John Stevens was gracious enough to call tonight and chat about his hiring as the newest Kings assistant coach. Stevens, 44, takes the place of Mark Hardy on the Kings’ staff. Stevens most recently was the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers for parts of four seasons, and was fired 26 games into this season (the Flyers were 13-12-1 at the time). During that time, Stevens worked with Terry Murray. The two started out as assistants under Ken Hitchcock, but when Hitchcock was fired, Stevens took over early in the 2006-07 season and Murray stayed on as an assistant until the Kings hired him in 2008.
The bulk of Stevens’ coaching career (2000-06) was spent as head coach of the Philadelphia Phantoms, the AHL team he led to the Calder Cup championship in 2005. As a player, Stevens was a defenseman, a third-round draft pick of the Flyers in 1984. He played 53 NHL games, over parts of five seasons, with the Flyers (as a teammate of Ron Hextall) and the Hartford Whalers. Stevens’ playing career ended when he suffered an eye injury while playing for the Phantoms in 1998-99, but he stayed on as an assistant coach and was named head coach of the Phantoms two years later. Here’s what Stevens said tonight about joining the Kings…
Question: It must feel good to get this deal done. Can you talk about how it came together over the past couple weeks?
STEVENS: “It actually came along pretty quickly, after the Hardy situation and everything. There was really no contact until probably a week ago, and I was excited to get the call. It just seems like a great fit for me. Terry Murray, I worked with him for two years and we became good friends and we work really well together. I’ve known Ron Hextall for a long team and I got to work with Dean a little bit when he was here in Philadelphia.”
Question: Of those associations, the most important one is probably with Terry, since you’ll be working closely with him. Can you talk about your experience coaching with him, and what was it that made you want to work with him again?
STEVENS: “Well, it was a really difficult time. We were assistant coaches together under Ken Hitchcock, and then Clarkey [Bob Clarke] resigned and Hitch got fired. That was a really difficult year. Through all of that, Terry was a great mentor for me as a head coach. When you go through times like that, it makes you better, both as a coach and as an individual, and we certainly got better. Terry and I, we think the game the same. We believe a lot of the same things are important about winning. We believe everybody has to play both sides of the puck. He’s an extremely hard worker and he’s a loyal guy and he’s very prepared. So we have a lot of similarities, and I think the fact that we both think the game alike and that we’re both hard-working people, that’s why we get along great.”
Question: It’s up to Terry how he wants to utilize his staff, of course, but have you had any discussions yet about what roles you might serve on the staff?
STEVENS: “We just talked in general. More than likely, I’ll work with the defense. I told Terry that whatever the team needs me to do, I’m in. I’ve done pre-scouts before, for our teams here, and post-game review. I’ve worked with the power play and the penalty kill. I certainly know that the power play was lights-out last year in the playoffs, and certainly I think Jamie (Kompon) had a lot to do with that. Maybe I’ll get to know the penalty kill a little bit, but we just had some initial conversations. We’re going to get an opportunity next week, when I get out there, to sit down and talk more about that stuff and define roles a little better. But like I said, it doesn’t really matter to me. However much is needed, and whatever areas they want me to zero in on, I’m more than happy to take it on.”
Question: You started out, after you stopped playing, as an assistant coach, but most of your time has been spent as a head coach. Can you talk about that transition, and are you looking forward to the challenge of being an assistant coach?
STEVENS: “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good people to work with, and on the staffs I’ve had, there’s always been a lot of overlap and a lot of trust. There’s a chemistry with the staff, just like there is with the players. Obviously there will be different responsibilities. The head coach is the one that’s going to be the voice of the hockey team, and he’s going to steer the ship. Everyone else is there to make sure that everything is done so that it stays the course. That’s a role I’m very comfortable with. I was a captain for a long time, and I think you get used to that role, and you end up coaching without being a coach. Certainly in this case, I haven’t worked with a Western Conference team before, but I have worked with Terry and I’m excited for the challenge and I’m excited to worry about the hockey part of it. There are a lot of things that are time-consuming, but very important, for the head coach, and that allows the assistant coaches to roll their sleeves up and dig into some of the areas of work that needs to be done behind the scenes.”
Question: I know you only saw the Kings, first-hand, a couple times in the past few years, but have you been watching them from afar, and what do you think about where they sit in this rebuilding process they’re going through?
STEVENS: “I’m not sure you can describe it as rebuilding anymore. I’ve got a lot of respect for them and the way they’ve played. They’ve got a great group of young players and they’ve added some key veteran guys. I’ve watched them more closely since Terry has gone there and Hexy and Dean have been out there. I’ve had the chance to play against them enough to know that they’re a very difficult team to play against. They play hard. They’ve got skill, but they really play hard without the puck, and they’ve got some of the better up-and-comers. Doughty, for one, has just been sensational, and Quick has come of age. I had a chance to see some of those young players in the lockout year when I was coaching in the American league, kids like Dustin Brown. If you look around the league, and see the teams that are successful, most of them, the key, core guys are the ones that have come through their system and been their own products. Then they get some key additions in terms of veteran leadership. And I think the Kings are certainly one of those teams. After the year they had last year, this is going to be an important year, because now that they’re on everybody’s radar screen, they’re not going to take anybody by surprise and they’ve got a lot of work to do in order to get to the next level.”
Question: You talked about working with those guys in Philadelphia, and they often talk about the “Flyer mindset,” in terms of an attitude that they’re trying to bring to the Kings. As someone who played and coached there, what does that mean to you, and what parts of that would you want to bring to L.A.?
STEVENS: “Well, you’re exactly right. I was drafted by the Flyers in ’84, so I was in their organization for a long time. I think it comes from (owner) Ed Snider and Bob Clarke. It’s always been a team-first mentality. There’s been a real culture here that is all about the team. It’s all about sticking together and it’s all about what’s best for the team. The individual is always secondary to what’s best for the team. When you think about the Flyers, that’s what you always think about. The tough teams back in the Broad Street Bullies days are remembered, but essentially they were guys who looked after themselves, and they were referred to as family a lot. There’s such a culture here that’s all about the team and what’s best for the team, being selfless and sacrificing for the team. I think you’re seeing a lot of that in L.A. now, with the people they have and the players they have. I think the teams that win are the teams that are willing to put things aside for the good of the team, and I’m certainly seeing a lot of that in the last couple years.”
Question: You mentioned the possibility of working with defensemen, and obviously there’s some young talent on defense with the Kings. Can you talk about what you might have seen in some of those guys, perhaps Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson in particular?
STEVENS: “I think, in the case of Doughty, everyone has had the chance to watch this kid play and admire, for a young man, how much composure he has. It seems like he has ice water in his veins, and he has really improved tremendously without the puck, and it seems like he can play against all the top players and also really hurt you at the other end with his offensive ability. He’s a young, right-hand shot that has really come a long way as well. The composure and confidence he plays with, at such a young age, is remarkable. Jack Johnson, I didn’t know a lot about him but I certainly got to watch him for a couple years. He’s got that rare mix of offensive skill and some real grittiness to his game. He can help you at both ends of the rink. So those are certainly two young defensemen in the league who have been exciting for everybody to watch, and I’m excited to get the opportunity to work with them.”