“We’re going to look at everything” – Immediate Takeaways from Jim Hiller’s Introductory Press Conference

(Re)Introducing Jim Hiller!

Head Coach Jim Hiller and General Manager Rob Blake addressed the local media today following yesterday’s announcement which named Hiller as the team’s new head coach. Blake confirmed today that Hiller’s contract is a three-year deal, with options that could trigger in and extend the contract to a fourth year.

Blake added that assistant coach D.J. Smith will be back, as the contract he signed with the team back in February had “term” on it, which includes this coming season. The Kings will be looking at rounding out their staff here as they approach the 2024-25 season. Hiller indicated he’d like to have someone on the coaching staff who thinks and operates differently than he does. Think of that not necessarily from an area of focus standpoint but someone who will look at situations within a game, at strategy, at player deployment and see those situations differently than he or Smith does. That’s valuable and worth keeping in mind throughout the hiring process. The Kings are still weighing a staff of two assistants versus three. Expect more on that to come.

Regarding the coaching search, Blake indicated that other conversations “did take place” over the last few weeks, but he indicated that the Kings “zeroed in” on Hiller’s abilities, which they got to see firsthand, which was important.

Lots of different talking points from today and more to follow, as we recorded a separate podcast with Hiller to drop in short order. Dove a bit deeper into some areas of interest.

For today, sharing what I felt were the most important takeaways from what Hiller and Blake said, with the full press conference embedded at the top for transparency and for those who want to watch in its entirety.

Key Takeaways

I think the number one area that we wanted to hear more on, at least that I wanted to hear more on, was the notion of change.

“We’re going to look at everything, that’s what I would tell you,” Hiller said today. “We’re going to look at everything but we’re not going to compromise on the identity of the team, which is to play good defense, There’s teams that are playing in the NHL right now that play a 1-3-1 and other teams that don’t. The common theme is they play good defense, they check, so it doesn’t necessarily matter what the system is, you’ve got to check within that system. We’ll look at the areas where we think, with our personnel, how we can maximize some more offense.”

Will have more to add on that front later, as Hiller recorded a podcast with us earlier today that will go out tomorrow. He re-emphasized on the podcast that the Kings will look different in October than they looked in April. I think that much was very clear. He is looking to make certain changes, systematically, but it also doesn’t behoove him to lay out the entire plan for us all to see. I know you’d probably like to see it, but I also wouldn’t want my coach displaying it. The Kings aren’t playing games in May for us to see them doing anything differently. If they were, we probably wouldn’t need things done differently…..we’ll ultimately judge those changes come September, moving into the regular season.

Simply put, the Kings need to score more goals.

In the past, they really didn’t have the horses who could run the race. Now they do and they need to find ways to execute it on the ice. At the same time, the Kings were a Top-5 defensive team by most metrics, most notably goals against and in terms of most suppression areas. If there’s give and take, it’s got to be done the right way. If the Kings succeed in scoring more goals but become a defensive sieve, did they progress or evolve? It doesn’t mean they’ll continue to play the 1-3-1 or not, it doesn’t mean there won’t be more or less aggressiveness used as needed, but the message is clear. Find ways to produce more offensively, without the expense of sacrificing defensively.

Jim Hiller on Systematic Changes
We’ve started the process of looking at everything about our game. We are a top defensive team in the National Hockey League, have been for many years now. The identity of the LA Kings is a checking team that’s difficult to play against.. We feel that we have to find areas where we can create more offense but not at the expense of what our identity is and what we’ve created. So, how do you do that? There’s different ways to do that. We’re going to explore every one of those and try to maximize the offense without taking away what is our greatest strength and our identity which is the defense. That’s a process, that is the deep discussion. A lot of times you can do this and then there’s unintended consequences here, so those discussions have to be thought about. You get the staff together, work with Rob and we’ll come to some conclusions by the time training camp rolls around.

I also, personally, found this quote from Rob Blake to be very telling.

I’d suggest watching this as opposed to just reading it, starts around 17:30. Blake spoke about how the Kings need to get “uncomfortable” with how they play the game. That means getting to the dirtier areas, being squarely in shooting lanes and taking hits to make plays. Because it’s the right way to play the game and it’s the play the five teammates around you are counting on your to make. The change, for Blake, was clear. He and Hiller, along with the rest of the staff, are in the process of executing and instilling that approach within the group.

Rob Blake on “getting uncomfortable” as a team
We’ll talk systems, we’ll talk details, style of play and different things, but what we’ve come to realize and Jim and I are on the same page here, is there’s a certain desire to win that needs to be raised within our team here. What that is getting a little uncomfortable. We talk about getting on top of the goalie, one big thing to try to create more offense, get on top of the goalie. You can get to the hashmarks, that’s five feet from the net, you can probably get there pretty safe, not get cross checked, not get slashed. You want to go two, three more feet, there’s a desire to get there. That’s going to hurt, you’re going to get hit, you’re going to get cross-checked and that’s how you get that job done. We talk about shooting lanes, get in shooting lanes. We did it right from day one when the playoffs started here. You can really make it look like you’re in that shooting lane but when that misses you by an inch or two and goes the wrong way, or do you really want to get into it. So for us the message, it will be systems, it will be different things that we’ll talk about. Jim wants to put his stamp on the team, furthermore than when he took over. We’ve got a clear slate going forward, but our message is we’ve got to get uncomfortable with our group. We’ve got to do it. It starts right now, right here today with me, with Jim right down to our players. If that’s where we want to get to, that’s what we’ve got to get through……This hasn’t been comfortable the last three weeks here at all, way, way different than the last two years. So, I know what needs to be done in there. Jim knows what needs to be done in there. We have to start that message right now.

Again, I think there’s more detail coming in our podcast, which drops early tomorrow morning. Will share here for an additional listen.

Passion & Meaning
Hiller, publicly, presents himself as a very calm and measured individual.

Within the room, while there’s a calmness to how he makes decisions, it’s his passion and commitment to what the group is trying to achieve that stuck out to Blake and to several players who gave feedback following the season.

Blake’s opening statement spoke to those factors as helping to drive the decision.

“Watch[ing] him under pressure situations, we saw him as an assistant coach, taking this team over at a very difficult time and steering them in the right direction. Very comfortable, very confident in Jim’s approach to challenge not only the group, but the players individually and and then there’s a follow-up process to keep everybody on line. I think that’s become a very important part and [I] was able to watch him do that first-hand. His presence in front of the group is very important to us, the way he can command the room and drive home the point the point that we make together the direction that we want to go together, confident he can drive that home.”

Blake noted that in end-of-season meetings with players, many emphasized the passion that Hiller coaches with and that it always felt like Hiller was “a part of it” with them.

That’s something he only had the chance to see firsthand.

Hiller’s audition, if you will, from February through the end of the season revealed that about his style and his approach to being a head coach. You don’t let the inmates run the asylum, to steal an expression, but having player buy-in and player feedback is important. I also understand that players saw Hiller as someone who held them accountable when it needed to be done, regardless of their experience. Players appreciate honesty and honest communication. Hiller delivered that and the feedback came back to Blake and his staff.

“Meeting with the players at the end of the year, a lot of those references from them was about Jim’s passion coaching,” Blake added. “So I pressed harder, what do you mean by that, and in their aspect, it was they really felt he was part of the group and that was important for me to hear.”

The idea of managing relationships is something that Hiller himself felt he grew and developed over his three months leading the Kings from behind the bench.

Hiller on Managing Relationships
What I learned is, I thought I had good relationships with the players going in, I think I learned that those relationships can be strengthened. That is certainly my role. I thought I had strong relationships as the assistant coach. As the head coach, that dynamic is different and I think those relationships need to get even stronger based on that dynamic. So, that was the one thing that I thought I could just take that forward, but now the conversations are a little bit different. They’re a little bit tougher sometimes and I think people can have tough conversations when they know that you’re in with them, they know that you’re on their side. Deepening those relationships was something that I realized that I that I had to learn.

For what it’s worth, there’s clearly a passion in Hiller to coach the LA Kings.

You don’t make decisions of this magnitude based on it meaning something to a person to specifically coach the LA Kings. Doesn’t hurt to have it, though.

Hiller was drafted by the Kings nearly 35 years ago, as he referenced during his own opening remarks today, and as he said when he initially took the job, the organization has always held a special place in his heart.

“I think most of you know, just shy of 35 years ago I was drafted by the LA Kings, so to be sitting here today is an honor, to say it lightly. “To have that long and winding path end up back here here as my first head coaching job, with the Kings, is something I don’t take lightly.”

Additional Quotes
Pulling two other quotes I thought were strong from Hiller.

Hiller on his approach to collaboration and to managing athletes
The athletes today, they have a lot of information. The game is played at such a high level that there’s so many things now that they’re required to know and understand, so I think you have to communicate those. There has to be a reason why and then you have to hold them accountable to those reasons. I think once everybody can agree what that looks like, that’s one thing and then players have the hard job, they’ve got to go and execute and execute at a high level and a level, as Rob says, to be uncomfortable. That’s a difficult job. Our job is within that to make sure we hold them accountable and if they don’t think that we have their best interests at heart as players or as a team in general, because those are two different things, then it’s not going to work.

Hiller on putting his own stamp on the team
If you look at the playoffs right now, the teams that are left in the playoffs, that gritty style, all those teams have those elements. So, that can never go away, because we know, to reach the ultimate goal, you have to play that style. So where in other areas of the game, with the puck, can we try to create more offense? That’s really what it is. There’s no magic formula but there are things that we can zero in on, you can watch a video, we can count numbers, we can look at some areas and say this wasn’t good enough, why wasn’t it, what can we do here to make this better? So that’s the stamp. There’ll be areas that we look at that might be subtle, that might be obvious, but there will be some changes within that, that we’ll have to put in place.

Give the above a listen for yourself, if you haven’t already, and interested to hear everyone’s takeaways. Will have the podcast with Hiller dropping tomorrow which I’ll be sure to share as well. Hope to be able to learn a bit more as the summer progresses and the team begins to take shape for next year. Lot of time between now and October as the picture begins to form.

Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/NHLI via Getty Images

Rules for Blog Commenting

  • No profanity, slurs or other offensive language. Replacing letters with symbols does not turn expletives into non-expletives.
  • Personal attacks against other blog commenters, and/or blatant attempts to antagonize other comments, are not tolerated. Respectful disagreement is encouraged. Posts that continually express the same singular opinion will be deleted.
  • Comments that incite political, religious or similar debates will be deleted.
  • Please do not discuss, or post links to websites that illegally stream NHL games.
  • Posting under multiple user names is not allowed. Do not type in all caps. All violations are subject to comment deletion and/or banning of commenters, per the discretion of the blog administrator.

Repeated violations of the blog rules will result in site bans, commensurate with the nature and number of offenses.

Please flag any comments that violate the site rules for moderation. For immediate problems regarding problematic posts, please email zdooley@lakings.com.