Daily News New coach Jim Hiller looks to help Kings regain their confidence


They see me rollin'. They hatin'.
Staff member
Jul 28, 2004
The four U.S. presidents whose faces grace Mount Rushmore served between 1789 and 1909.

While they’re unlikely to erect any monuments to commemorate the era, this Kings’ administration has cycled through four leaders in much shorter order.

Jim Hiller became the fourth coach the Kings have had in six seasons under the stewardship of former franchise legends Luc Robitaille and Rob Blake, and he was formally introduced as interim head coach on Thursday in El Segundo.

While Hiller’s playing career was not quite so notable, he did complete 40 of his 63 NHL games with the Kings in the 1992-93 season as a rookie on a roster that also included Blake and Robitaille. Hiller, who was an assistant under the outgoing Todd McLellan but had no head coaching experience at the professional level, will now make his debut behind the bench for the same franchise that drafted him back in 1989.

“I don’t know how many people have done that, but it’s pretty special to me,” Hiller said.

What’s special about Hiller – as opposed to McLellan, whom he thanked Thursday and who once again received kind words from the Kings’ veterans – remains to be seen. Blake offered an obtuse response about what to expect in terms of differences between McLellan and Hiller on Monday. On Thursday, Hiller used the same forward lines that McLellan had favored this season, according to multiple reports. He emphasized that he was not looking to over-tinker, despite a putrid stretch of two wins in 16 games that preceded the fortuitous victory in Nashville that capped McLellan’s 4½-year tenure.

“I know people, probably, are saying, ‘What are the tactics, and [which] things are going to change?’ The most important thing for me after being around the team, which played very well for the first 24 games, is just getting our frame of mind back where it needs to be, so that’s my priority, that’s 95% of my priority” Hiller said. “Because if we can help those guys get back there, we’ll have time to implement some other changes that eventually you guys will say maybe they are doing something different, maybe they’re not, who knows? But the priority now is the mindset.”

As Blake did Monday, Hiller pointed to the fact that the first 24 games of the Kings’ campaign went swimmingly, with a 16-4-4 mark and superlative statistics at both ends of the ice. At that point, it was their opponents in Hiller’s first game as head coach on Saturday, the Edmonton Oilers, who had been fumbling around the ice in a manner that led McLellan’s close friend and protege, Jay Woodcroft, to the guillotine after a 3-9-1 start. They’ve since made up for lost time and then some, most recently reeling off 16 consecutive wins heading into the All-Star break and then losing in Vegas on Tuesday to fall a game shy of the NHL record for consecutive victories.

Hiller, however, was not avoiding living in the now.

“We are a really good team. We’ve struggled, we’re not going to hide from that,” he acknowledged. “But I think it would be a mistake to overreact in some areas of the game where I don’t think that’s necessary.”

Viktor Arvidsson was skating with the team in a red, non-contact jersey, and goaltender Cam Talbot had a maintenance day, per multiple reports from practice. A break from the battering of such a futile stretch might have done wonders for the minds, bodies and souls of the Kings, who last played on Jan. 31 and won’t be in action again until Saturday. It would be much quicker to count the players who had not struggled to produce or seen dips in their underlying numbers than it would be to enumerate those who had.

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One player who had been incapable of concretizing his game, even during most of the higher points of the Kings’ campaign, was Pierre-Luc Dubois. He was the beneficiary of Blake, Robitaille and consultant Marc Bergervin’s $68 million infatuation over the summer. Hiller, who has been heralded as a strong communicator, hoped to improve his established rapport with the 25-year-old center, whose eight-year contract and underwhelming production both indicate he’s likely to be part of the Kings for a long time, for better or worse.

“He wants to get more out of himself. He’s willing to do that and we’ll push him,” Hiller said.

Defenseman Drew Doughty said the players understood that there were only two practices prior to the end of the Kings’ break and that no one would be reinventing the puck in such a short period of time. He cautioned that too many changes could create an adjustment period that the Kings (23-15-10, 56 points) could ill afford in the thick of a densely packed group of teams competing for two wild-card spots.

Instead, he spoke of fineries and new emphases that might swing momentum or, as McLellan was fond of saying, “move the needle” for the wayward Kings.

“We had unbelievable energy at practice, which was good,” Doughty told reporters. “Everyone’s excited to be back.”

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