December 12, 2011
In discussing the dismissal of his coach, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi made a casino analogy that explained why the team folded under Terry Murray and what kind of coach the Kings will wager on next.
"It's a lot easier playing with the house's money," he said. "We're at the stage of the franchise where you're going to be judged on wins and losses and playoff rounds. And that's where you strive to be for. It's a lot easier when there's no expectations and, like I said, with every win you can get a parade. We're not there right now, so it comes down to wins and losses."
Murray was the right guy for the "house money" phase: Working with young players, establishing a defensive ethos. He was the coach who could make this team good enough for the playoffs; the coach of small victories and steady progress.
But after consecutive first-round playoff losses, and with roughly $63.5 million committed to salary against the cap, the stakes were raised and the Kings were anteing up. So Murray went bust.
Based on Lombardi's presser, one gets the feeling interim coach John Stevens is as temporary a solution as they come. (Of course, the Kings ripping off a winning streak could alter that decision, if Stevens is given the chance.)
If Stevens is merely a band-aid, who's the next Kings coach?
Darryl Sutter's name keeps coming up.
Rich Hammond was right out of the gate with the Sutter speculation, writing:
Keep an eye on the whereabouts of Darryl Sutter in the next few days. Dean Lombardi is very close with Sutter and, as GM in San Jose, hired Sutter in 1997. Sutter left the coaching ranks after the 2005-06 season, as he went from coach/GM to GM, and he left that role last December.
So would Lombardi reach out to Sutter?
"There's no timeline and we're looking at all our options."
Is there a short list of candidates that he may or may not be on?
"I think it's fair to say when you're in this situation, it's a very short list. You're with your team, right in the middle of the fray, I think you have a decent idea of what you think might do it, jump-start [your team]."
When Lombardi hired Sutter to replace Al Sims in 1997, he spoke highly of his new coach's "substance" over shtick:
"One thing I've learned," said Lombardi, who also hired Sims, "is there's a big difference between delivery and substance. Darryl is about substance. Players see through delivery. Darryl is not a politician. He's not a guy with great delivery or a guy who can knock you off your feet."
But would Sutter be what the Kings need? Murray's out because the Kings are offensively challenged, last in the NHL in goals-per-game. Sutter isn't an offensive coach — he's as defense-first as Murray was, maybe even more so. It's foolhardy to expect Lombardi to suddenly seek out some fire-wagon coach that'll unleash Anze Kopitar as an offensive dynamo.
He's hired defense-first coaches throughout his time with the San Jose Sharks and the Kings. It's a shared philosophy.
So there's a better chance it'll be a coach more in the mold of Sutter than, say, Tony Granato, the former LA King player who is now an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins. (The LA Times said the Kings haven't asked for permission yet.)
Of course, there's another veteran coach in the Sutter mold that recently lost his gig in SoCal. Darren Dreger believes it could come down to what the GM wants and what ownership wants: Darryl Sutter vs. Randy Carlyle. Either move would make life very interesting in the Western Conference.