Since winning the Stanley Cup last week, the Los Angeles Kings’ primary focus since has been on retaining their pending free agents (namely Marian Gaborik). But they also made an unheralded move off the ice that will be key in their hopes to repeat as champions. The team promoted longtime assistant coach John Stevens to associate head coach ensuring he will be back helping Darryl Sutter for years to come.
Stevens, the former head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, was a sought after commodity on the market as teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes considered him for their head coaching vacancies. While Stevens would have been excellent and surely has earned another head coaching job, the mutual interest in staying on board kept him in L.A. for the foreseeable future.
Part of what makes Stevens so important to the Kings’ success are his close relationships with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, both of whom he coached in Philly. While Carter had a postseason for the ages, Richards struggled and was playing fourth-line minutes; having his former head coach’s support surely helped Richards keep his focus throughout the playoffs. The three of them (and in past years Simon Gagne) helped the Kings earn the title of “Philly: West” due to the importance of former Flyers in the team’s success.
With Stevens back in the fold, the Kings’ arduous task of defending their second Stanley Cup in three seasons got just a little easier. Besides, given the way his last head-coaching gig ended, Stevens would surely take job security and perennial contention over power any day.