The dust has settled a bit in Los Angeles, as coach Todd McLellan departed on Friday and new interim head coach Jim Hiller will officially take over on Thursday at the team’s first practice coming out of the All-Star break. In advance of those on-ice activities, GM Rob Blake met with the gathered media on Monday to discuss the coaching change, as well as a few other team-related topics.
The full presser went about 30 minutes, so we’ll break things up into two separate articles for ease of consumption.
Here’s the first part of what was said…
Blake’s opening statement:
[Adding to] the statement that we released a couple days ago regarding relieving Todd of his head coaching duties, Jim Hiller was moved to interim [head coach] for the remainder of this season. He’ll take over and guide this team. This was done in an effort to correct the way we’ve played of late — our offense, our defense, our overall game; individuals and the team have not been up to a level of our desired needs. I’d like to thank Todd. I remember meeting Todd, maybe five-plus years ago in Kelowna, we sat down and went over our team, went over the direction we were headed, the difficult decisions and the challenges ahead. He fully embraced them. He instilled a belief in the players, a system and structure that was able to take this team back to a competitive level and into the playoffs. For that, we are very thankful.
On saying that changing the coach wasn’t an option being explored just 18 days ago:
It wasn’t an option, but we haven’t played well since then.
On when it changed, there has been speculation it was the San Jose and Buffalo games:
Yes. I think we got back from… Go back before that 41 game mark. We went on that trip Florida and Tampa. We played games where we had leads, had given up close games. Dallas, I didn’t think we were in that game; it was the end of a trip and different things. We came home [to play] Nashville and San Jose, I believe. Didn’t like the direction it was going [heading] back on the road into Colorado, St. Louis, and Nashville. In Nashville, we got the win but we didn’t play well.
On what steered him toward an internal promotion, rather than an external hire, and why Hiller over Trent Yawney or Marco Sturm (other internal options):
As a head coach, I think Jim has a lot of coaching experience. [He was] head coach in the juniors for a number of years. And he’s been with some head coaches in Toronto and New York [as an assistant] before coming here. He has familiarity with our players. We would like to add an assistant [coach] from the outside. That will be a process here over the next few days that we’ll look into. Just to bring in maybe a different look. I’ve seen first hand, with Jim in his role here the last year and a half year, the majority [of the time he’s been] on the power play and different things. We’ve seen him be able to operate and we’re comfortable in the belief going forward with him.
On how much of this is geared toward a change in coaching strategy or player deployment:
[Different player deployment is] possible. I mean, that will be Jim’s final decision. A lot of times, we make recommendations and things, but I’ve always let the coach make those decisions. Listen, it’s a different approach. Jim will have a much different approach in all aspects. And like I said, [we’ll look to] add an assistant from the outside with a different look. I look at our season, it’s two different halves; 48 games, 24 were good, 24 have not been good.
On if different results on the team’s last road trip could have changed Todd’s fate with the Kings:
We are a win loss team. That’s exactly where our team is, everything we dictate and from this point forward is based off of wins and losses.
On if finances played into the decision to promote Hiller rather than hire a ‘big-name’ coach from the outside:
No, Jim is our head coach.
On reports he spoke to McLellan Thursday night, in advance of the team announcing the change on Friday morning — and if this was the most difficult thing he’s had to do as a GM:
That is correct. It’s not just ‘a coach,’ Todd and I have been together a long time. You know there is a cost to doing this job and part of that is you’re going to have to have a situation where it’s not going to be favorable for somebody you care about. So, I went over to Todd’s house, I met him and we chatted for an hour and a half, almost two hours. This isn’t a good day for me. It hasn’t been a good three or four days. Tomorrow is a new day. But right now, no, it’s not fun.
On his earlier comments that Hiller will have a different approach:
Well, there’s a different person. It’s a different person in charge. Meetings are different, meeting times are different, approaches to the game — every single thing would be different when a new person steps in.
On if helps that Hiller is not a coaching disciple of McClellan, meaning that he’s from the outside:
He’s fairly new to the group, but he also has some experience on other staffs, under reputable coaches and different things. He’s been in the league for a large amount of time. Like I said, we hope we can add an assistant from the outside that may have a different perspective than even what Jim would have in a short time.
On how impactful Drew Doughty’s comments were:
Not impactful in the decision. Listen, when you go through stretches and you don’t win, there’s meetings with me, there’s meetings with a coach. There’s all the different [meetings]. In my experience, player-to-player is really where messages get sent home. So, Drew coming forward, what they do behind the scenes to take care of that is more important, and most important. But I do believe, in my experience, player-to-player seems to solve a lot of those issues; more than I’m going to be able to talk to those guys.
On if he feels any sense of responsibility for McLellan’s departure and on his own sense of job security:
Yes, it’s my responsibility. I hired Todd. It was my responsibly to let him go the other day. I fully understand the repercussions if this team does not win or have success.
On Hiller being known as somebody with a bright offensive mind and how he can impact this group further, and perhaps moving away from the 1-3-1:
I don’t know if I’m going to get into the systems or structure. Part of the timing here does give Jim some days here with our group before our next game. Sometimes, when [a coaching change] happens, it’s in-between games, right? So, as far as systems and structures, [we’ll see on that].
On what is it about Hiller that makes him think he can help the Kings succeed moving forward:
The familiarity with the team, being around here for the last year and a half; and understanding his perspective, and his ability to communicate differently with players and different things. There’s a lot to Jim; he’s also been a head coach in the juniors for a long time — [where] you’re running a lot more than just the bench during those days. He’s also been an assistant under some very good head coaches, and been in the league a long time. We were comfortable putting in him in charge for the remainder of this season.
On if the other coaching changes around the league played any role in his decision:
No. That doesn’t have any weight on what we do here. We have 34 games left. Our job is to get into the playoffs. Our team was built and assembled to get into playoffs, and that’s what we need to do. So, that will be judged on wins and losses.
Part II of Blake’s comments can be found here:
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