The Kings visit Boston on Tuesday for a clash with the Bruins, but will do so with a new man behind the bench. John Stevens will make his debut as interim coach after Terry Murray was relieved of his duties Monday night.
Los Angeles is the fifth team already this season to fire its coach. That comes after six other coaching changes in the summer. More than a third of the 30-team league has a different man behind the bench from the end of last season.
"The parity of the league probably has something to do with that," Stevens said after his club's morning skate Tuesday at the Garden. "You had your teams that were clearly a level above everybody else before, but now with the parity of the league it seems like there's 30 good teams in the league and the pressure to win, not just to get into the playoffs but to win every night, is probably greater than it's ever been.
"I think maybe with that it becomes pressure on the coach," Stevens added. "It seems to me that there's always been pressure. When we get into this profession it's an assumed responsibility, and it's probably more so today than ever before. With the cap era, it's the easiest part to change. It's unfortunate. I have a tremendous amount of respect for every coach around the league because I know how much time goes into it. Terry is probably the hardest working man in the business, but unfortunately it seems to come with the territory in our business."
Changing the coach is the easy move to make, but it is the right one? This year's moves have produced mixed results, but most have had little positive effect. St. Louis is the lone success story, with Ken Hitchcock leading the Blues to an 11-2-3 record since taking over on Nov. 6. But Carolina is just 1-5-0 since replacing Paul Maurice with Kirk Muller, Washington 3-3-0 with Dale Hunter taking over for Bruce Boudreau, and Anaheim 1-3-1 after dumping Randy Carlyle to scoop up the suddenly available Boudreau.
That's what the changes have produced in the standings. The effects are far greater on the people actually involved in the transactions.
"It was a difficult day [Monday] for everybody," Stevens said. "[We were] taken by surprise and then a quick turnaround trying to get ready for Boston here. I'm not going to lie to you, it's not an easy thing to go through, certainly not for us. We all have to take some responsibility here for the situation that we're in, and that goes for [assistant coach] Jamie [Kompon] and I as well. There's big expectations on this team, and the ironic thing is that's because of the great job that Terry did here. That's why we're considered a team that can do damage in the West. It's because of the respect he's brought here during his time here."
Kings players echoed that sentiment.
"As a person you feel guilty that your performance cost someone his job," Los Angeles defenseman and Boston College product Rob Scuderi said. "[Murray]'s certainly someone that we all looked up to and we thought he did a great job with this team the last few years."
Scuderi has been through this before, on one of the occasions when the change worked out. He was with Pittsburgh when the Penguins replaced Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma during the 2008-09 season and went on to win the Cup that spring.
Stevens has experience with being on both sides of the coaching carousel, replacing Hitchcock behind the Flyers bench during the 2006-07 season, then being replaced himself by Peter Laviolette in December, 2009. Not surprisingly, Stevens had plenty of empathy for Murray after this latest change.
"It was a pretty somber mood here today," Stevens said. "I think Terry has an enormous amount of respect from every guy in that locker room and certainly from everybody affiliated with the team. So it's not surprising there's a very somber mood over the team. That's why we felt it was very important to skate as a group today and just kind of work through it, but it's a process you have to go through. There's no quick fix for it. There's no lightning in a bottle."
But coaches are expected to have quick and immediate fixes these days. Stevens himself will have to work a quick miracle to remove the interim tag from his name, with reports of the Kings already kicking the tires on Darryl Sutter as a possible replacement.
It's no wonder the players have become almost immune to the constant changes, and why there's diminishing returns for such moves.
"We know we've been struggling, we know the situation at hand," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "I think guys probably a little surprised at the timing I guess, but management felt they needed to make the decision they did. We know we have to get better and something was going to change if we didn't get better, and it happened pretty quick.
"I've been through this before," Brown added. "It's not an easy thing to go through. It's really hard to put into words how you feel as a group of guys in here. When something like this happens, I think the best thing we can do as players is come together and work through it. It's part of being a professional athlete, going through days like this. It's up to the players in here to come together and step up and play."
Scuderi noted the biggest adjustment is just getting accustomed to a new coach's routine.
"As far as the game is concerned, we have to do our best to try to put it behind us," Scuderi said. "We have to play a game and we have to try to win a game, but the feelings are still there. It's a little uneasy to come in and it's a different routine, a different practice, a different pre-game skate, meetings at different times. And that's part of having a new coach and getting into their schedule, and that's fine. We'll get used to it. But right now it's a little uneasy. It takes time."
Just not too much time. Stevens, like every NHL coach, is living on borrowed time, and the most routine part of the NHL these days is that the man behind the bench is always expendable.