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Kings’ coaching search at the top of GM Rob Blake’s offseason to-do list

Kings’ coaching search at the top of GM Rob Blake’s offseason to-do list
Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan watches his team play the Dallas Stars on Jan. 6, 2018. (Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)

Kings general manager Rob Blake laid out all the qualities that a new coach has to bring to the organization. He needs someone who will implement structure and a system, and motivate a veteran group that has become complacent.

And just after Blake finished speaking, news broke that the candidate perhaps best equipped with those attributes might not be available. Todd McLellan, believed to be the Kings’ primary target, was the leading candidate to coach the Buffalo Sabres, the Athletic and TSN reported Monday.

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The process was ongoing but that development would take a big name off the table and alter the Kings’ search strategy. Blake did not appear to be aware of the news at the end of a 30-minute season wrap with media; he earlier couched his answer when asked if NHL experience was a “must-have” for a new coach.

“For now, [that’s] on my list, yes,” Blake said. “That criteria may change if you can’t get the guy or he’s not available. But, for me, that resonates credibility.”

Blake’s search could be drawn out if McLellan isn’t available, and it’s not clear who else is on his short list. Alain Vigneault and Dave Tippett, a former Kings assistant, are among those with experience, but the organization could also turn to a rising newcomer.

It tops Blake’s thick to-do list, which includes making over an aging roster. He confirmed buyouts are an option, and trades are expected this summer. Jeff Carter was thought to be a candidate for the latter, or to retire before that happened. But he shot that down and noted he has three years remaining on his contract.

“I want to be an L.A. King,” Carter said. “I want to help change things around here. But I don’t have no-trade protection, so whatever happens, happens. And I never talked about retiring, either. Never came out of my mouth.”

The emergence of Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen could make Jonathan Quick expendable, or at least give Blake options, but he said he hasn’t explored the goalie market.

If this is the end of Quick’s Kings career, he finished with an .888 save percentage that ranked last among 50 goalies who qualified. “It wasn’t good enough,” Quick said. “I’m disappointed in what I was able to contribute.”

Ilya Kovalchuk is another player under the microscope. He scored 16 goals in 64 games but had a plus/minus rating of minus-26. Drew Doughty said Kovalchuk fit in and praised his talents “but in the L.A. organization we expect you to play great both ways.”

Kovalchuk declined to speak Monday. Blake said he needs to find the right fit for the winger after he signed him with the understanding that the Kings were a contender.

“I want to get what he wants out of this and what he wants out of it,” Blake said. “It’s different than what we talked about last summer. No doubt about that. I need buy-in from Kovy, though, structure-wise. And I think a lot of that will be around the new staff and the communication with them and exactly what the role is going to be.”

Blake fully owned up to the worst Kings’ season in a decade. He fired coach John Stevens after 13 games and decided at Christmas that he needed to trade for assets. By the Feb. 25 trade deadline, Willie Desjardins was a lame-duck interim coach with an inexperienced roster.

“It’s a really, really tough spot for Willie, and I take 100% responsibility for that,” Blake said. “That’s on me. I did not do a good enough job.”

The Kings went from Jennings Trophy winners for fewest goals allowed to 21st. Their penalty killing unit fell from first to 29th. Individually, the Kings did not have a player in the top 70 in scoring — Anze Kopitar went from 92 points to 60. Doughty scored one even-strength goal, on an empty net.

All of it ties into a team that got fat on two Stanley Cup wins. It manifested in poor practice habits that Tyler Toffoli said “was kind of pathetic.”

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To a man, Kings players mentioned accountability and toughness when asked what they need from a coach. That’s largely how former coach Darryl Sutter coaxed two Cups out of them.

“I think we need someone that’s going to kick our [butt] a little bit,” Doughty said. “Some of us have got a little too full, and we need to be hungrier, and we need someone to push us.”

Dustin Brown said he could only speak for himself “but guys have to want to do it themselves. If we’re relying on a coach to motivate us, or outside motivation, it doesn’t work that way at this level … if you don’t have it individually or collectively, the league’s too good.”

Etc.

Carl Grundstrom sustained concussion symptoms from the season finale and won’t report to Ontario, Blake said. … Assistant coach Marco Sturm and goalie coach Bill Ranford are under contract and will remain. … There was no update on 2017 first-round pick Gabriel Vilardi in his recovery from a chronic back injury that Blake said is both a disk and muscle issue. … Adrian Kempe said he would like to play for Sweden in next month’s World Championships.

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