know my personality. I think everybody's personality is different. It's just the way it is.

"You'd be really hard [pressed] to find two coaches that are exactly the same, but I think we have a lot of similarities and we're really driven to win."

Assistant coaches are often closely associated with the regime of the head coach. For years, if you thought of Mike Sullivan, you would think of John Tortorella because Sullivan worked under Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. That's no longer an issue for Sullivan, naturally, after winning the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.

But the influences on Stevens go beyond well beyond Sutter. He referenced Murray and Ken Hitchcock, going back to his days with the Philadelphia Flyers. Stevens coached the Flyers for parts of four seasons from 2006-09. He guided them to the Eastern Conference Final in 2008.

In Philadelphia, he was known a terrific defensive coach and strong with Xs and Os. After being fired, Stevens recognized what he needed to do and learned from Sutter in Los Angeles while reflecting on what went wrong with the Flyers.

"It was probably leaving Philadelphia and then my experience here," said Stevens, who is 122-111-34 as an NHL coach. "I could see with Darryl what he did with the team emotionally, and it was really impressive to me. When you leave and you get fired in Philadelphia, you reflect back … it should have been obvious. You realize some of the relationships that you had weren't as strong as they should have been. That's why I tried to learn."

After so much time went by, did he feel as though he would get another shot?

"I did. But I'll be totally honest with you," Stevens said. "People that know me, I'm very patient. I was in Philadelphia for 13 years, finished playing and coached there for 10 years. Then I've been here for seven years. I meant what I said. One of the most important things for me is being able to work with good people.

Video: John Stevens discusses his new role with the Kings

"I've seen other guys around the League that have been longtime assistants that got opportunities to get back in the game as a head coach. To me, it was never about being in a hurry to get there."

The challenges will be considerable with the Kings, who have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs two of the past three years after winning the Cup in 2012 and 2014. They've won one playoff game since winning the Cup for the second time.

The Kings were without franchise goaltender Jonathan Quick most of this past season after he was injured in the first period of the season opener against the San Jose Sharks. They missed his leadership in the dressing room, Stevens and Blake said. Captain Anze Kopitar's numbers plummeted, from 25 goals in 2015-16 to 12 this season.

Marian Gaborik, who suffered a broken foot in the World Cup of Hockey 2016, never seemed quite right. Blake said that Gaborik had a procedure - declining to offer specifics - and won't be ready until near the end of training camp or possibly later. Blake said they would not buy out Gaborik's contract.

The lingering issue with the Kings has been a team-wide lack of scoring. They were 25th in the League in goals scored this season.

"There's needs to be more of a focus on doing more in the middle of the ice, on the rush, in the zone, getting to the net," Stevens said. "Part of our identity as a hockey team has to be the L.A. Kings is a team that goes hard to the net.

"Quite honestly, if we lead the League next year in coach's challenges for goalie interference, I'd be real happy about that."

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