Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A new direction for the Kings

This is the post I was hoping I wouldn't have to write. The Kings fired the winningest coach in team history after almost six seasons, despite being nine games over .500. And quite honestly, Dave Taylor pretty much had to do it. There's an old adage that says you can't fire all the players, and in this case, although they deserved it more than Murray, he took the fall. The team simply stopped competing. They've looked awful in their last five games, and other than a five game winning streak that straddled the Olympic break, they've been awful for months. Some of that is due to injuries, of course. Two players were unable to play in the Olympics because of injuries, and two returned from the Games unable to continue playing. Frolov will probably be back on Saturday, and Demitra is still a question mark.

Murray's career, which started with a playoff sweep in 2000, and included a promising dash to the post-season in 2001 culminating in a first round upset of the Red Wings. In the 2001-2002 season, the Kings were very good most of the year, though they lost to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Avalanche in seven games in the first round. That loss was due in part to a charlie horse suffered by Jason Allison, and it started a trend that eventually cost Murray his job. Beset by injuries for the next few seasons, the Kings have failed to reach the playoffs since. The nadir was in the 2003-2004 season, missed entirely by Adam Deadmarsh and Jason Allison, and half missed by Ziggy Palffy. The Kings set an unofficial record for man games lost to injury that season. And it's not a lack of depth that was exposed. We're talking about the entire top line going down. No team recovers from that. For the last three seasons, its invariably the stars who have been missing time due to injury for an assortment of unfortunate incidents.

But after a terrific start to this season, things went dead south. The low point was a 10-1 loss to Buffalo, and things never really got better. They've been outworked, outhustled, and outplayed. Their specialty teams have been atrocious most of the season (a positive aspect of the firing is that John Van Boxmeer was caught in the crossfire), and their goaltending has been inconsistent. They've failed to play with passion in desperate situations, save for one terrific third period against Dallas last month. How much of that can be blamed on the coach it's impossible to know for sure. But the Kings are in the midst of a 4 day rest before their final push for a playoff spot, and if they were going to make a move to jumpstart the team, now was the time to do it. John Torchetti, who is turning into a Mr. Fixit type of interim coach takes over for the balance of the season, and will be evaluated at the end.

The elephant in the room is the status of Dave Taylor. There's almost no one more respected by long time Kings fans in the organization, with the exception of Bob Miller. But facts are facts, and since Dave Taylor took over the GM position, the Kings have won exactly one playoff series. At some point, you have to ask whether that's good enough. On the positive side, he has overseen a rebuilding of the farm system. Lubo Visnovsky, Alexander Frolov, Joe Corvo, Dustin Brown, and Michael Cammalleri have all begun to blossom under his watch. He made the deal that brought Matty Norstrom over. He acquired Tim Gleason, who is quickly becoming a fan favorite. The Rob Blake deal looked like a winner after a half season until injuries derailed Deadmarsh and weakened Aaron Miller. The signings of Conroy and Demitra appeared astute before Demitra's freak injuries. There's a fair amount of talent in Manchester right now, and the team, with better luck on the health front, is really only a few moves away from competing for the top of the division. But you can't ignore the fact that he turned the goaltending over to two untested netminders, and the results have been mixed. He traded for Jeremy Roenick, who has been invisible in all aspects other than his drain on the payroll. And who can forget deadline disasters like the trades for Cliff Ronning and Anson Carter. He gave up Kimo Timonen pretty much for nothing other than an agreement not to draft one of their goalies, neither of whom were particularly franchise players. Taylor won't be fired. He'd be moved upstairs, but the buzzards are definitely circling.

And blame certainly goes to AEG as well. They've said for years that they were preparing financially for this season and this collective bargaining agreement. Well, it's here, and the results don't speak well for their long term planning. All things considered, the franchise is much better off than when they took over, but the fact is they're real estate developers. Their sports franchises are a means to that end. That's not to say the Kings can't be successful under their ownership, but we aren't talking about an ownership that's 100% committed to winning. What the Kings truly need is their own Arte Moreno. I'm not holding my breath.

What will the future hold? Fuck if I know. There's 12 games left. They'll likely be out of a playoff spot by Saturday, and they'll have to re-earn it. But now is as good a time as any to show that they still have some life.

Thank you, Andy. Thanks for the hard work over the years. Thanks for the dedication. Thanks for that tremendous series in 2001. Not many people dislike Andy Murray the individual. I'll definitely miss him.


Anonymous said...

Andy had to go. He lost the players 20 games ago, if not last season. The system wasn't working, and you can't fire all of the players. Getting JVB the hell out of here is a positive, too. Props to Andy for all his work with the Kings over the years. My guess is he'll be a head coach in the league as soon as next season, or an Associate Coach with Minnesota.

Next to go is Taylor. We miss the playoffs and he'll be fired.

Now if only we could fire Liweekly and have AEG sell the team to a billionaire who gives a shit about hockey.

Ironcheffie said...

Trust me, it's Brent Sopel's fault.