With this morning's news of the New York Islanders' firing of head coach Ted Nolan, another name has been added to the list of potential candidates for the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings fired coach Marc Crawford earlier this off-season, after the team finished last in the Western Conference (and second-to-last in the league), with a disappointing 71 points. In his two seasons behind the Kings' bench, Crawford amassed a 59-84-21 record.
Los Angeles' poor play have caused average attendance at the Staples Center to plummet from 17,821 to 16,583 within the past three seasons, while their cross-highway rivals Anaheim Ducks captured the Stanley Cup championship in 2007 and played to 77 consecutive sellouts.
During that same time period in Long Island, New York, Ted Nolan was achieving different results with the Islanders. Nolan racked up a record of 75-68-21 in his two years with the team, which included a playoff berth in the 2006-2007 season. While the Islanders were hardly contenders for the Cup, Nolan managed to take a team many sports analysts considered to be poor and maximized the potential and effort from his players. He was also awarded the Jack Adams Award for best coach in 1997, after leading the Buffalo Sabres to their first division title in sixteen years. After Islanders General Manager Garth Snow announced the firing of Nolan, Snow made it clear the Nolan did a tremendous job in making the team competitive. Nolan's ability as a coach was not the reason for the firing.
At first glance, hiring Ted Nolan would seem like the wisest move for the Los Angeles Kings and their GM Dean Lombardi. However, there are some issues that are of concern when Nolan's name comes up, which were highlighted when Snow brought up the reason for the firing in the first place. Snow cited "philosophical differences." The main difference being that Snow wanted to rebuild the team through developing their young players, while Nolan preferred giving most of the critical playing time to proven veterans. So let's take a look at each of the two main points that analysts and the average fan has for hiring or not hiring Nolan:
1. He Doesn't Like Working With Younger Players and Their Development
This is a big sticking point for the Kings. Most of their personnel is made up of youth like defenseman Jack Johnson, and GM Lombardi is dedicated to a long-term development process. This doesn't necessarily mean Nolan would have the same issues as in Long Island. First off, Nolan chose to shorten his bench because of his "in-the-moment" win-now approach. He's focused on that very minute, that very period, and that very game to win. This is why his team usually plays a feisty and tenacious style.
Unfortunately, that means his lesser skilled (and usually younger players) will get the bench. He's going to play the best players in crucial situations. It just happens that the Kings' best players actually are their young players. Twenty-year old forward Anze Kopitar was the team's leading scorer last season with 77 points in 82 games. Alexander Frolov finished second with just 67 points in 71 games, with only five NHL seasons under his belt. And of course, there's twenty-one-year old American rookie defenseman Jack Johnson, who was drafted 3rd overall in 2005. Nolan will not be able to practically bench most of the team's core: he will give them the playing time they need to continue development.
2. He Has A History of Butting Heads With Managment and Causing Drama
Nolan was fired by the Sabres and failed to receive an NHL job offer again for eight years. Rumors speculated that Nolan was the one responsible for Bufallo's then-GM John Muckler for being fired, after long-standing bickering between the two. It appears that Nolan never changed his stripes after Snow dismissed him over "philosophical differences" today. So why would Kings GM Lombardi want to risk bringing over a head case to Los Angeles?
For one thing, Nolan should know by now that his chances of continuing a NHL career are even more tarnished than ever. He would be more motivated to actually get along with management now, or forever risk losing a lucrative paycheck. Don't forget the power of a man's wife: Southern California is a desirable place to live, and Mrs. Nolan is probably not going to be happy if they only make a short stay. Another factor to consider is that the Islanders' management is unique amongst pro sports, which may be the true reason behind Nolan's incompatibility with Snow. Instead of a established hierarchy of power between the coach, general manager, and owner, Islanders owner Charles Wang implemented a three-man committee system to run the team. With no clear establishment of who makes the final decisions, Nolan would not be able to figure out the line between "healthy discussion" and "grinding against" his fellow committee members. There was great potential for a double standard, where Nolan could be influenced by Snow but not as much vice versa. The root of the philosophical differences then, could be caused by owner Charles Wang's management system rather than by Nolan himself.
So my take in all this, is that the Kings really have nothing to lose but everything to gain in hiring Nolan for their next coach. He's more than capable of making players play tenaciously, which is crucial in a club that has too much of a recent history of losing. If the right competitive atmosphere is not established, then the impressionable young players may get too complacent and used to the Kings' on-ice misfortunes. If Nolan's baggage continues to rear itself again, then Los Angeles would simply fire him after a season that would be filled with losses anyways.