Kings dismiss Crawford after another season without playoff trip

LOS ANGELES -- Marc Crawford was fired as coach of the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday after his team finished with the fewest points in the Western Conference this season.

He spent two seasons with the team and had a year left on his contract.

"In the end it just comes down to fit," Kings president and general manager Dean Lombardi said in a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "It's just a gut call on fit."

Lombardi said in postseason meetings he and Kings owners have decided to get younger rather than try to create an immediate cup contender, and Crawford wasn't the coach to do it.

"It's clear they're committed to building a young core," Lombardi said. "We have the illusion of being young because our better players are young, but on the back end, there's a transition that needs to come until we are in fact a young team."

Crawford, 47, coached the Kings to a 59-84-21 record in his two seasons. Last season, the Kings had 71 points, tied with Tampa Bay for the fewest in the league.

"I think it's fair to say we did not expect the team to be out of the playoffs in January," Lombardi said. "I don't think we were kidding ourselves and thinking we were world-beaters. But I don't think it was reasonable for us to be out by January."

Lombardi said he never seriously considered firing Crawford during the season as was speculated, and that the decision was still not made in the immediate aftermath of a 27-41-14 season in which the team finished last in the West.

It was Crawford's third stint as an NHL head coach, and the only one in which he had a losing record.

At 34 in his first season as a head coach he became the youngest to win the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year with the Quebec Nordiques in 1995.

A year later, after the team had become the Colorado Avalanche, he won a Stanley Cup in a four-game sweep over the Florida Panthers.

He spent two more seasons in Colorado and went on to coach the Vancouver Canucks for six-and-a-half seasons.

He is 470-361-100 in 13 seasons as a head coach.

His firing leaves four teams with head coaching vacancies: the Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks along with the Kings.

The only potential candidate Lombardi named for the job was Kings assistant Mike Johnston, who also worked under Crawford in Vancouver.

"I think I want to talk to Mike Johnston about the possibility of being considered for this role, once he's had some time to reflect," Lombardi said.

Johnston has yet to be an NHL head coach, but Lombardi signaled that on a young team that he expects to get younger still, he would value a new face.

"I'm not married to experience," Lombardi said. "I'm not afraid to hire someone inexperienced if I feel it's the right guy and he's up for the challenge."

Asked if ownership told him he'd better get this hire correct or risk losing his own job, Lombardi said "I don't need to hear that from them. I do think this is a critical hire. We'd better be sure."