Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discuss who will be the next head coach of the Kings now that Terry Murray was fired on Monday.
Scott Burnside: Well my friend, you have to feel bad for Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray and GM Dean Lombardi after Lombardi flew out to Boston on Monday and told Murray his services were no longer needed by the club. Listening to Lombardi on the conference call announcing the change -- assistant John Stevens will take over on an interim basis -- you get the sense this was a really hard decision for Lombardi.
"He never quit," Lombardi said. "That's not his nature. His work ethic and his focus never changed."
I was in Los Angeles for a few days last week and got a chance to chat with Murray before the Kings dropped a 4-2 decision to Minnesota. Even then he was talking the talk, trying to get his team out of a funk that has now seen it drop four straight and fall to 30th in the league in goals. Also, I had a chance to drop in on Lombardi and you knew the strain of balancing the team's underachievement (the Kings are in 12th place in the Western Conference but just two points out of eighth) against his loyalty to Murray was weighing on him. But now, the interesting decision will be what Lombardi does moving forward. It didn't really sound like Stevens was going to factor in, but he's a guy who has NHL experience and people forget he took an overachieving Flyers team to the Eastern Conference final in 2008.
What say you?
Pierre LeBrun: Given Lombardi's past relationship with Darryl Sutter in San Jose and the way Lombardi has often talked about him to me during our general hockey conversations, you know how highly he thinks of him. Lombardi was asked specifically about Sutter during that media call Monday night, and he simply answered that the Kings had options, refusing to confirm or deny any interest in Sutter.
I asked Lombardi on that call if he had a short list and he said it was a very short one. One thing to keep in my with Sutter is that he's still under contract with the Flames, so there's the business of having to ask permission from Calgary to speak with him. Either way, you can take it to the bank that Sutter is on Lombardi's short list.
Randy Carlyle's name was thrown out a lot on message boards by Kings fans but, as of Monday night, a Ducks source said the Kings had not called asking permission.
I feel bad for Murray too, Scotty, as you mentioned in your opening remarks. He's a thoughtful, classy man. The young players on that Kings roster learned a lot from him over the past few years. But clearly his message was getting muted the past few weeks.
"I think it had to happen," one Kings player who requested anonymity told me via text message. "We were dead."
Burnside: I get the connection between Sutter and Dean Lombardi from their days in San Jose. What I don't really get is how he would be the guy to help this Kings team get out of its funk. Sutter led the Flames to the Cup final in '04 but other than that has had only limited playoff success as a head coach. He moved on to management after the Flames were bounced in the first round in 2005-06, so he has been away from the coaching game for some time now.
This is a Kings team that has the defensive fundamentals in place but has lost its creative juice. Its goal totals are down significantly from two years ago. Drew Doughty has hit a wall in his development and whether that's due to his ill-advised contract squabble or not is moot; bottom line is he hasn't been very good and he is the cornerstone of that Kings blue line. He and Jack Johnson need to produce more. So do Dustin Penner and Justin Williams and Dustin Brown.
I'm just not sure how Darryl Sutter, if Lombardi goes that route, gets the Kings out of their funk. Doesn't he represent more of the same? To me Lombardi needs to find someone to bring a fresh approach, whether that means younger or someone like Craig MacTavish, who is currently toiling in the American Hockey League.
LeBrun: I disagree with you on Sutter. I think he'd be a good fit. You can say what you want of him as a GM, but as a coach he's been proved to be a winner, including coaching the underdog Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup finals. To me, if the Kings do indeed go the Sutter route, they might get a similar impact to the way Ken Hitchcock turned things around in St. Louis. A veteran coach with an edge commands players' respect. Both Hitchcock and Sutter fit that profile.
Another name that made the rounds Tuesday night was that of Tony Granato, who is currently an assistant coach in Pittsburgh. What say you on that possibility?
Burnside: Well, we'll just have to agree to disagree. To me Sutter is at best a parallel move, different voice same message. This is an L.A. team that has sold the rebuild to its fan base and, for whatever reason, the pressure of meeting high expectations for the first time has caused the Kings to shrink into themselves. As Lombardi pointed out in his conference call, it's a lot easier when you're playing with the house's money and every win gets you a parade.
Maybe Sutter is the kind of hard-edged guy that gets the Kings over the hump, but you take a closer look at his coaching record and other than '04 there are a lot more playoff disappointments than upsets.
As for Granato, who also has ties to Lombardi, Los Angeles and the Sharks, the Kings have not made a request to the Penguins to talk with Granato, a source told ESPN.com Monday. Also, my sense is that the Pens would want Granato to finish out the season in Pittsburgh rather than disrupt what is a pretty cohesive coaching staff in Pittsburgh.
The thing I don't quite get is that it doesn't look like John Stevens is in the mix. Why not give him a chance to turn things around. Good man, Stevens, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Kings respond to him, although it won't be an easy road as they play in Boston Tuesday and then travel to Columbus, Detroit and Toronto.
LeBrun: This is a hugely important decision for Lombardi. After all, his own GM job is on the line as well given the expectations ownership had in Los Angeles this season. And that's why as much as he dreaded firing Murray -- a man he greatly respects -- he knew he had to do something. It's a familiar pattern in a league where meaningful trades are so hard to pull off in the first half of the season, a coaching change ends up being the only answer even though it's not only the coach's fault. In the case of the Kings players, there are several of them who should look in the mirror and realize what they've contributed so far this season is not nearly good enough.