Maximilien Robespierre, French attorney, vehemently denounced the longstanding French King Louis XVI, organized his execution, and radicalized the masses of common Frenchmen in the bloody Reign of Terror. Utilizing bombastic, slandering language, Robespierre assaulted the King. The following is one of his most memorable quotes:
"It is with regret that I pronounce the fatal truth: John Stevens must die, so that the Los Angeles Kings may live."
Eventually, through his cutthroat guillotine extermination of former friends turned political enemies without trial, Robespierre would suffer the same fate. Although the now-unemployed John Stevens is alive and well, he shares a parallel to those post-monarchy enemies: they were kicked to the curb by a man sinking his own ship.
For the Los Angeles Kings, that man is Rob Blake.
Although no public executions are taking place for their 4-8-1 start to the season, General Manager Rob Blake relieved John Stevens of his head coaching duties on Sunday, the night after he lead the Kings to a 3-2 overtime victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Upon acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk this past summer, Blake expected Stevens to accomplish significantly more than to be dwindling in the cellar of the Pacific Division after thirteen games.
However, much of the Kings' failures this season lie beyond the control of John Stevens. They have the third-worst shooting percentage in the league at 5.09%, have the sixth-worst save percentage at .906%, and have goaltender Jonathan Quick out indefinitely after surgery was needed to repair his torn meniscus. The Kings have simply been largely unlucky and, despite the old adage that "good teams make their own luck", misfortune has riddled the Kings and plagued their stars.
Then again, this iteration of the Los Angeles Kings is not a good team, the fault of which lies with our Robespierre. The Los Angeles Kings are a flawed hockey team, and general Manager Rob Blake, the architect, had no qualm assigning John Stevens as his scapegoat.
Long gone is the culture of Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter, all that remains are the slow-skating veterans on the wrong side of 30-years-old. Of course, how did Rob Blake try and remedy their speed decency this summer? By signing 35-year-old Kovalchuk. Now, Kovalchuk has played well with eleven points in fourteen games, but does he solve any of the Kings' issues? Does he bring the speed this team so badly craves? Is he an injection of youth that can rejuvenate this team of elder statesmen? Not even remotely.
Now, this is not discrediting Kovalchuk as a bad hockey player. He is an extremely talented scorer with a deadly shot, precisely the reason that Blake signed him. Rather, the issue is that this was deemed "good enough", the fiercest enemy of greatness. Blake neglected the true defects of his hockey club, hoping this quick-fix would make the team better. Like many cases of instant gratification in life, nothing truly changed.
Let us not forget, in spite of Rob Blake discarding John Stevens like a stale baguette, the fact that Blake chose Stevens as head coach. When initially hiring Stevens, Blake stated "John and I had very productive dialogue this last week in relation to his head coaching philosophy...I am confident that we are both in agreement on how that can be executed. With that said, we believe John has the ideal qualities to lead our hockey club."
Blake continued, "His wide array of coaching experience, including success as an NHL head coach and his inherent knowledge of our players and those in our development system, is very appealing to us. We are confident he is the best person to lead our hockey club forward."
It is common knowledge that, when a new general manager takes the reigns of a team, that they like to bring in their own staff. Rob Blake's hiring of John Stevens was no different.
The most baffling chapter of this saga is that John Stevens distinctly improved the Los Angeles Kings last season. One year after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he brought them back by achieving a Wild Card spot. They were promptly swept by the Vegas Golden Knights but, as history shows, the Knights enjoyed quite the playoff run. Stevens did this in spite of the age of the Kings and their slow speed, which was horribly exposed by the Knights. Clear as day, this was the problem that held the Kings back. Surely, Rob Blake would address it in the summer. Alas, it was never on his agenda.
Now, one season and thirteen games after being hired, Stevens is already gone. Having improved the team's results from the previous season was not enough, no, the sin of being in last place after thirteen games with a flawed team and at best a band-aid fix in Kovalchuk was his undoing. What more was Stevens to do? Find an elixir of youth for Dion Phaneuf, a 33-year-old defenseman that Blake acquired at the last trade deadline?
This is a problem with general managers in the NHL, what one may call a collective group of Robespierres. Time and time again, viewers scroll through Twitter baffled by hockey transactions, a continuum of short-term fixes by simply "getting the best guy available" instead of remedying the flaws glaring us in the eyes. Be it a failure to assemble competent defense and goaltending in Dallas, horrid drafting and development in Edmonton, or the low-budget stranglehold in Arizona, there is nothing that NHL general managers love doing more than making their head coaches take the fall for their own failures.
Rob Blake's guillotine came for John Stevens because Blake, like many general managers, lack the introspective to see their own faults. Instead, fearing for their own jobs, they search for scapegoats, more often than not their coaches. In an era defined by shortsighted gratification, it comes to a logical conclusion that general managers follow the same path. Why fix one's problems when one can simply blame someone else for them?
The French Committee of General Security issued a proclamation at the start of Robespierre's Reign of Terror, claiming "It is time that equality bore its scythe above all heads. It is time to horrify all the conspirators. So legislators, place Terror on the order of the day! ...The blade of the law should hover over all the guilty." Just as Robespierre managed to initially spare his head albeit his own guilt, so has Rob Blake.