Following a four-game losing streak that dropped the Los Angeles Kings into last in the NHL in scoring, the organization fired coach Terry Murray on Monday afternoon while the team was in Boston for a Tuesday game against the Bruins.
The Kings named assistant coach John Stevens as interim coach.
"I don't think words can ever describe how hard something like this is," said Kings general manager Dean Lombardi. "Terry really stabilized this franchise, pointed it in the right direction. He taught these players a lot. When they look back, they're going to realize they learned a lot from him."
Still, it became unbearable for Lombardi to watch the Kings struggle lately. The Kings have not scored more than two goals in a game in the last eight. With the offseason additions of high-scoring forwards Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, the Kings were expected to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
They started 5-1-1 but have gone 8-11-3 since, dropping to 12th in the conference standings.
"In every franchise there are different levels of expectations," Lombardi said. "This team came into the season with high expectations."
After the Kings lost their fourth straight game Saturday, a listless 2-1 effort against the visiting Dallas Stars, Lombardi decided the following day to make the change. He flew to Boston on Monday morning and went straight to Murray's hotel room to deliver the news.
"The last home stand was kind of like the end of it," Lombardi said. "There was no one glaring moment, it just builds up."
Lombardi said he agonized over the decision to fire the highly respected Murray. The GM also delivered a stern message to his players after making the move.
"Ultimately, the message is that they're accountable," Lombardi said. "Unfortunately, the coach has to pay the price, but make no mistake, they're the ones who are accountable for this."
Murray, 61, began his head coaching tenure with the Kings in 2008-09 and compiled a 139-106-30 regular season record during his tenure in LA.
Among the franchise's all-time head coaches Murray ranks third in wins (139), fourth in games coached (275) and first in winning percentage (.560).
Murray reached the 100-win mark faster than any other coach in Kings' history, leading the club to the playoffs the past two seasons. The Kings recorded 199 total points from 2009-10 to 2010-11, the most in franchise history for consecutive seasons.
The Kings under Murray also won 46 games in 2009-10 and 2010-11, tying the franchise record for most wins in a season.
Stevens, 45, is in his second season with the Kings, having been named a team assistant coach prior to the 2010-11 season. He will be the 23rd head coach (including interim head coaches) in Kings history.
Prior to joining the Kings, Stevens served as the head coach for the Philadelphia Flyers (2006-09) and had a 120-109-34 record, while leading the Flyers to the Eastern Conference finals in 2008.
Lomardi said he had no timeline for how long Stevens would be the interim coach, but the list of coaches he's considering for the position is a "very short list."
Dan Arritt covers the NHL for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.