The Los Angeles Kings have fired coach Todd McLellan and replaced him with interim coach Jim Hiller for the rest of the season, the team announced Friday.
Replacing McLellan is the latest development for the Kings in a season that has seen them go from once leading the Pacific Division and reinforcing why they were preseason Stanley Cup contenders to entering the NHL All-Star break in the first of two Western Conference wild-card spots.
McLellan becomes the sixth NHL head coach to get fired this season, with the Edmonton Oilers, the Minnesota Wild, the St. Louis Blues and the New York Islanders all having made changes as early as mid-November.
“He has done a tremendous job in moving us forward and making a positive impact on our group and in our community,” Los Angeles general manager Rob Blake said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision, but we felt the change was necessary at this time. Jim is a well-respected member of our staff who is familiar with our players. We are confident in his ability to lead our team effectively during this pivotal time.”
Questions surrounding McLellan and his future with the club began intensifying in January. The Kings opened the season with a 20-7-4 record only to then lose eight straight games from Dec. 28 through Jan. 13. Los Angeles (23-15-10) has since lost four of its past seven contests and was 15 points behind the Vancouver Canucks for first place in the Pacific.
The Kings’ slide led to two of their most prominent and longest-serving players — captain Anze Kopitar and alternate captain Drew Doughty — addressing the situation. Doughty said after a 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 24 that he felt there were too many players “who are too worried about themselves and worried about their points,” with Kopitar expressing a similar concern days later.
“What I see is we’re not playing as a team right now,” Kopitar told the Los Angeles Times. “Worrying about scoring goals too much and not buying into the stuff that made us successful the first 30, 35 games of the year, and it’s frustrating. We’re going to have to correct it and we’re going to have to correct it in a hurry.”
Now the Kings are charging Hiller, who was in his second season as an assistant, with trying to find a solution. This will be the first time Hiller will serve as an NHL head coach, having been an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings, the Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Regaining consistency is just one of the challenges facing Hiller. He’ll also be tasked with trying to help Los Angeles not only remain in a playoff spot but also find a way to jump-start what has been a challenging season for Pierre-Luc Dubois.
The Kings traded for Dubois in the offseason in a move that further signaled their Stanley Cup aspirations. They haven’t advanced beyond the first round in more than a decade. Dubois, who finished with a career-high 63 points last season, has mustered only 10 goals and 20 points in 48 games.
As for McLellan, his time with the franchise ends after three-plus seasons. He was hired at the start of the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season with the intent he could take Los Angeles from being a team with promise to one that could become a perennial postseason presence.
The Kings missed the playoffs in his second year but emerged in his third season. They finished third in the Pacific and reached the postseason for the first time since the 2017-18 season. Los Angeles then lost to Edmonton in the first round again.