Darryl Sutter hasn't been behind an NHL bench since 2006. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
We get that Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi felt he had to fire Terry Murray, even though his timing couldn’t have been worse. The guy was one win away from 500 in his career and who knows now whether he’ll ever get another chance to reach the milestone?
But nobody said life in the NHL was fair and that is especially true for NHL coaches. If life were fair, GMs wouldn’t have the carte blanche right to suddenly take somebody’s employment away from them when, in many cases, they are only a small part of the problem. There is a GM who assembled the team and 23 players in the room who are usually every bit as culpable as the guy behind the bench. To suggest this particular case was any different would be a distortion of the facts. As usual in these cases, Lombardi even admitted as much when he announced the change Monday.
(By the way, we at THN.com are thinking of selling advertising around a new bi-weekly feature called ‘Look who got gassed this time!’ Next installment should be forthcoming within the next fortnight. Please call our offices if you’re interested in an advertising spot.)
But, as we said, we get that the Kings felt they had to fire Murray. Spending perilously close to the cap for players who should be far more productive, being in 11th place in the Western Conference and a shocking 29th in the league in goals scored, well, that’s pretty damning evidence on anyone’s employment record.
What we cannot understand is the name that is floating around as Murray’s replacement. Let’s get this straight. The Kings fired Murray ostensibly because they aren’t nearly creative enough given their personnel and can’t score goals and their answer to that problem is to possibly hire Darryl Sutter?
Apparently that’s the value of knowing the right people in the NHL, not exactly a new concept these days. When all else fails, people in management generally turn to people with whom they have a history. And Lombardi and Sutter have that, going back to their days together with the San Jose Sharks. But if you’re going to hire Sutter, what’s the point of firing Murray in the first place?
Perhaps before the Kings give Sutter his first NHL coaching job in five years, they should consider he has coached three teams during his NHL tenure for a total of nine full seasons and two partial ones. In those nine full seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Sharks and Calgary Flames, his teams finished in the top half of the league in NHL scoring exactly once, when his Sharks finished fourth in the league in goals scored in 2001-02. In the other eight seasons, his team finished an average of 20th in offensive production. (That includes one season when the league was comprised of just 24 teams, two when it was 26th, one when it was 27 and one when it was 28.)
In the three-plus years Murray had coached the Kings, the one thing he was able to do was install a very good defensive foundation. He was able to turn Anze Kopitar into a dependable two-way player, even though there were times when it seemed Kopitar was sacrificing offense to be a more conscientious player in all zones. The Kings are already a very good defensive team. That’s hardly the problem.
Therefore, the fact they’re even considering replacing Murray with Sutter is nothing short of confusing. The Sutter way, which is heavy on rhetoric about hard work and short on success, involves playing suffocating, mind-numbing defensive hockey that is enjoyable to neither watch nor play. And Los Angeles is one of those markets in the NHL where the team not only has to be successful, it has to be entertaining. With Sutter in charge, we predict the Kings will be neither of those. If the Kings think Murray was no barrel of laughs, wait until they experience a couple of months under Sutter.
But recycling coaches is a tried and true method of managing a team. If the Kings were truly looking to turn the page and recreate their identity, wouldn’t they be better served asking the Toronto Maple Leafs if they could speak to Dallas Eakins or the Pittsburgh Penguins permission to interview Jon Hynes, two up-and-coming American League coaches who would bring a refreshing attitude and a new set of eyes to the Kings situation?
We appreciate that the Kings, who have put themselves through enormous amounts of pain to get top young talent and through financial challenges to augment that talent with star players, need to win now. But there’s no guarantee they’re going to get that with Sutter, whose teams have made it out of the second round of the playoffs only twice.
None of that will stop the Kings from, at the very least, seriously considering Sutter to fill the job. And as far as we can see, that will provide the Kings with more of the same, which isn’t very good.
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