“I feel more and more comfortable as we go here,” King told NHL.com on Monday. “Just with the guys, with the meetings, just with everything on ice.”
King was named coach of the Blackhawks after Jeremy Colliton was fired on Nov. 6. After trading for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and defenseman Seth Jones in the offseason and getting captain Jonathan Toews back after the center missed all of last season because of chronic immune response syndrome, Chicago was 1-9-2 when Colliton was fired. They are 3-0-0 with King as coach heading into their game at the Seattle Kraken on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; TNT, TVAS, NHL LIVE).
King had been coach of Rockford, the Blackhawks’ American Hockey League affiliate, since the 2018-19 season after being an assistant there from 2016-18. He also has been an assistant with Toronto of the AHL and a player-assistant with Grand Rapids, the Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate. Prior to coaching, the 54-year-old played in 830 NHL games over 14 seasons as a forward with the New York Islanders, Hartford Whalers, Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues, scoring 612 points (261 goals, 351 assists). He scored 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) in 47 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
King has a laid-back demeanor and good sense of humor, something that has come through in media sessions and, players say, with them in meetings and practices. His personality is evident in this Q&A with NHL.com, in which he discusses everything from hockey to toques to pet lizards.
Assistant Marc Crawford and player development adviser Chris Kunitz do their share of teaching at the dry-erase board during practice. How much is this a collaborative coaching effort?
“It’s all been. I’ve relied on those guys tremendously. It’s whether I’m on the board doing a drill or ‘Crow.’ The big thing with Crow and ‘Kuny’ is the structured stuff. I don’t want to tweak anything right now, so a lot of drills they’ve done, and they know. I don’t want to change that. The drills we’re using are the drills they know and how they’re working on it. A lot of those drills, I’ve never seen run, so I have to let these guys do their thing. I’m not just going to say, ‘You know what, you’re not on the board, I’m on the board. We’re going to do my drills.’ I think it would have just shocked them. So I’m relying on them to guide me in those drills and learn them and we’ll see where they go. Maybe coming into December, we have to tweak something, so then we’ll sit down and talk about it. But I’m not one to come in here to look and take over and ‘You can’t tell me what to do.’ I’m here to learn, too, and we have to learn from each other. They don’t work for me, we work together. I expect them to just fill me with information as we go here, and that’s what they’ve been doing.”
How do you feel the Blackhawks are responding thus far?
“It’s easier when you put some wins together. Anytime a coach is fired, the players take it personally. That first game, when the new coach comes, there’s usually have a lot of energy. And I think that’s what happened, but I think they’re starting to realize doing it together and playing for each other is actually not a bad thing and they can win some hockey games. The big thing here is to keep the energy level up. That’s what I have to do, keep them playing, like a free game where if you make a mistake, that’s OK, just try not to make it five times in a row, that’s all. That’s what I’m trying to do here. We’ll give them their structured stuff, we’re not going to tweak anything. Crow and Kuny have been great working with what we have and showing me the different systems they’re playing. If we need to tweak, then we’ll all step in and we’ll collaborate and see where we have to be.”
Seems you wear a different toque at every practice. How many do you have?
“I’m getting there, I’m building it. I’m always welcoming different colors or what have you, but it’s coming. I think I have three or four different ones and three or four ones at the United Center. So I’ll wear them.”
You had a pretty nice playing career. How much did you enjoy those days, especially your 11 seasons with the Islanders?
“It was great. you look back, we always have little group chats going and we usually hook up in the summers for golf tournaments in New York and you see old teammates. You start reminiscing about the old days. It was just a huge part of our lives to be able to not see guys for years and years, then when you see them for the first time in a while, it’s like you’re still in the locker room. It’s great. I enjoyed everything. I enjoyed Toronto, even St. Louis and Hartford, even though it was just a cup of coffee (19 games with the Blues in 1999-2000; 12 games with the Whalers in 1996-97), it’s a part of it, right? Just great teammates. You don’t meet too many bad hockey people. I was fortunate. When I was a kid, you wanted to be an NHLer. Then all of a sudden, you’re playing junior, then you get drafted and all of a sudden it happens quick. You never thought you could actually really do it, but I was fortunate, very lucky.”
Last year, ESPN ranked its best lines over the past 30 years, naming your line with Pierre Turgeon and Steve Thomas the best of the Islanders (1992-93):
“I did not know that. I always joke that Turgeon made my career. I thank him and hug him every time I see him. I saw him recently, too, so I gave him a big hug. They were great to play with. All three of us were three different style players. Obviously, Turgeon as good as he was, was an awesome player, but all three of us were different and we just seemed to hit it off on the ice and off the ice. It was a blast and those were the good days.”
You got into coaching as a player/assistant in Grand Rapids in 2002. How did that come about?
“I played in Munich (Germany) and I had another year on my contract at the end of that first year and the team was moving to Hamburg. I was ready to go, and I kept in touch with our GM there, [Bob] McNamara, to see how things were going. We started talking and I started telling him that I was looking to get into some coaching. I thought maybe I’d play a couple of more years in Europe and maybe get into coaching there. But he said, ‘Hold on, I’ll call you back, let me make some phone calls.’ He called Detroit’s people, called me back two days later and said, ‘I’ve got an NHL contract for you,’ — that’s the only way I could get out of my deal — ‘and they’d love to have you as a player-coach and get into the coaching.’ So I said ‘Yeah,’ and that was it. Two years of that and I got hurt a couple of times, so I had the opportunity to get on the bench with (coach) Danton Cole. It was good; you learn a lot. It was August when we were supposed to sit down and talk defining my job coming back there, they had moved some people around and other people were coming in, so the job wasn’t there for me. That’s when I moved to Arizona.
Did I read correctly that, when you left Arizona for Toronto for an assistant job with the Marlies, you had pet lizards? Do you still have lizards?
“No, they’ve passed on since then. But yeah, I had my twins who in 2009 were around 2 years old, and my oldest was 7 or 8. Then I had three Labrador dogs, then I had fish, and we wanted to bring the fish, but I couldn’t fit the tank in the back of the truck. So we got rid of the fish but as we were packing up, I looked in the back and there’s this towel covering something. I took a peek, and my wife looked at me, said, ‘Don’t say anything. You’re taking it,’ and there they were. They were two gecko lizards, Dion and Igor. So they made the trip and they lived for a few years after that. But my wife wasn’t letting me leave these lizards. If they were going to bring anything, they were bringing the lizards with them.”
So you’re definitely an animal lover. Any other interests outside of hockey?
“Outside of hockey? I have kids. That’s my interest. No, I used to golf a lot, but just with the kids, they’re busy and I like to be a part of it. As you know, our schedules, whether as a player or coach in the NHL or any league, you’re gone a lot, so you miss out on these things. Summertime comes, we have a place in Florida, so we go down there and spend time with each other: bike rides, on the beach, just doing little things like that. We try to spend as much time together as we can. We drive each other nuts but that’s what we do.”