Jim Hiller named 30th Head Coach in LA Kings History

The LA Kings announced today that Jim Hiller has been named the 30th Head Coach in franchise history. Hiller officially signed a multi-year contract this morning and will have the interim tag removed from his title beginning with the 2024-25 season.

Hiller took over as the team’s bench boss in February, after the Kings relieved Todd McLellan of his duties. Hiller led the Kings to a 21-12-1 record, a mark good enough to get the team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season. The Kings led the NHL with a .806 winning percentage at home under Hiller and were a top-five team in several defensive metrics. In total, Hiller’s 21 wins ranked tied for fourth in the NHL after the break, while the team allowed 2.44 goals per game, the third best mark in the league. At 5-on-5, the Kings conceded 50 goals against under Hiller, second fewest in the NHL, and were one of just four teams to rank in the Top 10 in both special teams categories.

Instant Analysis
This wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret, but we’ve finally got the official word regarding Hiller’s status as the team’s Head Coach. The contract was finalized today by the organization.

There are a few factors to consider here with regards to Hiller’s appointment.

Right now, Hiller carries the “stigma” if you will of the team’s five-game series loss versus Edmonton. I get that. The end result of the season was disappointing and did not meet the standards that were set out for this team in September. If the Kings simply run it back, with the same personnel, the same voices behind the bench, the same way of playing, etc, and come away with the same outcome, then they deserve the criticisms coming their way. Keeping Hiller as the team’s Head Coach, though, doesn’t mean that.

Personally, I don’t think we got the full Jim Hiller experience. Those who are well-connected within the industry have repeatedly labeled Hiller as a guy with innovative and high-caliber offensive philosophies. He’s a long-time assistant coach who has seen his name connected to several head-coaching jobs over the last few years. Hiller was promoted with a very specific mandate – qualify for the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. When Hiller was named as the team’s interim head coach on February 2, he had five days of his own planning, without access to the team, followed by two on-ice practices before the Kings hosted Edmonton in their first game out of the break. For a coach who was tasked with one job – make the playoffs – he didn’t have games to burn while introducing a full-scale change. Therefore, the changes we heard about were with regards to mindset and approach, getting the team back to where it was from that standpoint. We didn’t hear much about systems, structure or style of play, other than that there weren’t plans to make drastic changes in those areas at the time.

Hiller inherited a defensively sound club. Under his direction, the Kings continued to be a defensively sound club. A club that had success early and lost its way in late-December through all of January. The Kings were a Top-5 team in several defensive metrics overall for the season and specifically when you look at only the games in which Hiller was the Head Coach, those numbers did not waver. As a whole, the Kings don’t want to give anything back in that area, but they also know they can’t simply continue to do the same thing and expect a different outcome. They’ve got to score more goals and generate more offense in one way or another.

I can’t sit here today and detail specific changes the Kings will make next season. Hiller and Blake will speak to the media tomorrow and we’ll certainly see those questions asked and answered in one form or another. What I do think is pretty certain though is that the changes we saw last season were the changes that Jim Hiller felt he could make in that moment. Changes he could make during the middle of a season, for a team that had lost 14 of 17 games and was on the verge of finding itself outside of the playoff picture, his order was to right the ship. The changes he felt could be implemented while meeting the goal he was tasked with meeting. With a full training camp, a full preseason slate and a full summer of planning, what further alterations to the Kings might we see? It’s only May 22, so I suppose that remains to be seen. But I’ll reinforce what I believe, in that I don’t think we got the full Jim Hiller experience last season.

Part of the hiring process came a debrief, a meeting between Hiller and upper management following the conclusion of the 2023-24 season. Blake said it during his own Exit Interview, that he needed to sit down with Hiller directly and get a sense of the changes he’d look to implement before making a decision on the head coaching position. That meeting obviously happened and the Kings believed in the vision Hiller set out.

With that in mind, Hiller deserves that chance to start from square one, from even footing, as opposed to the playing from behind, running it back, nothing’s changing narrative he’s been sucked into right now. I think that’s only fair. On the surface, here today, nothing has changed. Yet. We don’t know what this team will look like in September from a personnel standpoint, from a stylistic standpoint, from an approach standpoint. Hiller was quick to make adjustments when things didn’t work, most directly in terms of personnel. Can’t say he didn’t shuffle things up in order to shake things up when they went stale. We heard from players during exit interviews that Hiller started to work in certain systematic changes towards the end of the season, when he was able to, without overhauling the system the team knew so well. What was done down the stretch was more than enough to get the team in. Hiller’s now got a full summer to evaluate the bigger picture and hit the ground running in September. Game on.

From the team’s official release –

Hiller, 55, was originally elevated to Kings interim head coach on Feb. 2, 2024, after serving as an assistant coach over the past two seasons. Hiller made his head coaching debut on Feb. 10 against the Edmonton Oilers to become the 18th different head coach in league history to make their coaching debut with the team that originally drafted them, and the first to do so since Phil Housley (6th overall, 1982 by Buffalo).

In 34 games regular-season games, Hiller led the Kings to a 21-12-1 record for 43 points and a .632 points percentage, the 10th-best points percentage in the league during that time, en route to the club’s third consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Under Hiller’s guidance, the Kings were statistically the best home team from the All-Star Break through the end of the regular-season, accumulating a league-leading 14 wins (14-3-1), 29 points and .806 points percentage in 18 games at Crypto.com Arena. The club finished the regular-season winning nine of their last 10 home contests, which included eight consecutive victories on home ice from March 11 through April 13 to mark the team’s longest home winning streak since their eight-game run (8-0-0; Oct. 12 – Nov. 13) in the 2010-11 campaign.

Hiller joined the Kings as an assistant coach on July 19, 2022, after spending the previous eight seasons in the same capacity with the New York Islanders (2019-22), Toronto Maple Leafs (2015-19) and Detroit Red Wings (2014-15). Since Hiller joined the coaching staff, the Kings have scored 124 power-play goals, tied for the fifth-most in the league during that span, while the team’s power-play percentage has averaged 24.0% to place seventh among all teams. Under Hiller’s watch in his first season with the organization, the Kings tallied 68 power-play goals, the fourth-most in the league, while their power-play percentage finished the year at 25.3%, tied for the second-best in team history behind the 1979-80 team (26.8%).

Prior to his NHL coaching debut with Detroit, Hiller spent 12 seasons coaching junior hockey in Canada between the Western Hockey League (WHL) and British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). Hiller began coaching in 2002 with the Tri-City Americans (WHL), where he spent two seasons before taking the helm behind the bench of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (BCHL) during the 2005-06 campaign. Hiller returned to the WHL the following year as head coach of the then-expansion Chilliwack Bruins, leading the Bruins to the playoffs in their first season.

Following three seasons with Chilliwack (2006-09), Hiller returned to Tri-City from 2009-14. During the first season of his second stint with Tri-City, Hiller led the Americans to a division title, conference title and WHL Championship Series appearance. In total, he coached Tri-City to two division titles (2009-10, 2011-12) and five consecutive playoff berths over his five seasons. He was awarded the CHL’s Brian Kilrea Award and WHL’s Dunc McCallum Award for Coach of the Year for 2011-12, leading Tri-City to a 50-18-2-2 record with 104 points.

A native of Port Alberni, British Columbia, Hiller served as an assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2010 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Slovakia, helping guide his home country to its third consecutive championship. Hiller was originally selected by the Kings in the 10th round (207th overall) of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. In total, Hiller appeared in 40 games for the Kings, recording six goals and 12 points. Hiller suited up for 63 career NHL games, registering eight goals, 12 assists and 20 points.

Hiller and Blake will hold a press conference tomorrow at 10 AM at Toyota Sports Performance Center. That press conference will be live streamed via the LA Kings YouTube page and I will embed it here on LAKI with a live thread of sorts in the morning for one-stop shopping. Will follow up with key takeaways from the availability after it takes place.

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