December 20, 2011
"I don't know much about him. I heard he's a bit of a yeller or whatever. And I think that's a good thing. I think we need someone who's going to push us to get the best out of us every night."
That's Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty to the National Post, moments before he declared that Terry Murray "never should have been fired in the first place" because it's on the players to execute the system. Which is a nice sentiment to share after you've gotten your coach fired.
But Doughty's got a pulse for this team, and his earlier comments about the coaching change to LA Kings Insider would seem to indicate that they know another voice is necessary:
"Once you get used to someone, you get more comfortable with them and maybe guys feel like, because they're so comfortable with the coach, that they can get away with certain things. But now, with a new coach coming in, we have no idea what to expect. We'll be in check, and everyone is going to play hard because they don't know what the new coach will do.''
With Sutter set to make his debut on Wednesday in practice, is it possible Sutter is the coach Los Angeles deserves, but not the one it needs?
After Lombardi made the difficult decision to fire Murray, after almost 3 1/2 seasons, there was no need for a search. Lombardi made the call to the sprawling farmland of Viking, Alberta, to the home of Sutter. Before long, the men had reached an agreement. Lombardi and Sutter would be paired once again. On Tuesday, the Kings officially announced Sutter's hiring as their new full-time coach.
Lombardi is decidedly old-school, thus his kinship with Sutter, a coach known as one of the most demanding in the league over the past 20 years. To be certain, Sutter isn't shy about letting his players know what he thinks of their performances, loudly, often and publicly.
"From what I hear from players, he's a very passionate guy and he's very intense,'' Kings winger Justin Williams said. "I'm looking forward to a coach like that.''
"He's going to bring character, and he's going to bring an attitude that I think we need in here," Stoll said of Sutter. "Our attitude is … some games it's right, and some games it's not. He's a guy that has a lot of respect amongst a lot of players and coaches and general managers in this league. And we're going to be a lot harder team to play against under Darryl, so we're looking forward to seeing him in L.A. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of meetings going on back home just sorting this team out."
Darryl Sutter knows how to make something out of nothing, and in the process, he will punch, kick, and scream his way to bring that something to life. But once he gets there, well, that's kind of the problem; he doesn't quite know what to do with it. Instead, he'll just make a bitter beer face.
… Stubborn, abrasive, and gritty: those traits defined the Sutters as players and as a family. Darryl Sutter's teams played that way, and the results show that he lifts muckers and grinders and pushes down most skilled players. His structure and attention to detail are second-to-none as a coach (his actions as GM...well, let's leave that out for now), but his unwillingness to change when the context evolves is his fatal flaw. He may take his boat to the head of the pack, but when heavy winds knock down his sails, he'll go down with the ship rather than find a solution.
And that's why his move to LA seems so bizarre to me. When Bruce Boudreau got fired, I told former Jewels From The Crown managing editor Connie Kim that the Kings should hire him right then and there. With the potential for explosive speed and skill, Boudreau could have the Kings actually utilizing their depth instead of just handling it -- and they already had better goaltending than any of Boudreau's Washington Capitals teams. Instead, Dean Lombardi has gone in the complete opposite direction.
There's an obvious reason for that decision, and the decision not to hire any coach known more for his offensive prowess: non-appeasement.
The Kings were playing like a team trying to get its coach fired. One suspects that the system Murray had in place wasn't a popular one, with the Kings having the worst offense in the NHL and having more than a few players up front that take pride in their numbers.
Their theory was probably: The next guy will be a more offensive guy.
Problem is, Terry Murray's dogma is Dean Lombardi's dogma is Darryl Sutter's dogma, although his dogma has the loudest bark.
Now, not only did Lombardi hire another defense-first coach, he hired one that renowned for being a bit of a [expletive]. Every hockey player that thinks his coach might be on the hot seat ponders this: Be careful what you wish for. Like when the Blue Jackets were plummeting earlier this season and no one in the room wanted Ken Hitchcock Part Deux.
They should have known that Lombardi was probably making his last hire as Kings GM. They should have known he'd go with Old Reliable. Which is the problem, according to Scott Burnside of ESPN:
What is the logic to suggest that where one failed the other will succeed? In fact, it does a disservice to Murray to suggest that he somehow lacked the intestinal fortitude to coach the way Sutter is expected to.
And so, we view the Sutter hire as a lateral move at best.
Sutter is more ornery, earthier, than the classy Murray -- Sutter's arrival behind the Kings' bench was delayed as he had to arrange for the operation of his expansive cattle operation in Alberta -- but all that suggests is that he's less likely to mix well with the Los Angeles media. Those traits don't naturally suggest success on the ice. As well, Sutter's significant time away from coaching makes this choice even more curious than his overall lack of playoff success as a coach.
Burnside lobbied for Randy Carlyle, a hiring that would have presented its own questions (picking up the scraps from the last place team from across town). But Burnside's sentiment with that is spot on: Lombardi limited his options, went with what we knew; he owns this decision.
Unless Dean wants to see his career here come to an end sooner rather than later, he must evolve. Defense does not win Championships. He has to ingrain that in his stubborn and thick skull. Balance wins Stanley Cups. There hasn't been a single team since the lockout that competed for the Cup with an unbalanced lineup. You need it all. Goaltending, defense, play makers and goal scorers. A top 6 of high-end two-way forwards is a fantasy. Not every player is going to challenge for the Selke.
"Will he evolve?" I don't think so and not necessarily because he may not want to but because he has very much made his bed — the one in which we are all sleeping. Dean Lombardi, the Kings and the fans will sink or swim with his choices. The most recent choice of Darryl Sutter made damn certain of that. I hope we swim or, better yet, surf. Irony aside, I hope Dean Lombardi's legacy with the L.A. Kings will not be one wherein he worked so hard to avoid the floaters while managing to become one.
Darryl Sutter will light fires under asses. He'll punish the petulant. But, in the end, can this philosophy instilled by Lombardi and embodied by his latest coach actually win in 2011-12?