Stevens finds Kings to be an easy fit

Los Angeles Times - - Inside Baseball - HELENE EL­LIOTT helene.el­liott@latimes.com twit­ter.com/he­le­nenothe­len

The man who fired John Stevens as coach of the Philadel­phia Flyers last De­cem­ber rec­om­mended him to the Kings six months later — and not be­cause Paul Holm­gren in­tended to sab­o­tage them.

Holm­gren, the Flyers’ gen­eral man­ager, thought his pas­sion­less team needed “a new voice” when he dis­missed Stevens af­ter a 1-6 slump dropped the Flyers to 13-11-1. But Holm­gren re­spected Stevens’ teach­ing abil­ity enough to en­dorse him for the Kings’ as­sis­tant coach­ing job, which opened when Mark Hardy re­signed to fight a sex­ual abuse charge.

Kings Gen­eral Man­ager Dean Lom­bardi, a for­mer Flyers scout, liked Stevens’ work ethic. So did as­sis­tant GM Ron Hex­tall, who bled Flyers orange and black as a player. Coach Terry Mur­ray was Stevens’ as­sis­tant in Philadel­phia and a friend since Stevens played for and later coached the Flyers’ mi­nor league team, the Phan­toms.

“They all know that John is a man of tremen­dous in­tegrity and did not need much of a push to hire him,” Holm­gren said. “He’s a great fit there.”

Stevens, who played 53 NHL games for the Flyers and Hart­ford Whalers, is Mur­ray’s top as­sis­tant. He in­her­ited Hardy’s du­ties of work­ing with the de­fense and over­see­ing the penalty killing, which ranked 20th in the NHL last sea­son. Un­der his di­rec­tion it will be more ag­gres­sive, more in­tent on pres­sur­ing the puck.

“He’s changed things up a lit­tle bit,” de­fense­man Jack John­son said. “He seems like a great guy, easy to talk to.”

The 44-year-old na­tive of Camp­bell­ton, Canada, is happy to again be mold­ing ca­reers af­ter watch­ing so many play­ers he had guided reach the Stan­ley Cup fi­nals last spring.

Stevens fol­lowed the Flyers’ play­off run, which ended with a loss to the Chicago Black­hawks, when he wasn’t coach­ing his two hockey-play­ing sons.

“I think I watched more as a fan than any­thing else,” he said. “I had a lot of good re­la­tion­ships with a lot of peo­ple in man­age­ment and play­ers I had for a long time, so I was cer­tainly happy for them and see­ing them have suc­cess in that en­vi­ron­ment they worked so hard for.”

The tone of his re­la­tion­ship with younger play­ers might have con­trib­uted to his down­fall.

Stevens was close to the young­sters he had brought along and was seen as too for­giv­ing of their mis­takes com­pared to his treat­ment of vet­er­ans.

His out­ward calm was widely viewed as a lack of emo­tion and an ac­cep­tance of sloppy habits.

He ac­knowl­edged that he is not “an out­wardly rah-rah guy,” and that he had been through a lot with the home­grown play­ers — es­pe­cially those he led to the Amer­i­can Hockey League cham­pi­onship in 2005 — but said he pun­ished or praised ev­ery­one as nec­es­sary.

“It’s not my style to overly crit­i­cize play­ers, but play­ers missed ice time, play­ers missed games. We were very de­mand­ing on the con­di­tion­ing side of things,” he said.

“I have no re­grets or reser­va­tions about the level of dis­ci­pline and ac­count­abil­ity we had while I was in place there.”

Mur­ray said he can un­der­stand how a coach who nur­tured play­ers through the mi­nors might have a soft spot for them.

“You do want to be that fa­ther im­age and get close and find out ex­actly what’s go­ing on in their life away from the rink and help them any way that you can,” Mur­ray said.

“That ties in very well with be­ing an as­sis­tant coach. I like that.”

If close­ness was one of Stevens’ sins as a head coach, it could work in his fa­vor with the Kings’ young de­fense­men, who are led by Drew Doughty and John­son. It al­ready seems to be work­ing.

“He’s mak­ing an ef­fort to get to know us in­di­vid­u­ally,” John­son said. “He’s not try­ing to make us all the same, but let­ting us each be as good as we can be at what we’re good at.”

Stevens thinks he could have suc­ceeded in Philadel­phia if he had been given a lit­tle more time.

“We built a team there that was ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing very well at a high level. I’m very con­fi­dent in say­ing that had I not been let go that we could have brought that team around,” he said.

“I have no ill feel­ings to­ward any­one. It’s an ex­pe­ri­ence that I trea­sure and one that I look back ob­jec­tively [on] and try to get bet­ter from.”

Stevens is sure to get an­other NHL head coach­ing job, and he hopes that will hap­pen some­day. But for now this might be the best place for him, work­ing with a staff that knows him and young­sters he should have no trou­ble get­ting to know.

“I’m to­tally ab­sorbed in try­ing to help the Kings con­tinue to get bet­ter,” he said. “They ob­vi­ously did some great things the last cou­ple of years. This is my fo­cus and I’m not re­ally look­ing at any­thing else.”

FO­CUS:

Bruce Ben­nett

“I’m to­tally ab­sorbed in try­ing to help the Kings con­tinue to get bet­ter,” John Stevens says.

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