The “Lose For Hughes” campaign, so to speak, officially ended before the Kings took the ice for their season finale.
By virtue of a win by the New Jersey Devils, the Kings locked up the second-worst record in the NHL and will have a 13.5% chance of securing the top pick in the draft, considered to be Jack Hughes, when the draft lottery is held Tuesday.
The Kings weren’t exactly celebrating the, um, achievement Saturday, but the optimistic vibe carried over in a 5-2 win against the Vegas Golden Knights at Staples Center.
Anze Kopitar scored his first power-play goal of the season and was sarcastically presented the puck by Dustin Brown. Ilya Kovalchuk, Jeff Carter and Matt Roy also scored and Blake Lizotte made his NHL debut, against Vegas defenseman Jimmy Schuldt. Less than a week ago, Lizotte and Schuldt were teammates at St. Cloud State, and it so happened that the two made their debuts simultaneously.
The two talked about it Monday in the players’ lounge at St. Cloud State, and Lizotte said in a pregame television interview that “it’s kind of comforting, I think, having him out on the ice. I think it will be good for both of us.”
That story line was a final antidote to the Kings’ worst season in more than a decade. Their 71 points are their fewest in a non-lockout-shortened season since they also tallied 71 in 2007-08. Saturday might have been the final game for some Kings veterans on the move, and it likely represented Willie Desjardins’ last game as interim coach. Before the game he was deflective on whether he made a case for his next job, wherever that might be.
“It doesn’t matter what I think, really,” Desjardins said. “It’s what other people think. I think I’ve always approached the game the same way. I’ve always believed that you effort into winning. You treat your players right and you build a really good culture and good things will happen. That’s the way I approached it here.
“I think that people that know me … they know what I’m like. Have I made that case? I don’t know. I guess it depends on what people are looking for.”
The organization has said that Desjardins will be under consideration for the coaching position, but the Kings will take a hard look at more established candidates. Todd McLellan, former coach of the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks, has been linked to the Kings because of his relationship with general manager Rob Blake when Blake played in San Jose. The Kings are also open to up-and-coming candidates who could impress them during the search process.
Whoever takes the helm will follow up one of the more befuddling and forgettable chapters in franchise history. Desjardins was known for strange lineup decisions, such as the benching of Kovalchuk. Desjardins did not give rookie Matt Luff adequate playing time and kept rookie Austin Wagner on the fourth line despite Wagner’s 12 goals in 62 games.
The low point occurred on Feb. 26 when Jonathan Quick angrily confronted Desjardins at the bench in Carolina when Desjardins opted not to challenge a goal for goalie interference.
Desjardins mentioned the lack of boost upon his hiring — the Kings went 3-6 in his first nine games — as the beginning of a tough job. They traded Jake Muzzin and Tanner Pearson, among others, and Desjardins looks at the season as growing pains that he and the franchise had to experience.
“There were some situations that made it difficult, but not in a bad way, in a way that had to happen, and in a good way,” he said. “I think the organization recognizes where they’re at and I think they’re making steps to change things and that’s what they have to do.”