Well, we all knew this was coming. Finally, it is official. The Los Angeles Kings officially announced today that they have hired Darryl Sutter to take over as the 24th head coach in the team’s history.
This was certainly an interesting coaching decision made by Dean Lombardi, although if you look at Lombardi’s track record, not an entirely surprising one. There’s a reason there are so many former Flyers with the Kings, Dean Lombardi used to work for the Flyers and he likes to hire people he’s familiar with, people in his “circle,” and Lombardi hired Sutter in San Jose in 1997. Now, although it’s certainly normal (and smart) to hire people who you know and trust, at the same time, it can also be a bad thing. Dean Lombardi is a big fan of Sutter. In fact, at his press conference where he was introduced as the Kings general manager in 2006, he was asked about what qualities he looked for in a coach. His response? “Darryl.” Lombardi may love Sutter, but did he overlook what’s best for this team in order to hire one of his favourite coaches? I mean, Sutter has now been out of hockey for almost exactly a full year, since he “resigned” from his post as the general manager of the Flames, and it’s not like anyone else has been trying to bring him back behind the bench. Perhaps there’s a reason for that, maybe he’s not a great coach, but just a Lombardi favourite? Or maybe he’s a good coach who’s coaching legacy was (if so, wrongly) overlooked by his poor run as general manager in Calgary? Either way, Lombardi may believe Sutter is a very good coach, and even if he is, is he the right coach for this team? He’d better hope so, or he could very well be the next to lose his job.
Of course, that leads to this ever-important question: Is Sutter the right coach for the Kings? Since we’ve all known this was coming for the better part of a week now, many have had time to think about it, and dissect the pros and cons of Sutter. For me, there are some stuff about him that I like, but some concerns as well.
For starters, Sutter is going to demand the best from everyone on this team day in and day out, and if you’re not giving him that, then you’re not going to see the ice very much. That was always a big problem I had with Terry Murray, he didn’t seem to hold players accountable. Ethan Moreau, for example, played so poorly that Dean Lombardi waived him, but not once did Murray even take him out of the lineup. Heck, he was even being used in crucial situations and even on the power-play. His moronic slashing penalty on Sheldon Souray back in Dallas a few weeks ago that led to a late Stars goal and a Dallas overtime win appeared to put the Kings into the tailspin that they are still trying to get out of, but Murray did not take Moreau out of the lineup. Under Sutter, you can bet there’s going to be a lot of accountability. If you’re not playing well, you’re going to pay for it, and I think that’s going to be a wonderful thing for this team. This team seems like a bunch of prima donnas at times, and it could very well be a big part of the problem. That’s not going to fly under Sutter.
Sutter also has a nice track record. In his 11 seasons as an NHL head coach, he has 10 playoff appearances and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals under his belt (with the Flames in 2004, they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games). The Kings need to win now, so hiring a younger, unproven guy without much experience would kind of be a project or an experiment, which is too risky for the Kings at this critical juncture. Also, as much as many fans wanted a more offensive system, and Sutter, like Murray, is another old-school, defensive-minded coach, who’s gained a reputation for having a checking, grinding team that slowed the pace of the game down, a full change of system in the middle of the season is not the right thing to do. It would take too long to adjust. Perhaps, it was the messenger who became the problem, not the message. That’s what Dean Lombardi is banking on, at least.
However, at the same time, that’s also a bit of a concern. Is Sutter’s style best suited for the pre-lockout era, and perhaps gone the way of the dodo? Only once in Sutter’s coaching career has he been at the helm of a premier offensive team, and that was in his final season with the San Jose Sharks, in 2001-2002, when they finished fourth in the league in goals for. Certainly for the Kings, they need more offense, not more defense. On the other hand, he’s at least shown he can be the coach of a successful offensive team, and with the talent on this roster, they certainly have the potential to be a successful offensive team. Perhaps Sutter is a coach who is good at recognizing situations and making adjustments, and he won’t restrict this team’s offensive capabilities with too much defense? Certainly, Sutter recognizes what the problem is with this team — offense, not defense — and isn’t going to come in and try and pound more defense into their heads, he’s going to want to address the offensive issues, while leaving the already strong defensive structure intact.
Also, Sutter is going to have to get this team to respond to him rather quickly. Yes, the season is not even half over, there are 49 games remaining and the Kings are only a few points out of a playoff spot, but in the competitive Western Conference, the Kings can’t really afford to dig themselves into a bigger hole.
The 53-year old Canadian has a career regular season head coaching record of 409-320-131 in 860 games, split between the Chicago Blackhawks (who he also played for, the only NHL team who suited up for as a player, and then the team that gave him his first NHL head coaching job), San Jose Sharks, and the Calgary Flames, where he also served as general manager. He’s tied for 27th among all-time coaches in games, and seventh among active coaches. He’s tied for 24th among all-time coaches in wins, and is also seventh among active coaches in that category. Four times he had led a team to a season of 40 or more wins, twice he has led a team to a season of 100 or more points, as well as three first place finishes.
In the playoffs, he’s coached 101 games, and is 47-54, with the highlight being the aforementioned trip the finals. He is 19th all-time in playoff games coached, and fifth among active coaches. He’s tied for 24th in playoff wins, and tied for sixth among active coaches.
It’s expected that John Stevens and Jamie Kompon will remain on as assistant coaches, at least for the remainder of this season. By the way, the Sutter hiring likely means no more trips to Dairy Queen.
Well, Sutter hasn’t been behind the bench for an NHL game since 2006, the first year after the lockout. That’s all about to change on Thursday. Let’s see how the Sutter era goes, and let’s see if he can get off to a nice start against the Ducks. I, for one, am approaching this with an open mind, and let’s hope he can get this ship turned around. Hopefully the players will respond to him.