After the Kings were among the NHL’s elite clubs for the first three months of the seasons, January was not kind to them. Coming off just three wins in their past 17 games, change was likely, and now it’s here. On Friday morning, GM Rob Blake announced coach Todd McLellan is being replaced by assistant coach Jim Hiller for the balance of this season.
McLellan was under contract for one more year — an extension he signed last June — believed to be for an amount similar to his current $5M per season deal.
In his initial comments, Blake wanted to “thank Todd for his hard work and dedication to the organization.”
He went on to add, “[Todd] has done a tremendous job in moving us forward and making a positive impact on our group and in our community. This was not an easy decision, but we felt the change was necessary at this time.”
This was a change that didn’t come lightly for Blake, as he’s had a longstanding relationship with McLellan going back to his days as a player in 2008. However, now serving as the Kings GM, Blake had few other choices to make and that’s on him. In many ways, LA pushed all of their chips to the center of the table last summer. In a situation like this, most clubs either make a major trade or replace the coach. With few significant trade options available, this was somewhat inevitable given the team’s extended slump — one that saw them slip from challenging for a Pacific Division title to holding on as a Wild Card team.
Things looked pretty good for the first part of the season and then the wheels came off in a manner that nobody could have predicted.
Perhaps what’s most perplexing is the players still seemed to support McLellan as recently as last week. They were working hard in practice and saying all the right things. They just weren’t getting it done on the ice.
Last night, Blake informed McLellan of his decision.
Blake will hold a press conference on Monday, Feb. 5 to discuss the change. Then, Hiller will be introduced on Thursday, Feb. 8 when the team resumes practicing after the NHL All-Star Break.
McLellan spent nearly five seasons behind the bench in LA, amassing a .550 points percentage over a 164-130-44 record in 338 games. He also guided the team to back-to-back playoff appearances the past two seasons, falling short both times to the Edmonton Oilers in Round 1.
Hiller, who played for the Kings back in 1992-93, re-joined the organization as an assistant coach in July 2022. He was specifically brought in to help turn around one of the league’s worst power plays and did just that in his first season. Previously, Hiller spent eight seasons with the New York Islanders (2019-22), Toronto Maple Leafs (2015-19) and Detroit Red Wings (2014-15) as an assistant coach. He also spent 12 seasons coaching in junior hockey, including eight years as head coach in the WHL.
Originally selected by the Kings in the 10th round (207th overall) of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, Hiller also played for the Red Wings and New York Rangers.
“Jim is a well-respected member of our staff who is familiar with our players,” Blake noted. “We are confident in his ability to lead our team effectively during this pivotal time.”
For those who may ask why the organization didn’t go outside for help, we’ll suggest two reasons (among the many). First, Hiller isn’t a ‘McLellan guy’ like say Trent Yawney, who has worked alongside McLellan for decades in their previous stops together. So this isn’t just more of the same. Hiller is his own man, as evidenced by his extensive coaching career outlined above.
The second and third considerations are money and timing. Not only is it hard to bring in a coach midseason and change what a team has been doing for years (ed. note: yes, Darryl Sutter is an example of things working out well, there are also dozens and dozens of examples where the change doesn’t work out with a Stanley Cup like 2012), it also would involve a significant investment if it was a ‘big name’ coach. The Kings are already on the hook for McLellan’s salary the remainder of this season plus all of next season. That’s no small amount either. Even as large as that number is, it’s much easier to swallow if the Kings can make the playoffs and go a few rounds this season — that added revenue will come in handy when selecting their next head coach over the summer. Yes, hockey is still a business with prudent decisions needing to be made. That’s just reality.
With Hiller being promoted to interim head coach, that creates a potential opening to add a new assistant for the staff. From what we have been able to gather, Blake will meet with Hiller over the next 48 hours to discuss this topic further. We would expect Hiller to take the lead on any decision regarding an additional assistant coach for the balance of the year.
To learn more about Hiller, we did a whole story on him previously. See below for that article.
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