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Willie Desjardins is no lock to be Kings coach during rebuild

Willie Desjardins is no lock to be Kings coach during rebuild
Willie Desjardins watches the Kings play the Carolina Hurricanes during a game earlier this season. (Chris Seward / Associated Press)

When Willie Desjardins got the phone call from Kings general manager Rob Blake, he was driving near his home in Medicine Hat, Canada.

Summoned to coach the Kings on an interim basis, Desjardins steered the team through an often befuddling course that will go down as one of the more forgettable chapters in franchise history.

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Saturday likely represents Desjardins’ last game as Kings coach, and 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 before the Kings finished the season against the Vegas Golden Knights, with the NHL’s second-worst finish already locked up for a 13.5% chance of the No. 1 pick in the draft.

“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.”

Blake 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 Blake when Blake played in San Jose. The organization is also open to up-and-coming candidates who could impress them during the search process.

Whoever takes the helm will have to transition the team through a rebuild. The Kings seek to shed some veteran players, some of whom might have played their final game Saturday, although that wasn’t on their minds.

“That’s the business side of it and that’s beyond my pay grade,” Alec Martinez said. “My job is just to show up and play, so I don’t think about that.”

Martinez and teammates haven’t opined much about Desjardins other than to say Desjardins was thrown into a difficult situation. Hired when the Kings began the season 4-8-1, Desjardins won his debut but never gave the team the injection of energy that usually comes with a new coach. They went 3-6 in Desjardins’ first nine games.

Desjardins will be known for his curious lineup decisions such as the benching of Ilya Kovalchuk, who vented about it to The Times and The Athletic. Desjardins did not give rookie Matt Luff adequate playing time and has kept rookie Austin Wagner on the fourth line despite Wagner’s 12 goals in 61 games. The low point occurred on Feb. 26 when Jonathan Quick angrily confronted Desjardins at the bench when Desjardins opted not to challenge a Carolina Hurricanes goal for goalie interference.

Desjardins mentioned the lack of a boost upon his hiring as the beginning of a tough job. The Kings 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.”

Lizotte makes debut

Blake Lizotte of the Kings and Jimmy Schuldt of Vegas made their NHL debuts against each other, less than a week after they were teammates at St. Cloud State.

Lizotte beforehand said the two talked about it Monday.

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“We circled Saturday,” Lizotte said. “It’s an opportunity to play each other in our debuts. That was a cool moment, for sure.”

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