The LA Kings won't change their defense-first philosophy with new coach Jim Hiller in charge

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Jim Hiller is sticking to the hard-nosed, defense-first philosophy that got the Los Angeles Kings to the first round of the playoffs — and no farther — in each of the past three seasons.

General manager Rob Blake introduced Hiller as the Kings' permanent head coach Thursday, retaining the former Kings assistant who took over for the fired Todd McLellan in February and led Los Angeles to its third consecutive third-place finish in the Pacific Division and third straight early postseason ouster.

“Where Jim always seemed to come to the top was in the aspect that we’ve had time together,” Blake said. “We’ve seen him work ... (and we’re) very comfortable, very confident in Jim’s approach to challenges. His presence in front of the group is very important to us. The way he can command the room and drive home the point that we make, the direction we want to go together, confident he can drive that home.”

With Blake and Hiller returning after weeks of speculation about their futures, the Kings' playoff struggles clearly won't lead to a reboot or a rebuild. Los Angeles was eliminated by Edmonton on May 1 in five games.

The GM and his first-time head coach remain committed to the style they've embraced with their 1-3-1 neutral zone trap. The system has made the Kings a nightmare to face, but LA's players sometimes chafe at the regimented strategy — and even Hiller acknowledges it hinders the Kings' offensive production.

“We’ve started the process of looking at everything about our game,” Hiller said. “We are a top defensive team in the National Hockey League. Have been for some years now. The identity of the LA Kings is a checking team that’s difficult to play against. We feel we have to find some areas where we can create more offense, but not at the expense of what our identity is, and what we’ve taken some time to create.”

Only two teams allowed fewer goals than the Kings (210) during the regular season, but Los Angeles was squarely in the middle of the NHL pack on offensive production despite a roster with expensive top-end talent.

“There’s teams that are playing in the NHL (conference) finals right now that play a 1-3-1, and there’s teams that don’t," Hiller said. "The common theme is they play good defense. They check. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the system is. You’ve got to check within that system. We’ll look at the areas where we think, with our personnel, how we can maximize some more offense.”

That’s important, because the Kings appear to be stuck in a rut: They’ve lost to Edmonton in three consecutive first-round series after finishing the regular season with totals of 99, 104 and 99 points. They’ve stayed in this spot despite spending big money to add high-scoring forwards Kevin Fiala — who has 145 points in two strong seasons — and Pierre-Luc Dubois, who only managed 40 points in his dismal debut with Los Angeles after signing a long-term contract last summer.

Blake said the three weeks since the Kings’ ouster “have not been comfortable at all.” Blake retained his job even though the Kings haven’t won a playoff round in his seven seasons as GM, although they’ve reached the postseason four times.

Despite a roster frequently packed with top-end talent, Los Angeles has yet to advance in the postseason since raising its second Stanley Cup a decade ago.

“What we’ve come to realize is there’s a certain desire to win that needs to be raised within our team here,” Blake said. “And what that is, is getting a little uncomfortable. ... It starts right now, right here, today, with me, with Jim, right down to our players. If that’s where we want to get to, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

Hiller was drafted by the Kings in the 10th round in 1989, and he eventually played 40 games with the team before being traded to Detroit as a rookie. Hiller has been passionate about coaching since even before his brief NHL playing career, and he gave special thanks Thursday to Jacques Lemaire, the Stanley Cup-winning coach and player who mentored Hiller.

Hiller got a three-year deal with incentives that could trigger a fourth season, Blake confirmed without giving specifics.

D.J. Smith will stay on Hiller's staff after being hired as an assistant in February, and the Kings will hire a new assistant coach to focus on the power play, filling Hiller's role under McLellan.