Manor Seven Candidates for Kings Open Coaching Spot

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Friday morning brought major change to the LA Kings bench, as veteran coach Todd McLellan was relieved of his duties. In his place, assistant coach Jim Hiller was elevated to interim head coach for the balance of the 2023-24 season.

Where things go in the summer is still a long ways off, and something not even really worth contemplating at the moment. How the Kings finish the season and perform during any potential post-season activity will likely play heavily in that decision.

However, there was a key point perhaps buried in yesterday’s big news. As we reported here, Mayor’s Manor has learned that GM Rob Blake and Hiller are set to meet this weekend to discuss the possibility of adding another assistant to the staff (replacing the spot vacated by Hiller) for the remainder of this season.

It is said to be a decision largely left to Hiller. Will he want to bring in another person to help with the heavy workload ahead? Or will he prefer to double down with Trent Yawney and the group already assembled?

Should Hiller opt to add an additional assistant for the balance of the season, here are seven likely candidates to consider:

D.J Smith — Drafted by the New York Islanders in 1995, he was largely a minor league player as a pro. Smith is more well known for being the head coach of the Ottawa Senators, before being fired earlier this season when the team brought in a new GM. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach in Toronto – with Hiller. Considering the Senators are still paying him this season, getting Smith to LA may not be as easy as needed on such short notice. However, he had recent head coaching experience in the NHL, which could benefit Hiller as he makes his transition. Smith was also the first name several people mentioned to us over the past 24 hours as a potential candidate. He is well-liked by most in the hockey community and could transition into the role rather seamlessly.

Lane Lambert – He’s similar to Smith in that he’s a former player who went into coaching. However, Lambert has more experience. He was a longtime assistant in Nashville, and later with the Islanders (alongside Hiller), before taking over as the head coach in New York last season. His tenure as the main guy was cut short when he was fired earlier this season.

Marco Sturm – He worked alongside McLellan for several years and would potentially be one of the easier guys to take over. However, his aspirations are to be a head coach in the NHL and a move like this really wouldn’t get him any closer. Ironically, Hiller joined the Kings when Sturm went to AHL Ontario, creating an opening on McLellan’s staff two years ago. Thus, Sturm and Hiller — although they have both worked together in the Kings system now for two seasons — have never been part of the same coaching staff at the same time.

Chris Hajt – If there is anybody on this list who probably ‘deserves’ the spot, it’s Hajt. He’s been a longtime assistant in the organization, serving under Mike Stothers and Sturm in AHL Ontario. He also co-coached the Reign a few years ago when John Wroblewski suddenly departed the team midseason. Hajt’s work with the club was phenomenal that year, both during games and practices. He also spent two seasons in the NHL as an assistant for the Buffalo Sabres, so he knows the grind. He’s a good company man who should be considered based upon his credentials and body of work thus far. If there is one possible reason he may be a longshot it’s that he usually has been assigned more of the defensive side of things, and with Yawney already behind the Kings bench, that could be seen as a redundant role.

Matt Greene or Jarret Stoll – Both were locker room leaders during their days as players and either could be another strong voice for the current club. Each of them currently spend time as part-time coaches in the Kings Development Group, working with prospects and younger players. Another potential attractive element of adding Greene or Stoll is that it gives them a chance to dip their toe into the NHL coaching world without making a long-term commitment. This would be roughly a 4-5 month assignment. Maybe it could be just the type of opportunity that would entice one of them to give it a try.

Dan Price – This could be an under the radar name to keep an eye on. He was an assistant under Hiller twice when he was running benches in the WHL. That alone speaks to the trust and confidence Hiller must have in him. For the past six seasons, Price was a head coach of the Victoria Royals (WHL). Thus, he’s familiar with younger players.

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