The 2010-11 season for the Los Angeles Kings saw them qualify for post-season play for a second consecutive season. In the end, they wound up with the same result as last season, losing in six games in the opening round of the playoffs.
But just like last season, they were extremely and surprisingly (to some) competitive in the series, and easily could have won the series. So as they head into the off-season, they again have placed themselves in an enviable position to infuse the roster with more young talent while using free agency and trades to supplement and enhance the current roster.
In this article, we will evaluate the performances from this past season of the coaching and managerial staff. On Sunday, we will look at the key players within the organization at minor and junior levels and determine their chances for making the big club next fall. We will also have a road map for the summer.
If you missed our article reviewing the play of the goaltenders and defensemen, or our look at how we felt the forwards did this past season, be sure to check out those stories from my main page on Examiner.
Name: Terry Murray
Position: Head Coach
Murray handled a team which featured, based upon average age of players, the youngest team in the National Hockey League this season and guided them to the post-season for a second straight season.
Murray gets high marks for his handling of the young players, which showed improvement during their first full season with the Kings. Jonathan Bernier, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, and Alec Martinez are four players that either started the season or joined the team within the first twenty games that showed significant increases in confidence and performance thanks to the belief Murray showed in them.
Murray also gets credit for the continued development of the Kings play away from home. Though they won three fewer games this season away from Staples Center last season, they did post a nine-game point streak on the road – good for second best in franchise history. In the 10-game ‘road trip’ which technically was the longest stretch away from home in franchise history, Murray guided the club to a 6-1-3 mark and also led the Kings to their first ever four wins in four games road trip in mid-March.
He continues to be able to handle the management of ice time well, has solid relationships with the players, is quick to step up in their defense, and is unflappable in handling the media. Though fans are still perplexed at times by his overactive tendency to change lines, he also is able to hide holes in the lineup well.
But as he enters year four behind the bench next season, the expectations will be to advance the team beyond just qualifying for the playoffs.
Name: Jamie Kompon
Position: Assistant Coach
Kompon deserves credit for the emergence of play defensively by Lewis and Clifford, who avoided making the same ‘learning curve’ type mistakes within the Kings defense-first, puck-possession style of play without costing the club games. Kompon also worked with Jarret Stoll when Murray asked Stoll to work on shooting the puck more, and the result was Stoll reaching the 20-goal mark this season.
But Kompon has become a target of fans venom, and some media criticism, because of the lack of creativity shown by the power play again this season. There was, at times, too much outside-the-box passing, and not enough shooting from close range, counting too much on the point presence of Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson.
The numbers prove that the Kings struggled at times in this area. They wound up finishing in the bottom third in the league with the man advantage at 16.1%, down 4.7% from last season. The rate was the lowest for the Kings since 2005-06.
Kompon is reportedly the lowest paid assistant coach in the NHL, which might be a reason why he stays for another season. But it wouldn’t be a total surprise if he didn’t return either.
Name: John Stevens
Position: Assistant Coach
While many were initially disappointed that Mark Hardy would not be returning to the club’s staff, it was more out of concern for his personal situation, which thankfully has been resolved. And yet, the hiring of Stevens to take Hardy’s pace was viewed as a significantly smart decision that could pay dividends, and it did.
Stevens and Murray worked together in Philadelphia, and right from the first day of the developmental camp last June, you could tell that Stevens would fit right in working with the defensive corps and on the penalty kill.
The PK unit didn’t just prevent power play goals this season, they moved together as one movement rather than as four skaters and a goaltender. The result was the Kings finishing fourth in the entire league on the PK, the best showing by the club in nearly a decade.
Stevens’s hire last summer was the best off-season move made by the club.
Name: Bill Ranford
Position: Goaltending Coach
Jonathan Quick continues to establish himself as an elite goaltender in the NHL, winning 35+ games for a second straight campaign, and Jonathan Bernier showed significant progress as the season moved along.
Both of these things can be directly attributed to the work Ranford has done and continues to do with the team both in the off-season and during the season as well.
The biggest challenge for Ranford this summer is to push Quick to take the next step and become among the best in the game. Doing that will require him to help Quick handle the puck better, especially outside the crease, and cut down on those ‘soft goals’ that continue to hound Quick.
Name: Dean Lombardi
Position: General Manager
Lombardi did a good job this year at solidifying the organization. He was solid in signing both Johnson and Justin Williams to new contracts in-season, and in ways that didn’t hamstring the club against the salary cap.
He took a low-risk flyer on Marco Sturm, which didn’t exactly pan out, and the Dustin Penner deal on the trade deadline day showed he was capable of pulling the trigger for a top-flight player. Penner struggled with the Kings, but the jury will be out on whether that deal was a good one or not until next season.
Lombardi’s insistence on rebuilding the club through the draft is starting to pay off. Clifford, Lewis, Bernier, and Martinez, were all players he drafted, and with Brayden Schenn ready to join the club next year, and the potential for Jake Muzzin, Viatcheslav Voynov, and several other prospects, Lombardi can go into this year’s draft and off-season activity with many more chips at the proverbial trading poker table.
He split on his two off-season UFA signings. Willie Mitchell struggled early with injuries, but played every game in the second half of the season and six playoff games, and Doughty’s play was much more consistent with Mitchell by his side. Alexei Ponikarovsky was a bust.
But what prevented Lombardi from earning an ‘A’ grade, besides the team’s inability to advance in the playoffs (I’m not holding that against him as Kopitar’s injury hurt the club), was the way the entire Ilya Kovalchuk free agency soap opera was handled.
It seemed as if the only plan in the off-season last summer was to sign the highly-touted Kovalchuk, with no back-up plan in place. It also seemed like the club didn’t have a ‘drop dead’ date to jump out of the Kovalchuk sweepstakes and pursue multiple players that might have helped fill holes for the same cost as Kovalchuk himself. For this, Lombardi must be held accountable.
Looking at the landscape of the team, in terms of RFA’s needing to be signed, UFA’s available this summer, and the space available on the cap along with tradable contracts, this summer could make-or-break Lombardi’s tenure with the organization.
The ancient quote often mentioned in situations is, “…may you live in interesting times,” and it is quite appropriate with this organization over the next 12-15 months.
The expectation level will continue to rise for the club this summer, and fans will be keeping a watchful eye on Lombardi in terms of how he handles the shaping and strengthening of the team. He has positioned the Kings to be major players on the trade front this summer. The Kings will likely be in the Brad Richards talks, but the price tag will likely be too high. Still, as we will detail in our next report, there are ways that Lombardi can re-tool this club while not sacrificing the future or financial stability within the cap.
Murray also faces an important season. It’s also the first time in his coaching career that he enters a fourth full season behind the bench with a team, and the fans are clamoring for more. Making the playoffs twice in a row after failing the previous eight years is good. But just making the playoffs and not advancing further next season won’t be good enough.
Sunday, we’ll look ahead to what you can expect from the Kings during this summer. Please be sure to read our previous articles which graded the season for the forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders.
Jon Moncrief has just completed his third season covering the Los Angeles Kings for icedjamb.com, and he also covers the NHL and the Los Angeles Dodgers for Examiner as well. Jon is also co-host of the weekly web-TV sports series INSIDE SPORTS.