Tuesday, March 21, 2006 Updated: March 22, 12:06 PM ET
Kings try buying into The Ftorek Plan
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
After watching his reeling Los Angeles Kings careen right out of the Western Conference playoff picture, Kings GM Dave Taylor reached into his desk Tuesday evening and came out with something called The Ftorek Plan.
And following that plan, Taylor canned one of the most demanding, most underrated coaches in the National Hockey League, Andy Murray, along with assistant coach John Van Boxmeer, whose chief fault, it appears, was riding shotgun on one of the worst power plays in the NHL.
Taylor replaced Murray, who'd been behind the Kings bench since June 1999 and had guided the Kings to a 36-27-6 record this season, with John Torchetti. Torchetti's only other NHL head coaching experience was as an interim coach with the Florida Panthers, where he compiled a 10-13-4 record during the latter stages of the 2003-04 season.
Andy Murray had been behind the Kings' bench since the 1999-2000 season.
If The Ftorek Plan is followed precisely by Taylor and Torchetti, the Kings will be holding a Stanley Cup parade in about three months time.
Of course, Torchetti isn't exactly Larry Robinson, and the Kings aren't anywhere near the team the 2000 New Jersey Devils were.
It was six years ago this week that Devils GM Lou Lamoriello dropped the ax on another in-your-face, unyielding head coach in the hopes of salvaging something of the regular season and the playoffs. With eight games left in the 1999-2000 regular season, Lamoriello replaced Robbie Ftorek with Ftorek's good friend, Robinson, who went on to guide the Devils to a Cup win over the Dallas Stars. The following season, the Hall of Fame defenseman took the Devils to within a game of a second straight Cup before bowing to Colorado in the seventh game of the 2001 Cup finals.
The move made Lamoriello look like a genius. Heck, it proved he was a genius.
After chafing under Ftorek, the Devils seemed to be reborn under the easygoing, player-friendly Robinson. That this friendly nature eventually cost Robinson his job midway through the 2001-02 season and later led him to quit the Devils midway through this current campaign is neither here nor there. The fact is, Lamoriello understood that Ftorek simply had gone to the whip too often, too vigorously, and that his team was dying in its tracks.
That realization, as shocking as it was five years ago, earned the Devils a championship they wouldn't otherwise have had.
Tuesday night, with his team mired in a 2-5 spin, Taylor insisted that Murray hadn't pushed his Kings too hard, but did acknowledge the need for a change while there was still time for a change to have an effect.
"I think Andy is obviously a very demanding coach. I think that's part of his success," Taylor said.
That said, the more easygoing Torchetti, seen as a teacher and a communicator, is expected to take the Kings in a direction Murray could not.
"We think the change can give us a spark," Taylor said. "We're hoping this is what John will give us."
There is a feeling that Torchetti, a former assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning and with the Panthers prior to his brief stint as head coach, should have been given a chance to coach the Panthers full time. But he got squeezed out by the Mike Keenan/Jacques Martin cartel that elbowed its way into South Florida after the 2004 season. Now, he'll get his chance, at least on an interim basis, to prove he's worthy of an NHL head coaching job.
He faces a stern test on the left coast.
During their current slide, the Kings have given up at least four goals in each of their last five losses and only two other teams in the conference have given up more than the 234 goals the Kings have surrendered. Guess what? Those teams, the St. Louis Blues and the Columbus Blue Jackets, are a million miles away from the playoffs.
Mathieu Garon might be the streakiest goaltender in a profession known for streaky.
The Kings have not played with any consistency for more than a third of the season.
Their power play ranks 26th in the league.
Their penalty killing unit is 27th.
No team with special teams that bad is going to the playoffs.
Not that this team doesn't have the tools in its shed.
Lubomir Visnovsky is having a breakout season with 61 points and is a healthy plus-12. If it weren't for Nik Lidstrom in Detroit, Visnovsky might well be in the hunt for a Norris Trophy.
Joe Corvo is also having a nice year along the blue line.
Pavol Demitra and Alexander Frolov have both been impressive, although injuries have taken a toll on both.
Taylor did his part at the trade deadline, bringing in Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel from Long Island.
But even with the injection of new blood, the team failed to respond and Taylor said he had no faith that the slide would be stopped without making this move.
"Obviously, this is a drastic step, but we're looking to turn things around," he said.
Here's the unfortunate part. For most of his time in Los Angeles, Murray's teams were either undermanned or crippled by the worst string of injuries known to any pro sports team. Often, it was a grotesque combination of both.
But the native of Gladstone, Manitoba, never complained, never used injuries to star players like Rob Blake and Adam Deadmarsh and Aaron Miller, or the trading of stars like Blake, as a crutch. And the Kings' play for the most part reflected that. Game in, game out, season in, season out, they were tough to play against.
Ravaged by injury in the 2003-04 season, they challenged for a playoff spot until late in the season, bringing to mind the knight in the Monty Python skit who loses his arms and legs and still keeps fighting.
And early on in the season, the Kings looked like they might be one of the Cinderella teams of the new NHL. They were 8-4 in October and 8-4 through their first 12 games in November, and then, after a rough patch finished December on a 7-2 run.
But the wheels started to come off and with the rest of a Western Conference so competitive, it didn't take long for the Kings to go from challenging for the division lead to fighting for their playoff lives.
It's more than a little ironic that in order to prepare for a final desperate battle for a postseason berth, Taylor had to get rid of the man who put the fight in this team. Sometime soon, Murray will be back behind an NHL bench. Make no mistake about that. He will be hired by a GM whose team has grown soft and flabby, playing for a "players' coach."
Bet on it. After all it's all part of plan. You know, The Ftorek Plan.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.