Darryl Sutter sounded the same as he did 2½ years ago, when he last stood behind the Kings bench.
His deep voice rumbled in conversation, a reminder of the unique gruffness and coaching smarts he brought to a team that had learned to accept losing before he showed them how to win the Stanley Cup in 2012 and again in 2014. He looked pretty much the same, too, wearing the sweatpants and T-shirt that comprise a hockey coach’s pre- and post-practice uniform.
The striking difference was the emblem on that shirt, and where he stood.
Sutter had a Ducks logo on his chest as he chatted in the hallway outside the coaches room at Honda Center before the team practiced last week. He joined their staff this season as an advisor at the request of coach Dallas Eakins and has been providing an ear, an extra pair of eyes and valuable wisdom.
If seeing him wearing a Ducks shirt seems odd to those who remember his Kings beating the archrival Ducks in an epic 2014 playoff series, it looks and feels fine to him.
“It’s an enjoyable role because you get a chance to see guys do well and you get a chance to be with them when it’s not easy for them and it’s pretty easy to help them move on,” Sutter said. “There’s a lot you can lend a hand with or make a point about. I’m surprised more teams don’t do it now. Staffs are so big but there’s a lot of staffs that don’t have winning NHL experience. It doesn’t matter how much NHL experience they have but if they don’t have winning experience, there are people out there that they should be taking advantage of.”
The fit is a good one for Sutter, who got to know Eakins over the years and was a teammate of Ducks general manager Bob Murray with the Chicago Blackhawks. Small talk between Sutter and Murray at the June entry draft evolved into this job.
“He’s won. He knows how to win. He was an unbelievable bench coach,” Murray said. “What people don’t understand with Darryl, they see the side of him when he deals with the media — and you know how he is,” he added, referring to Sutter’s frequently brusque responses during news conferences. “There’s a side of Darryl that he’s got the biggest heart in the whole world.”
Sutter, whose son Brett plays for the Kings’ farm team in Ontario, attended most of the Ducks’ training camp and accompanied the Ducks on two regular-season trips. He spends blocks of time in Southern California when the Ducks are home, watching games from the press level and communicating his thoughts to the assistant coaches.
“He was in early this morning and I was in, working out, and we talked and I watched him dealing with the coaches,” Murray said last week. “He just has such a good, calming effect. He’s a sounding board for them because it’s a young staff.”
Sutter, now 61, doesn’t consider himself “back” in hockey because he feels he never left. He watched lots of NHL games back home on the family farm in Viking, Canada, to stay current with trends and personnel but he doesn’t plan to become a head coach again. “No, I have no desire to do that. Really. I never. No,” he said.
As for the Kings, Sutter said he hasn’t set foot in Staples Center since he and then-general manager Dean Lombardi were fired in April of 2017 after the Kings missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Things ended badly. Players complained that Sutter was pushing them beyond what they were capable of delivering, and Lombardi failed to keep a stream of young talent filtering through the ranks. Players were worn out physically and mentally.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, speaking a few months ago, called Sutter “a great hockey mind and great coach,” and acknowledged they had butted heads. Doughty added, “As much as at the end things kind of went south and we were getting in arguments, I loved Darryl from the bottom of my heart.”
It’s easy now, with the Kings on their third coach since Sutter and current GM Rob Blake struggling to assemble key pieces for a rebuild, to indulge in revisionist history and wonder whether the Kings should have kept Sutter and told players to toughen up.
But the marriage was beyond saving, and Sutter said he harbors no bitterness about his departure. “Zero actually. It’s part of the deal,” he said. “Good coaches, or actually great coaches, coach several teams. They move around.”
He still follows the Kings. “Of course,” he said. “I still think they have eight or nine guys that are multiple-champion players that certainly are not on the downside of their career. So in saying that, they probably should be better.”
But that’s not his problem anymore. His concern is the Ducks and helping his son Christopher adjust to cheering for a team he used to root against. Christopher, who has Down syndrome, was enormously popular with Kings fans and became famous for dancing in the aisles at Staples Center to get the crowd revved up.
“I tell you what, he knows his job,” said Sutter, whose face always lights up when discussing the youngest of his three children. “I used to tell him in Calgary, and that wasn’t a very good team when we first went there, he got 20,000 people to stand up. Go to Staples Center, he’d get them all excited.”
Doughty said Kings players miss Christopher, and that it would be tough for them to see him wearing a Ducks jersey. “I don’t know if he’ll switch. I think he’s still a Kings fan, but we’ll see,” Doughty said.
Too late. Christopher has begun doing his thing for the Ducks. Darryl is doing his thing, too, and that usually involves winning.