Terry Murray has coached these Los Angeles Kings for the past three years. This year will be his fourth behind the bench in Los Angeles, and by and large he has acquitted himself quite well. In 2009-2010, he led the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2001-2002, and he has helped some of the youngsters grow into productive players. Though how much of that is a direct result of his coaching is difficult if not impossible to say. He provides a calming influence behind the bench, and rarely seems worked up or angry about anything. Even when disappointed, he presents an even keel, something that even I have said is probably useful, especially with the young team he has been saddled with over the past few years.
But he’s not saddled with a young team any more. The team he’s got is no longer “young and promising.” We’ve been hearing that cry for how many years now. Sure, we all hoped that the Kings would be making more significant strides, and as Jim Fox is so fond of saying, “it’s still early.” The Kings may still turn it around. In fact, if I was a betting man, I’d say it’s likely that they will turn it around and make the playoffs. But that turn around may be as much despite the coaching as because of it. I think it’s time for a change. Terry Murray served his purpose, but the Kings are stagnating, and are struggling with the same problems they’ve had over the past several seasons. They can’t score on the 5-on-5 regularly, they play an ultra-defensive style of play that seems to handcuff our offensive abilities, and unless Quick is pitching shutout after shutout, the Kings are just not winning games. Heck, literally half of the Kings wins come when Quick shuts the other team out completely. Relying on that strategy is a recipe for either a)Quick having the best season of any goaltender in modern hockey history, or b)a lottery draft pick.
In either case, Murray has been unable to shake the team out of its current funk. This isn’t a new phenomenon either. Last season the Kings went through several long slumps, and appeared to get no help busting out of it from Murray and the coaching staff, who instead relied, at least on paper, on platitudes about “playing tough,” and “keeping to the system.” The sentiments were echoed by the player leadership, no doubt coming from on high, but that change never really occurred. So maybe the time for a change is now?
Sure. Eventually the Kings turned things around. It’s inevitable with a team with this level of talent. Drew Doughty is a Norris-trophy finalist, and will likely be one again soon. Jack Johnson is playing some of the best hockey of his career this season, and is showing steady improvement. Anze Kopitar is one of the best centerman in the league, and is showing his offensive skills again this season. So yea, the Kings will break out of this slump as well. They’ll probably win a string of games, get themselves back in the upper half of the conference, and this discussion will be shelved. But should it be? It seems that this Kings team is unable to adjust its playing style in any productive way. They have been unable to adjust for years, and the only real constant has been Murray and his coaching staff.
I’m not suggesting that a balls-to-the-wall, all-out, crazy attacking strategy would be the best one, although frankly this team could probably race with the best of them, and John Tortorella is perhaps not the ideal model for a coach in Los Angeles, but a bit of offensive creativity would perhaps be useful for this team that has some of the best offensive talent in the league. Defensive responsibility is important, but the crying out loud, the Kings have lost 5 in a row, and with virtually not a single game where you can realistically point at goaltending. The offense is just not getting it done.
I know what you’re going to think. Dean Lombardi has given no indication that he’s even wavering in his undying support of Terry Murray. However, sooner or later a reckoning will have to come. If the Kings continue to struggle with this bizarre up and down style of getting results, something will have to change. Lombardi has spent nearly to the cap, and this team is built to be a contender. They’re no longer built to be a schizophrenic team with an incredibly mind-blowing lack of consistency. They’re no longer content to make the playoffs only to be systematically dumped by one of the bigger players in the conference. The Kings motto this season is “The Time Is Now.” If that’s really the case, perhaps the time is now to send Murray off into the sunset with a hearty handshake. Wish him luck and find a coach who can make something happen with the talent he is provided.