Darryl Sutter is ready to make some noise with the Kings
Darryl Sutter didn’t yell during his first practice as Kings coach, but fear not. He hasn’t gone soft.
After a week as the coach-in-waiting, Sutter scraped the manure off his work boots, left Canada on Tuesday and was on the ice Wednesday at the Toyota Sports Center. He led drills, talked a lot with interim Coach John Stevens and put names to faces while checking them against the impressions he gained while scrutinizing their recent games on TV.
“I’m not a person that sat and waited for another job, or one of those guys who hoped there’d be change somewhere,” he said. “I didn’t expect the Los Angeles Kings to be looking for a head coach, that’s for sure, just because of the type of team they have.”
They’re not what he — or they — expected to be. They weren’t scoring goals and — worse — were not playing with passion. That’s why Terry Murray, an excellent teacher who never appeared to get riled, was fired Dec. 12 and replaced by the excitable Sutter, whose contract covers this season and two more with contingencies for the possibility of a lockout next year. Sutter, who has a coaching record of 409-320-131, will make his Kings debut Thursday against the Ducks at Staples Center.
Team captain Dustin Brown, while careful to avoid criticizing Murray’s calm manner, anticipates the emotional climate will be more charged than it was under Murray.
“After we played poorly we’d come in and watch video of how we played poorly,” Brown said, “whereas, from what I gather, I don’t think we’ll be watching video.”
No, they’ll be hearing full blast from Sutter, the second of six hockey-playing brothers who made it to the NHL from the farm in Viking, Canada.
He will be loud. He will be blunt. He will blister the ears of those who don’t go all-out every shift, and it’s well past time for that and to use ice time as a carrot.
But he will also be honest and respectful to those who care about each other and about winning. His brusque motivational style, which got the Chicago Blackhawks to the conference finals, the Calgary Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup finals and the San Jose Sharks to six straight seasons of improvement, could be what this too-nice, underachieving team needs for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve talked to guys who have played for him and they say he’s a great coach, but he demands a lot and he’s a hard-working guy. I have no problem with that,” said winger Brad Richardson, who was promoted to the first line Wednesday with Anze Kopitar and Brown.
“He’s one of those guys where if you’re not playing well he’s going to tell you, and if he likes what you do he’s probably going to tell you the same thing. I like when you know where you stand. There’s no guessing games.”
Brown said he got a scouting report on Sutter from former King Scott Thornton, who played for Sutter in San Jose. Thornton “said he hated him while he played for him, but looking back, he said it was some of the best hockey he’s played as a professional,” Brown said.
Sutter, 53, was one of three candidates considered by General Manager Dean Lombardi but was No. 1 from the start. They worked together in San Jose and remained friends after Lombardi fired him as coach in 2002.
“I trust his judgment a lot,” Lombardi said. “That building process in San Jose, we did that together. That wasn’t coaches coach, managers manage. That was a team effort.”
But the Sharks never got deep enough into the playoffs for them to keep their jobs. Their mission will be to take that next step with the Kings or risk stepping into the void of unemployment again.
Sutter starts with the strong defensive foundation Murray built and will benefit from the imminent return of Mike Richards, who suffered a head injury Dec. 1 and was cleared Tuesday for full participation. Richards, who centered for Simon Gagne and Trevor Lewis in practice, said that barring any post-workout problems he expected to play against the Ducks.
With Richards back, Kopitar should see fewer shutdown defensemen and checking lines. Sutter, who is retaining Stevens and assistant coaches Bill Ranford and Jamie Kompon for now, is likely to build on the puck-possession style Stevens tried to install during his 2-2 interim stint. Less dump-and-chase and more use of skill is always a good thing.
Sutter, known as a defense-oriented coach, said the NHL is “a 3-2 league,” which is fine except that the Kings have scored two goals or fewer in regulation in 12 straight games. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he acknowledged.
He’s not afraid to do it and at full volume if necessary.
“I think X and O this team is as good as there is in the game,” he said. “One thing that hasn’t changed in this game … it’s men playing a boys’ game and there is some emotion involved and I think that’s what I have to get out of them.”
If he can do that, they’ll make more noise around the NHL than he will.
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