Dallas Eakins said he was excited yet calm the day before the Ducks’ season opener because he was comfortable with his team and the relationships he had forged with players during his first training camp as their coach. For helping smooth his way he credited Darryl Sutter, whose mission while coaching the Kings was to make the Ducks’ collective life miserable.
As Sutter used to say, “Pardon?”
Yup, as Sutter also used to say.
Sutter guided the Kings to Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014 but was fired in 2017 after he wore out players physically and emotionally. When Eakins was hired by the Ducks he asked that Sutter be given a role on his staff. Sutter agreed to become a coaching consultant.
“He’s had a very positive influence on me,” Eakins said.
Sutter still operates his family’s ranch in Alberta, Canada, and wasn’t at the Ducks’ training camp every day. He wasn’t in Irvine on Wednesday for their last practice before they face Arizona on Thursday at Honda Center, but he’s expected to be in and out on a regular basis this season.
If some of his smarts and other coaching attributes rub off on Eakins, it will create an interesting subplot to a season in which the Ducks figure to battle the Kings and other teams in the lower tier of the Western Conference for a playoff spot.
“Having Darryl in here has certainly been awesome. He has a unique perspective on the game. A ton of experience. And that’s helped us as well,” Eakins said of all the coaches. “I don’t like to run the staff like, ‘I’m in charge here.’ We’re all coaches. We’re all trying to coach together. So it’s been a real group dynamic and I think that’s important. It’s kind of like a team within a team.”
Eakins said Sutter has been able to convey what he learned in different situations over the years. Eakins didn’t want to be specific but came up with a small but important instance in which Sutter’s knowledge had helped.
“We start doing our travel plan and we have the luxury of having a coach that’s been in the same division, just up the road, with the exact same travel and it’s, ‘Hey, Darryl, what did you guys do here? What did you guys do on this one?’ ” Eakins said. “Just starting with that, but I’m sure you can imagine all the experiences he’s had as a coach, handling players, systems stuff. It’s certainly great to have another voice in the room.”
As long as Sutter’s voice doesn’t have the strident, hectoring tone that turned Kings players against him late in his tenure, this could be fascinating.
The Ducks can use all the good coaching advice they can get. Coming off a terrible season in which they ranked last in goals scored, they’ve belatedly accepted the need for speed and youth and a voice behind the bench that isn’t Randy Carlyle’s.
Eakins increased the tempo and is giving key roles to kids who have scored at other levels.
“You’ll see a lot more flow from our forwards. I think we’re going to play a faster game. Just a lot of support with the puck,” defenseman Josh Manson said. “It’s going to be, I think, a more fun Anaheim Ducks club to watch.”
Veteran defenseman Cam Fowler praised the atmosphere Eakins created.
“We seem to have a great sense of what a team is all about. And we’ve done a lot of team-building stuff, getting to know some of the new faces in here, so I’m really excited,” Fowler said. “I think we have all the pieces in place but now we have to go out and execute it.”
Consensus among those who follow the NHL is that the Ducks won’t make the playoffs, and there are many sound reasons to agree. In the Pacific Division, Calgary, San Jose and Vegas appear to be a good distance ahead of everyone else for the top three spots and automatic playoff berths.
The Central Division is stronger than the Pacific, even with Chicago rebuilding. It’s possible that Central teams will earn the two West wild-card playoff berths, squeezing out the Ducks, Kings and the emerging Arizona Coyotes.
The Ducks say they don’t care about predictions that they’ll miss the playoffs.
“A lot of these writers and people on TV, they’re forced to do it. At the end of the day, they really don’t know. Everyone picked Tampa to win the Stanley Cup last year,” Fowler said, referring to the top-ranked Lightning’s surprising first-round playoff exit. “The league’s just too good. And we feel like we’re right there with any of the other teams.
“I know people don’t expect a lot out of us but don’t tell anybody that in here. That’s not how we feel. We can use it as a little bit of a chip on our shoulder and try and prove some people wrong.”
Forward Troy Terry, who will be counted on for a lot more than the four goals he scored in 32 games last season, also discounted outsiders’ doubts.
“When you look at the NHL, it’s the most level professional sports league in the world, I think. I don’t think there’s a team in the league that doesn’t have a chance to make the playoffs this year,” Terry said. “People can think what they want, but we’re excited about the team we have and we’re going to be a hard team to play against.”
The Kings were a hard team to play against when Sutter coached them. Imagine what could happen if he brings some of that to the Ducks. Pardon? Yup.