Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Should the LA Kings Fire Terry Murray

Just 10 days ago, the Kings looked like one of the best teams in the Western Conference. They were 6-2-1 after 9 games. Now, they are winless in their last five, and have dropped 6-5-3 after 14 games. It is still early, and the Kings are somehow still in a playoff spot (barely), so they shouldn’t panic too much. But one has to wonder if perhaps this start has shown GM Dean Lombardi what many of us have long expected – that Terry Murray may no longer be the right coach for this team. Over the first 14 games, the Kings have only managed 3 goals or more in just 4 games – and two of those took to overtime to record the third. Coaches around the league talk about games being a “race to 3”, because the stats are clear – you win more games than you lose when you get 3 or more goals. And you lose more games than you win when you get 2 or less. And Terry Murray’s teams cannot score.

It is easy to find scapegoats. Many have already pounced on Dustin Penner, who has yet to get a goal this season, and has scored only 3 goals in over 30 games as a King since coming over at the trade deadline. Dustin Brown had almost 30 last year, and has just 3 so far this year. Mike Richards only has 2. Drew Doughty hasn’t scored at all. Jarrett Stoll had 20 last year, and only 1 this year. In short, unless you’re Anze Kopitar (who amazingly is still among the league leaders in points this season), or his line mates Simon Gagne and Justin Williams or Jack Johnson (who is playing the best two way hockey of his career right now), you need to score more. But how much is due to the players themselves, and how much is due to Murray’s extremely rigid defensive system? I don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is this: Teddy Purcell and Matt Moulson couldn’t score to save their lives under Terry Murray, and know they are among the offensive leaders on their new teams. Dustin Penner is a fairly consistent 25 goal a year man, and he’s gotten 3 since being acquired. Mike Richards should be good for 25-30, and he’s gotten 2 this season. Alexi Ponikarovsky is usually good for 15-20, and last year he got 5. Alexander Frolov was a fairly consistent 20 goal scorer for LA before Murray took over, and he saw his numbers decline. So what’s more logical – that all of these players just hit slumps when they were under Murray, or that Murray’s system is stifling too much offense in favor of defense?

The Kings system makes it far too easy for opponents to shut them down. They play defense first, and wait for the other team to make a mistake so they can capitalize offensively. When they’re tied or if they manage to get a lead, the Kings play pretty well. But when they fall behind, they are hardly ever able to make a comeback. They continue to sit back and wait for the other team to make a mistake – which they often don’t do. Less than 10 minutes to go and trailing, you’d think the Kings would step up the offensive pressure and take some chances. After all, it doesn’t really matter if you lose by 1 goal or 2. But they don’t. They have one gear, and that’s what they play from beginning to end, regardless of the score. And this makes them easy to defend against.

When Murray was hired, he was the right coach at the right time. After two stern taskmasters in Andy Murray and Marc Crawford, the young Kings team needed a more laid back, fatherly figure as coach, and Terry Murray provided that. He imposed structure on the young Kings team, and Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are the players they are today in large part due to Murray’s coaching. But this is no longer that young team, with a ton of kids and lots of cap space just trying to squeak into the playoffs. This team is now full of veterans, and spend close to the cap. They are supposed to be a cup contender this year. And right now, they don’t look like it.

So, would I fire Terry Murray? I was in favor of doing just that at the end of last season, when these same problems existed. I suggested bringing in Ken Hitchcock or Peter DeBoer. Both now have other head coaching jobs, so I don’t know who I’d get now. The Kings do have John Stevens as an assistant coach, and he was once the head coach of a good Flyers team not that long ago. He is also a defense first coach, but perhaps he would allow for more in game adjustments, and let the forwards loose just a little bit more – something that Murray seems unwilling or unable to do. To be fair, it is very early, and it is only 5 games. And the Kings have a tendency to alternate between long winning and losing streaks, so perhaps I’m making too much of this. In short, I don’t know if I would fire Murray right now or not – but I would at least consider it.

What I would do is immediately place Trent Hunter and Davis Drewiskie on waivers. Hunter apparently had a great camp, which is why he earned a spot on the roster after showing up on a tryout basis, but he has been bad in his games so far, and for the most part has been a healthy scratch. Drewiskie has played only once this season, and I would shocked if he plays more than 5 games all year. If they get claimed, no big loss. If not, send them to Manchester. In their place, I’d call up Andrei Loktinov, who has been tearing up the AHL this season, and Slava Voynov, who looked great for the Kings when Doughty was injured. Bench Alec Martinez, who has been average this year, and put Voynov in his place. Put Loktinonov on the third line alongside Jarret Stoll (who would move to the wing, but take faceoffs) and Scott Parse, who has looked good since coming off the bench. The Kings need to generate some offense, and these guys could only help in that regard.

One thing is clear though – something needs to change. The Western Conference is far too deep, and every point means far too much, for the Kings to continue losing for much longer.

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