Before the present NHL season began, the trend in hiring new head coaches leaned towards rookies: Mike Yeo, Glen Gulutzan, Kevin Dineen, and Paul MacLean are all making their NHL coaching debuts but when the regular season began the trend is now splitting 50-50 between hiring more rookies (Dale Hunter and Randy Cunneyworth) or going not only for experience but, indeed, going retro. St. Louis’ hiring of Ken Hitchcock is a prime example of going retro and so, too, is the return of Darryl Sutter to NHL coaching after a five year absence from the bench.
Sutter mans the helm of a Kings team that was underachieving in the Pacific Division standings despite possessing bright, young hockey talent. Former Kings Coach Terry Murray made the Kings winners but failed to take them further than Kings GM Dean Lombardi thought possible. Despite a great start to the present season the Kings were abdicating their position as Pacific Division contenders and Lombardi decided to repeat history by asking Darryl Sutter to do for the Kings what Sutter had done in 1997 (when he was hired by Dean Lombardi to coach the San Jose Sharks) make the Kings winners and contenders once more.
The Kings under Terry Murray won with goaltending and their defense; it was their anemic offense that was undermining them in the divisional standings. Whatever changes being wrought with the Kings are not tactical but psychological. What Darryl Sutter brings to the L.A. Kings is what he has always brought to every team he has coached: INTENSITY.
Darryl Sutter ranks among the top fifty hockey coaches of all time because he was the ultimate defensive coach who demanded total team defense from his players at all times; an iron-fist wrapped in a hockey glove.
Sutter learned NHL coaching at the knee of Bob Pulford and Mike Keenan (and one cannot find two more intense coaches than them). Terry Murray was always been a low-key player’s coach. Darryl Sutter was not (and is not) low-key. In many ways the Kings did what the Caps did last November: substitute a relaxed player’s coach with a pressure-cooking taskmaster.
Since his arrival the Kings have earned seven team points in four games and are only one point out of first place in the Pacific Division standings; all the while playing gritty, tight, disciplined hockey. Their 4-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes and the 2-0 shutout of the league-leading Chicago Black Hawks who (possess the second best offense in the NHL) are signal triumphs for Sutter and the Kings. If anything validates Dean Lombardi’s decision to resurrect Sutter’s coaching career it’s these two wins.
But what remains is whether Darryl Sutter can take the Kings further along the Stanley Cup playoffs than his predecessors have? The Kings haven’t reached the second round since 2001 and have only made one Stanley Cup finals appearance as a team in 1993. Even more how does a hockey coach get his players to get down and dirty on the ice while playing in an eternal summer fantasy land with palm trees, swimming pools, and movie stars?
Knowing Darryl Sutter though, he is the perfect man for the job at hand. If he can lead the Kings to the playoffs I would not be surprised if he can inspire the Kings to be spoilers and Cinderella contenders like he did with Calgary in 2004.